These black and white images make smoking look sexy, and this dangerous habit is anything but.
We've come a long way since Virginia Slims began marketing specifically to women in the '60s by portraying smoking as the epitome of carefree glamour. We are now crystal clear on the cancer risks involved with smoking (and that smoking can affect your DNA for decades after you quit). Warning labels on cartons are impossible to miss.
But make no mistake, an association between cigarettes and sexiness and rebellion is still alive and well. And recently, this messaging has been alarmingly reinforced by influential models with huge millennial followings. Case in point: both Bella Hadid and Kendall Jenner recently posted glam photos of themselves with cigarettes to Instagram, with captions claiming they don't smoke.
First Kendall posted a photo in which she was lounging nude with a cigarette poking out between her fingers. The caption: "i don't smoke." And this isn't the first time. She also posted a photo from her Love magazine shoot earlier this year with a similar "no smoking" caption. And we were left scratching our heads.
What makes it even more confusing is the fact that Kendall has stated in the past that she's adamantly against smoking. "I've never smoked a cigarette, and I never will," she wrote in a blog post on her app in 2015 as reported by Allure. "Everyone smokes in my industry, and I get super grossed out. It's so disgusting and I'm SO against it."
The following day after Kendall's post, Bella shared a close-up of herself smoking with the caption "I quit." Unlike Kendall, Bella has publicly smoked (she was part of the group infamously smoking in the bathroom at this year's Met gala), so the post has been taken as a declaration in all seriousness that she quit.
While it's admirable that Kendall chose to state that she, in fact, doesn't actually smoke IRL and worth celebrating that Bella quit, these captions aren't enough to make the photos OK. Besides the fact that they confusingly read with an almost wink-wink connotation, many of the models' followers won't bother to read the captions. They will simply scroll and see a gorgeous black-and-white nude photo with a cigarette and make the same associations that advertisers hoped women would make in the '60s. The fact that cigarettes were being marketed as glamorous—despite their proven detrimental health effects—is exactly what led the U.S. to ban cigarettes from TV and radio ads in the '70s. So why, decades later, are we reverting to the same dangerous messaging?
The models may not have complete control over every shoot they participate in, but they *do* have control over the photos they share with their nearly 100 million combined followers. It's undeniable that young people today put tremendous value in what their favorite celebrity posts to Instagram, taking cues from them to craft their own idea of what it means to be "sexy." And this isn't just conjecture: When young people see celebs smoking, they are more likely to smoke and perceive that smoking is much more popular than it really is, according to truth, one of the largest and most successful national youth tobacco prevention campaigns. The organization argues that celebs have essentially become 'unpaid spokespersons' helping Big Tobacco to re-normalize smoking—and that it's having a huge negative impact. To help end the idea that cigarettes are in any way cool again, it's up to celebrities and influencers to stop sharing photos like these.
Kendall and Bella, we're asking you, if you really are as grossed out, disgusted by, and against smoking as you say, stop posting photos that convey the opposite message.