Why women feel free to let their health go up in smoke

2011-10-15 08:53

In the past, it wasn’t common to see young black women smoking, especially in public. But these days, we see an increasing number smoking in restaurants, bars, offices and other social spaces.

It has become so common that it doesn’t ignite any surprise or shock any more, even though there is still disapproval, more so towards women than men.

Despite the fact that the health negatives of smoking are often outlined, it seems more young people seem to be resorting to cigarettes. About 22% of women in developed countries and 9% in developing countries smoke tobacco.

The reasons may vary due to differing smoking policies, social or personal values and economic factors. Where gender roles differ and the women are more “liberated”, smoking is more socially acceptable, as is the case in urban and cosmopolitan areas.Women smoking is a sign of emancipation, and as a male friend recently pointed out, more intelligent “thinking” women are more likely to smoke than those perceived to be more traditional and oppressed.

We live in challenging times and it is difficult for many people to deal with the stresses of modern living. As a way to deal with it all, numerous coping habits are picked up and these are rarely positive.

Alcohol, drugs, promiscuity and smoking are often chosen over other “recreational” activities. In a True Love magazine feature, Peter Ucko said: “Since the advent of democracy, many young women have better jobs with disposable income, and they think it is a sign of status to smoke, because it’s glamorised in Western culture. Some also smoke as its something that men have done. As liberated women, they want to prove a point.”

Smoking seems to come with a sense of power, control and independence.

The ability to take on a habit that is seen as rebellious and “naughty”.Yes, in Western culture, it is seen as a norm and more acceptable than in other cultures.

The fact that black people often equate progress with Westernisation makes it difficult to differentiate between picking up a habit and modelling ourselves on Western behavioural patterns.

The notoriety that comes with smoking makes it a habit that stands out, and the health implications aren’t considered.Many younger black women suffer from “independent bulls**t syndrome”.

We work hard, make our own money and our own choices. Even though we may be aware that we are not the same as men, we are aware that we are equal.

The underlying mentality is: “I can do what I want, when I want. If a man can do it, why can’t I?”The rebellion was started by the women’s liberation movement, the women who threw away their bras, drank beer and let their body hair grow.

Unfortunately, this has seen women drinking beer like their fathers, sleeping with whom they want to and, yes, picking up smoking and making it acceptable.The sight of a woman with a cigarette can be shocking, sexy and powerful.

There is an “admirable” element in doing something that is deemed unacceptable. “Bad girls are cool girls”.As it does with men, smoking causes all sorts of cancer, premature menopause, infertility problems and, let’s face it, cigarettes smell terrible.

The urban myths related to smoking include the assumption that smoking helps lose weight (as it impairs the appetite), it shows power (the illusion of power) and that it is “cool” (the notoriety associated with the act).

The amusing part is that the ingredients are listed on the package – cigarettes have more than 700 ingredients like tar and uric acid among others.Most young people have dabbled with smoking at some point. It often falls away with age.

It is not inherent but just a picked up habit. The “enslavement” aspect of it is detrimental as smoking is expensive – from a financial and health perspective.

It’s also amusing how it’s more acceptable for white women to smoke than black women. It is these disparities and biases that have created a generation of “hardcore” young women who challenge stereotypes, the norm and, as Ucko says: “To prove a point”, shallow as it may be.

The smoking industry, it seems, will continue to thrive. The prevalence of the habit reflects the disparities in social systems and the power of perception and influence because, after many years, there’s still no valid and intelligent reason to smoke

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