Second Hand Smoke

A group of women each with a large inflatable cigarette strapped to their back, in North London, Winter 2011, addressing any smoker in sight to quit their habit. The overturn of the smoking ban in The Netherlands for bars under a size of 72m2; a nostalgic gesture to what has been described as ‘the atmospheric heritage’ of smoking. The low-profile emergence of the outdoor (public) smoking pole, a singular stainless steel hollow pole with unremarkable appearance, comes in a comfortable standing height.

The inhaling of cigarette smoke makes one cough, dizzy and often nauseous—learning how to smoke requires effort and determination.

The first smoker of Europe, Rodrigo de Jerez, took up the habit after being introduced to it by Native Americans. He brings tobacco leaves back to his Spanish hometown, where he is imprisoned for his sinful habits, as ‘only the Devil could give man the power to exhale smoke from his mouth’. When he is released seven years later, smoking has caught on. The belief of the Native Americans in an entwined relationship between humans and spirits through tobacco, seeing it as their duty to plant, harvest and smoke the tobacco plant, since the spirits are in an endless need of the plant to survive. The strong, undiluted tobacco of the Native Americans. The control over the Native American's body was achieved through possessive control over the tobacco plant. The Western world increasingly moved towards a milder form of tobacco fit for everyday consumption. Finally, tobacco would gain a suitable and functional strength in the form of the cigarette.

The smoker would smoke in a smoking room in a smoking suit. On the grounds of etiquette, the abstinence from smoking was adopted in certain spaces or in the company of women. The invention of the Lucifer Match allows for the convenient carrying of fire, which leads to smoking in the open air. The smoking in factories, warehouses, shops and offices emerges as a way to counter the everyday rhythm of monotonous, sluggish work in the modern age. The modernist handy flat-pack cigarette fits in with this age of great activity. The smoking of cigarettes becomes an individualized, mild and transient habit—it gradually moves from being a supplementary activity, to contributing to the enhancement of one’s day. ‘It’s not just a cigarette. It’s a few minutes on your own,’ —Eve Lights Slim 100s.

In the 1920’s for women cigarette is a symbol of freedom, equality and personal choice. The dwindling association between cigarette smoking and masculinity and an analogous increase in smoking’s associations with femininity later becomes a strategy by which large capitalist patriarchal tobacco companies boost profits: ‘Over the 20th century […] in industrial countries the cultural meaning of women’s smoking as it relates to gender relations has moved from a symbol of being bought by men (prostitute), to being like men (lesbian/mannish/androgynous), to being able to attract men (glamorous/heterosexual)’. The filter-tipped cigarette becomes popular with women because these cigarettes don’t leave behind embarrassing bits of tobacco in the mouth; overall, it has mainly been embarrassment or social etiquette rather than a fear for health that has steered the development of ways in which tobacco has been consumed.

The smoking of tobacco is linked to lung cancer in the 1950’s. The construction of smoking as a public health problem. Science and media strongly interacted with these health issues. The discovery of addiction. Poor health. All of this coincides with the increasing fear that there is less social control over women – due to increased public availability of contraception. To regain control, there is a growing emphasis on the expectance of personal, individualised discipline. The responsibility to be informed, to be civilised. Tobacco and self-control. Smoking in pregnancy. Mg tar, mg nicotine, mg… etc. Lites. Concepts of safer smoking. The Saatchi & Saatchi 1973 anti-smoking campaign aimed at women concentrates on the links between smoking and losing sexual attractiveness. The connection to wrinkles. Smoking to lose weight. Smoking becomes a product of a growing social pressure toward exercising greater self-restraint.

The global cigarette—the cigarette is now the symbol of both freedom and control. The presentation of tobacco use as overpowering and addictive makes the tobacco companies look evil, as if they are controlling smokers for their own profits. The convenient presentation of tobacco smoking as an act of free will (the freedom to smoke) allows one to blame the smoker. The right to breathe smoke-free air at the end of the 1970’s was still a choice based on aesthetic factors rather than on proven health risks. It is here that smoking becomes a spatial issue. A growing awareness of the social consequences of individual behaviour: ‘The public smoker takes away my freedom to be a non-smoker’. From the ‘It’s my body and I’ll do as I please’ in the 1970’s to the ‘Do with your own body whatever you like, but do not expose mine to risks’ in the late 1980’s. The definite loss of tobacco’s freedom in the 1990’s.

The Smoker has been defined. The Non-Smoker remains invisible in the decisions made about smoking until medical discourse invents the Passive Smoker. It is medicine that needed to bring all bodies—both smoker and non-smoker—into view, making them all discussable. The debate over whether there is a moral difference between directly causing harm to someone and indirectly allowing harm to come to that person. The Smoker endangers the Non-Smoker’s inhalation of pure air; smoke for the smoker and smoke for the non-smoker. The acknowledgement of the existence of both direct and indirect smoke. It is the active smoker that creates the passive smoker—Second Hand Smoke is the conception of connected rather than disconnected bodies.



This text is the introduction to the printed publication Second Hand Smoke and was the press text for the exhibitions No Oduur (January 19 – March 4 2012, at Space, London) and Stop Being So Attractive I Can't Get Anything Done (March 16-24 2012, Autocenter, Berlin). The publication includes written contributions by Nicolas Ceccaldi, Simon Denny, Timo Feldhaus, Morag Keil & Lena Tutunjian, Mårten Spångberg, Valentina Liernur, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, and Jack Self. Introduction written by Marlie Mul. Publication designed by Marlie Mul and Hanne Lippard.