Brown: What will become of smoking?


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If you’ve ever watched an episode of “Mad Men,” you’ve probably noticed the nostalgic depiction of cigarette smoking. Nearly every scene has the dapper Don Draper lighting a cigarette whether he’s at work, at home with his children, or in a restaurant. Of course this fits the historical context of the show, but the modern reality is quite different. There was a time where you could smoke in bars, airplanes, and offices, but those days are long gone.

Iowa City, like many cities across the country, has made moves to become a smoke-free city with laws that prohibit not only smoking indoors but where you can smoke outdoors as well. Tobacco companies have lost the health-benefit battle, as it is undisputable that smoking is harmful to your health, and now it seems they are losing the battle to maintain social relevance as well. Cigarettes just aren’t as cool as they used to be, which leads to the question of what will become of an industry that produces lethal products increasingly frowned upon by society?

The practice of smoking tobacco has been around for centuries, and the popularization of cigarettes as we know them begun in the 1800s, which cultivated a cash crop tobacco industry for Southern plantation owners.  Fast forward two centuries or so, and we can see the culture of cigarette smoking come full circle with favorable pop-culture depictions of cigarette smoking in decline as increasing effort is made to publicize the health risks cigarettes cause. The number of smokers in the United States has dropped from 42.4 percent of the population in 1965 to 18.1 percent in 2012. Even the producers of cigarettes can no longer remain oblivious to the risks associated with their products. Reynolds American Inc. the makers of Camel cigarettes, has recently prohibited smoking in its buildings. Part of the motivation for this decision reflects the shifts being made in modern society as well as timing. It would appear that state of Big Tobacco is now at the point where in order to survive, it must adapt and rebrand.

Reynolds has a subsidiary company that aims to enter the electronic-cigarette market, which many believe has the potential to fill the gap in consumers left over from the exodus of the traditional smokers. The popularity of electronic cigarettes (which have yet to be definitively proven healthier than traditional cigarettes) supports an idea that people still want to smoke as long as they aren’t being forced to acknowledge they’re killing themselves. The smoking of tobacco can still maintain a place in society with a few adjustments and perhaps a bit more effort to develop ways to not give consumers cancer. The cigarette as we know it may be on its deathbed, but I wouldn’t count out Big Tobacco just yet. A youthful revamp and emphasis on vapor rather than smoke may be all we need to welcome smoking back with open arms.

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