Despite what we know about tobacco smoking – that it’s the leading preventable cause of death and disease in Australia; that it causes among other things cancer, heart disease and stroke; that it has a huge environmental impact – it seems cigarettes are once again being used as a prop to symbolise rebellion, sex and edginess.
Health organisations have been quick to denounce the trend of celebrities sharing images of themselves smoking or holding cigarettes. New York City’s health commissioner Dr Mary Bassett said: “When young people see glamorous starts smoking and flouting the law, it undermines the progress that has been made in de-normalising smoking and increasing awareness of smoking’s health risks.”
Of course, we’ve come a long way since the 50s. But although we’re all a lot more educated now about the dangers of smoking, these images are still really problematic, especially when you consider the demographic of people who follow these celebs on Instagram; mostly young, impressionable girls who look up to these people as trendsetters.
The Cancer Council Australia says that teenagers whose favourite stars smoke on screen are up to 16 times more likely to think favourably of smoking, and are more likely to smoke than those whose favourite stars don’t.
In addition, a 2015 study of 200 young adults published in the American Journal of Health Promotion showed that exposure to depictions of cigarette use on social media can “predict future smoking tendency, over and above the influence of TV and movie depictions of smoking”.
With the current rate of smoking among Australian students aged 12 to 17 years sitting at 5.1 per cent, this trend of powerful social media influencers sharing images of cigarettes in a cool, edgy context is very concerning.