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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

The irony of nicotine addiction in Generation Z

UC Davis students disclose their views and experiences with vaping and smoking cigarettes 

By SIERRA JIMENEZ — arts@theaggie.org

Rings of cigarette smoke circle the suave gangster or the seductive flapper in classic film noir, eliciting a cool aesthetic to the cancer-inducing tobacco stick. At this point, most people agree that smoking cigarettes is not at all conducive to our health, yet people still step outside on their lunch breaks to inhale sweet, addictive smoke into their lungs. 

“They have some sort of sexual appeal to them… they’re just so cool. Like in Pulp Fiction or old French New Wave films, they’re always smoking cigarettes, and it’s just so sexy and cool,” said one third-year UC Davis student. “[But] I’m embarrassed to smoke them because I know how bad it is.” 

Over the years, despite their known negative health effects, cigarettes have been romanticized in the media as aesthetically pleasing, classy and sexy. From its origins in the 1920’s, the strategy of cigarette advertisement and other smoke-related products such as ashtrays and matches was to sell a sophisticated lifestyle. 

Initially advertised for women in the twentieth century, women in cigarette advertisements were “always young and attractive… often exuding sexuality,” a Yale University online exhibit said. Women were not the only ones targeted. Men were also advertised as attractive and successful businessmen or as the rugged macho cowboy, a character who became known as the “Marlboro Man” by 1962. 

The origins of the cigarette sexual appeal are still prevelant despite international anti-smoking efforts of fairly recent years. The third-year student smokes cigarettes even with her mother’s voice discouraging her growing up: “It’s just a nasty habit.” Even she, who grew up in a household with a religious smoker and found it worrisome for their health, was swayed by the cigarette allure down the line. 

“When I got to college and started drinking more, and seeing more vapes and cigarettes, I started vaping… I loved those things, I was so addicted, they tasted so good,” she said. “Then I switched to cigarettes just because I started smoking those at parties, and I thought they looked cooler.” 

Sooner or later, she realized that smoking had become an act of habit. “My brain would tell me it’s time to smoke a cigarette, but it [started to not] give me anything but really make me feel lethargic and lazy.” 

 Now, she’s gone from smoking cigarettes for aesthetic reasons to thinking “it can look kind of gross and not attractive,” so she is trying to quit, but after a few drinks, it’s easy to justify smoking with “it’s just one night,” she said. 

That is the cigarette conundrum. “There is always going to be a part of you that rationalizes [smoking cigarettes],” she said. Whether it be smoking a “stogie” at a party on the weekends or just when you’re stressed, “the reason why you do it is because it feels good.”

The third-year student was adamant that she would stop by 25 at the latest and that it’s just a “youthful destructive behavior” driving the habit. “If it’s not a cigarette that’s gonna kill me, it’s the hundreds of thousands of pollutants in our air or the asbestos in our houses.” 

This student is not alone in her rationale. Mary Rose, a third-year psychology major, finds that she validates her addiction through her “uneducated opinion” and the voice in the back of her head giving her the green light. 

Rose, like many other students, began vaping or smoking cigarettes in a party environment, “hitting it” off of other party-goers with their own vape device or cigarette in hand. However, with the addictive properties of nicotine, many times this “I’m only going to smoke at parties” mentality, sometimes referred to as social smoking, becomes a daily habit. 

“If you’re hitting a vape all day, and let’s say you wake up at seven, and you start hitting your vape a ton until 11 o’clock at night, then it’s probably worse for you than smoking one cigarette per day, per se,” Rose said. 

Since then, Rose is “able to recognize that the reasoning [she] had for thinking one was better than the other was really just trying to validate [her] unhealthy habits,” yet she is still trying to wean her way off her addiction, slowly but surely. 

And here is the irony of it all: Vapes and e-cigarettes that were designed to help adults quit smoking, are now highly addictive to teens and young adults who can’t stop the “vape life.” With the sleek designs and the variety of flavors in vapes, it is said that 85% of youth e-cigarette users infuze sweet or menthol flavors into their products.  

The switch of trends from cigarette smoking to vaping has caused a lot of debate in whether one is better (or worse) for you than the other. Where smoking cigarettes takes a calculated time and place to smoke, vaping is easily accessible and under the radar. Anna Fox, a fourth-year global disease biology major, said that she has seen individuals vaping as young as middle school hitting a quick puff in the confines of their shirt collar even while in class.  

Fox, interested in the ways in which vaping affects the immune system, has been working with a immunology PhD candidate, Morgan Poindexter, since Oct. 2020 under Dr. Ken Pinkerton at the Center for Health and the Environment at UC Davis researching mice exposed to vape to model the human respiratory system and its effects on fighting infection.

Where there are various studies and concrete facts on the long-term consequences of smoking cigarettes, “vaping is still relatively new, so we don’t have data on the long-term risks,” Dr. Melamed, a pulmonology doctor at UCLA said. “It took decades before we fully understood the effects of cigarettes… it could be that the risk and long-term outcomes of e-cigarettes will be different from those of traditional cigarettes, but it’s too early to know.” 

Bradley Kleven, a fifth-year geology major who is adamantly against smoking cigarettes and vaping, said, “I never really wanted to get into it too much because now I see friends who have gotten devices or have moved on to cigarettes now, and sometimes wake up three, four times in the morning just to rip the ‘nic-stick’ just because they have to.” 

Kleven remembers his grandmother, who passed away at an early age from her habit: “that was kind of my childhood growing up… she was always smoking cigarettes, whatever she did.” His mom warned him, “if you smoke cigarettes, this is what’s going to happen to you.” This parental warning has stayed branded in his mind, and to this day, he has stayed away from nicotine. 

Thanks to precautionary measures for his own health, Kleven has been growing more and more disgusted by and dissuaded from smoking cigarettes and vaping altogether. With the financial commitment of an addiction and the health downsides, “I just think it’s not really worth it,” he said. “My alcohol bill is already high enough.” 

Where some may be attracted to the aesthetic of smoking, others like Kleven admit that his aversion to smoking has gotten to a point of finding it unattractive for others and himself. “When [people] are always attached to their devices or who have to wake up and take 15 t-bowls a day, that’s not a person I’m looking for,” he said. 

The common mentality that “it’s not going to be me,” drives many addicts back to their nicotine device even with these facts from experts and criticisms from others in mind. Even if you find crafty ways to limit the habit for special occasions, the addiction of nicotine is real, known and scientifically proven.

“Young, wild, and free,” they say. “It’s not going to be me,” they say. These excuses for reaching for a vape or cigarette seem rampant among young smokers, yet many students end up reliant on them for the crisp headrush of nicotine inhalation. Whether smoking cigarettes or vaping, it’s an ironic epidemic of the youth. 

Written by: Sierra Jimenez — arts@theaggie.org

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