Why smoking was cooler back in the day

I was recently walking through Schiphol airport when I got the most enormous whiff of smoke. After a few brief moments of questioning whether one of my travelling companions couldn’t wait until we got outside, I spotted the miniature glass room inside the airport where those gagging for a cigarette could satisfy the craving.

Now, I’ve never been a smoker, but something about this experience made me never want to get close to a cigarette again. The thought of sitting inside a tiny room, in silence, filled with strangers puffing away got me thinking about just how much our perception of smoking has changed in the last 50 years.

There are two ways to look at this change; was smoking cooler back in the day because everyone was naive about the damage it would do? Or was it because it actually genuinely was a lot cooler?

Don Draper and co of Mad Men pretty much hit the nail on the head when, throughout the first 6 seasons, smoking was not only considered the norm, but it was also considered a mark of the chic and the stylish. And then, after season on season of controversy, we were hit with a case of lung cancer.

What’s crazy to think is that it was only actually 44 years ago that advertising cigarettes on TV was banned. Up until then, it was a battle of the brands – who gave a smoother inhale, who would stop your cough. In this case, it’s fair to say that people smoked because they genuinely did not realise it was bad for them. It was as common then to have a cigarette in your hand as it is now to have an iPhone in your hand.

On the contrary, there may be no cooler image than a gentleman in the 50s wearing a killer suit sitting in a bar with a glass of whisky in one hand and a cigarette in the other. There’s nothing more stylish than a lady with a perfectly coiffed haircut, a perfectly ironed skirt suit and perfectly manicured nails taking a puff through her cigarette holder, is there?

And that’s just it; because when we go forward to today the only image I can conjure up is a solo person huddled and shuddering under an umbrella outside a restaurant while the rest of their friends continue on the party inside. It’s just not really that cool anymore, is it?

Habits change when we change and in the case of smoking, that couldn’t be more true. When we were no longer allowed to smoke in pubs, bars and restaurants, people simply became much less interested in smoking.

The fact is that smoking is not as sociable or inclusive as it once was and it goes without saying that it’s no longer seen as the best accessory to go with a suit and a whisky. Don, I thank for you making me think – for a moment – that smoking was cool, but for now, I’m much more content with my screen…

Gentlemen's Journal is happy to partner with The Prince’s Trust RISE campaign, which is working to create a network of young adults aged between 21-45, who are passionate about social mobility. You can become a Prince’s Trust Riser by donating just £20 per month to the scheme.
Get Involved

Further reading