With a Cigarette in My Hand….

…I felt like a (wo)man! This anti-smoking campaign advert/song in the late 90s was a huge hit largely due to its catchy tune. Other (wittier but misinformed) ads followed suit, including one which shows a man trying to hitch a ride in a back-of-beyond location. Numerous cars breeze past him. In frustration, he lights up a cigarette just in time for a hot chica to spot him, who then reverses the car and asks him to hop in. Moral of the story? Smoking causes impotency, and apparently women feel ‘safer’ with impotent men..go figure!

Anti-smoking ads in India, including the “With a Cigarette in My Hand..” song by Gary Lawyer, have primarily highlighted the health aspect, and may be well intentioned but not very effective. I remember one of Jug Suraiya’s columns, where he mentions seeing this ad (in some Western country), in which a man is all breathless at having a sizzling hot woman walk up to him. His expression turns to disgust however, when she reveals her heavily nicotine stained teeth. Suraiya then goes on to mention that by the end of the ad, his wife had hastily stubbed out the cigarette. More effective advertising? Maybe.
During a high school discussion of our experience of smoking the first time, a classmate revealed that she sashayed down towards the mirror to see how she looked with a cigarette in her hand. It’s all about appearance! Boys think that they become men and girls think they are proving a point by smoking.
It’s interesting how cultural perceptions vary across countries on smoking today. In the US and much of the Western world, smoking by anyone is looked down upon. In India, like a lot of things, reactions are segregated by gender. You find men smoking with nonchalance at every permissible spot without as much as a glance from passersby. Now a woman smoking is an interesting spectacle. The lesser mortals stare goggle-eyed at this oddity, while older men and women tut-tut amongst themselves about what the world is coming to these days!
I am not sure why Indian women smoke really. Some are clearly addicted to it. I once had a classmate who smelled perpetually of stale smoke! These kinds are an exception rather than the rule however. The other reason I can think of is a small attempt at rebelling against received norms. Most of the women I know smoke only “socially”. They are not addicted to the stuff, and neither do they take smoking breaks to relieve work stress. However, I see an occasional photo on Facebook with them holding onto a cigarette with an expression that borders between “I look cool with a cigarette, don’t I?” and “Don’t mess with me. Geddit?” Point taken gals, but at what price?
Well, the point of this whole digression was to illustrate that ads emphasizing adverse health consequences don’t really cut much ice. Instead ads need to change the perceptions of smoking for both men and women. Smoking ain’t cool. Period.