After reading a recent New York Times article about how cigarettes are making a comeback, I was struck by how much it rang true for our generation, especially on college campuses such as Berkeley’s. In my first two years of high school, cigarettes were not really on my radar, although vapes were just as popular as they are now. Then, during my junior and senior years, it began to feel like more and more of my peers were starting to smoke.
Flash forward to my freshman year at UC Berkeley, and it feels like cigarettes are everywhere. More and more people seem to be posting photos of them or their friends smoking on social media as well — my peers and social media influencers alike. Where did this new fascination with cigarettes come from, and why?
Cigarette smoking has declined in the US for the last 30 years, but “in 2020, for the first time in two decades, cigarette sales increased,” according to the New York Times article. While we don’t know if this increase was influenced by an increase in college students smoking, it is interesting nonetheless. Why are college students — who presumably know how detrimental smoking is for their health — deciding to take up smoking?
To me, it seems to be a combination of social media and the general “aura” of smoking as a social activity. The more that influencers and one’s peers post on social media about smoking, the more normalized it can become, until smoking becomes just as normal as vaping has become on college campuses.
However, where smoking and vaping differ is in the social aspect — sharing a cigarette can become a group activity in a way that vaping cannot really match. A “smoke circle” of other college students seems to be a way for some to participate in the social scene with a group of friends in a way that simply asking to hit a friend’s vape is not.
While it’s unclear whether this new trend of cigarette smoking is here to stay on college campuses, next time you see someone smoking on campus, it might be interesting to stop and think about the social influences that led up to this trend. With ‘90s style low-waisted jeans and longer, silhouetted tops coming back, isn’t it funny how, in some ways, it seems that the college scene has moved in a circle?