Cigarette smoking has declined sharply in recent decades as studies have demonstrated its toxicity and programs to discourage young people from tobacco products have been successful. When actor Timothée Chalamet was recently photographed at a Beyoncé concert holding a cigarette – while approaching Kylie Jenner – the revelation was met with plenty of criticism. For example:
However, Chalamet isn’t the only young celebrity lighting up. As Kathleen Walsh writes in the Glamour article, people “might learn that many more of their favorite stars have a cigarette habit than they realize.”
In fact, Florence Pugh and Anya Taylor-Joy, both 27, and Jenna Ortega and Lily-Rose Depp, both 20, were all photographed smoking cigarettes this year. Chalamet’s rumored girlfriend Jenner was also caught holding what appeared to be a pack of cigarettes. And Dua Lipa, 28, posted photos of herself with cigarettes on Instagram – one that earned the comment: “The fact that you occasionally smoke is super sexy.”
Public health experts say this is concerning.
“Celebrities are influencers – for better or worse. “The young people who think smoking is OK because of who they see smoking tend to try cigarettes,” Lynn Kozlowski, dean emeritus of the School of Public Health at SUNY Buffalo, tells Yahoo Life. “Any person so strongly induced to smoke risks becoming one in three out of five smokers who die prematurely.”
Gallup polls show the share of U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes hit a new low in 2022, with a particularly staggering decline among 18- to 29-year-olds. However, other data suggests that young adults aged 25 and over still smoke at relatively high rates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 12.6% of people ages 25 to 44 smoke cigarettes, making them the second highest smoking group after the 45 to 64 age group.
The New York Times reported in 2022 that “smoking is back” as sources anecdotally reported that friends in their 20s who had never smoked cigarettes before had started. This is consistent with findings from the National Cancer Institute that smoking initiation ages have increased over the years. “Today it’s not just young people who are at risk of starting smoking. We also need to carefully consider young adults,” said Annette Kaufman of the NCI’s Tobacco Control Research Division.
Clear evidence of the return of cigarettes is still missing; However, the Federal Trade Commission reported an increase in cigarette sales in 2021 – the first in 20 years. Most recently, cigarette brand Hestia – the first to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 15 years – even used the taboo surrounding cigarettes to market their product.
“By making cigarettes taboo and ridiculously censoring, they became cool to young people,” a blogger named Meg Superstar Princess told the New York Post.
Additionally, Salvatore Fallica, associate professor of media, culture and communication at New York University, tells Yahoo Life: “We’re seeing a kind of resurgence of ’80s culture, so it’s a step backwards.” Smoking has always been part of this rebelliousness image. Nowadays cigarettes really convey such an image of rebellion [marijuana] maybe once.”
Why is that important?
According to the CDC, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States. And while smoking rates are still at historic lows, images of celebrities and cigarettes could soon have an impact on those numbers.
The CDC lists the factors associated with youth tobacco use. This includes the way mass media portrays tobacco use as a normal activity and young people see others their age consuming these products. “Young people are overly influenced by celebrities,” Fallica adds, pointing to the images of stars like Chalamet and Lipa. “And young people will inculcate that into their personal habits.”
The Truth Initiative, the nation’s largest nonprofit health organization working to end nicotine and tobacco use, confirms this with research that draws connections between youth tobacco use and its portrayal on screens and social media. In 2018, the organization highlighted Instagram photos of Kendall Jenner and Bella Hadid holding cigarettes, noting that these “could help tobacco companies recruit more young smokers” by normalizing and even glamorizing the use of tobacco products.
In 2023, the organization notes that the existence of images of tobacco in popular shows and films – including seven of the 10 films nominated for the Academy Awards in March – is an ongoing problem. “Smoking, often portrayed as glamorous and edgy, remains ubiquitous on screen, even as research warns that smoking can lead young people to start smoking and vaping,” the organization said, citing in doing so, based on a conclusion drawn over a decade ago in a study published in the 2012 General Surgeon Report.
And while there are fans who decry their favorite celebs’ smoking habits – “I’m afraid I’ve entered my Timothée Chalamet era,” one wrote on “When the cigarette and tobacco industry invades the culture,” he says, “is “It’s what I’m worried about.”