Will Smoking Make or Break Your Image?
The Evolution of Smokers’ Sex Appeal and Stigma
You might remember the final scene in the blockbuster movie "Grease" (1978), where Danny (John Travolta) just finished transforming his slick bad boy image to become a jock, only to be shocked by Sandy (Olivia Newton-John) showcasing her own transformation into a vision in black leather and red high heels . . . smoking a cigarette.
Indded, quite a scene in the late 1970s, but is that imagery still attractive?
The Cigar, the Cigarette, and Public Image
While smoking cigarettes has decreased in popularity as a social practice, the question is whether smokers have as well. Is this group just less visible, or also less socially desirable?
Does it matter what type of tobacco product someone smokes?
Studies reveal evolving public sentiment.
Coy Callison et al., in the aptly titled study, "The Aura of Tobacco Smoke: Cigars and Cigarettes as Image Makers" examined this issue.
Their participant pool of college undergraduates evaluated the character traits of both men and women about 10 years older than the students, who were depicted smoking cigarettes, cigars, or not smoking.
Regardless of the evaluated persons' gender, the researchers found that appeal was linked to the gender of the evaluator. Generally, men and women agreed that cigarette smokers as were less appealing than nonsmokers. Men, however, found cigar smokers less appealing than cigarette smokers, while women perceived both cigar and cigarette smokers as equally appealing.
Regarding other perceptions, both men and women also judged cigar smokers as more confident and secure than cigarette smokers or nonsmokers.
Callison et al. (ibid.) cite prior research where nonsmoking college students perceived cigarette smokers as more rebellious and less conventional.
Nonetheless, they found cigarette smokers to have an image that was predominantly negative. They were perceived as "less desirable dates, less healthy, less sexy, and less sophisticated than their nonsmoking counterparts." In other research, Callison et al. (supra) note that when participants were asked to evaluate photographs of persons who either held a lit cigarette with a cigarette pack in front of them on a table, or photos of the same posture and demeanor without the cigarettes, participants consistently perceived smokers more negatively than nonsmokers.
Is Smoking Attractive or Aversive?
How do people feel about dating someone who might light up? David Hines et al., in their study, "Regular Occasional Smoking by College Students: Personality Attributions of Smokers and Nonsmokers," studied this question in terms of desirability and personality attribution of smokers and nonsmokers.
They investigated whether increased smoking by college students is linked with positive self-image, studying how both regular and occasional smokers rated the extent to which smoking alters self-image on 18 self-attributes that may be associated with smoking.
They then had nonsmokers rate smokers on the same attributes.
Participants all rated three attributes negatively: that smokers were less healthy, less desirable dating partners, and less attractive while smoking.
Compellingly, occasional smokers rated some attributions positively, noting that smoking "made them feel more daring and more adventurous and did not make them feel like an outcast."
Nonsmokers rated additional attributes negatively, classifying smokers as "less sexy, less feminine, less sophisticated, less masculine, and less mature."
Contemporary Smokers Face Challenges Socially and Situationally
In modern times, people cite a myriad of reasons they are turned off by smokers. These include physical undesirability, including foul smell, as well as relational issues — such as the potential apprehension of introducing a smoking dating partner to one’s (nonsmoking) family. And then there are situational challenges in dating a smoker, given the dwindling amount of settings where smoking is allowed — which might actually be a good thing in the long run.
Although we have come a long way in dissuading young people from lighting up in the first place, we continue to focus our attention on those who have already taken up the habit.
In addition to behavioral interventions and medical non-smoking aids, publicizing smokers’ social undesirability is part of a concentrated effort to "clear the air" of outdated stereotypes, while promoting a healthy lifestyle.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick, JD, MDiv, PhD, is an award-winning career trial attorney and media commentator. She is host of "Live with Dr. Wendy" on KCBQ, and a daily guest on other media outlets, delivering a lively mix of flash, substance, and style. Her over 4,500 media appearances include major news outlets including CNN, Fox News Channel, HLN, FOX Business Network, and weekly appearances on Newsmax. She is author of Red Flags (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the New York Times bestseller Reading People (Random House, revision). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin professionally with a rock band. Read Dr. Wendy L. Patricks's Reports — More Here.
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