Why is smoking sexy?

Maybe it’s the face.

Maybe it’s the face.

Table of Contents


But in the town it was well known when they got home at night … [that smoking is sexy].

Pink Floyd

As everyone knows by now, smoking conveys the essence of a kind of hardcore sexiness. People start smoking in order to look a certain way. Self-destructive is the big one, but also self-absorbed, cool, sexy, dominant, irreverent, carefree, dangerous, and alpha.

How does this work? In this post I propose five bases, presented below in order from nurture to nature:

  1. Prohibition—This is what makes smoking so attractive to young females, the largest cohort of smokers in Western countries. Smoking is only for adults, and (traditionally) only for men. If you are socially constructed as powerless, delicate, and second class, you can undo this construction by wearing a sign. Wearing a T-shirt that says Fuck you! is less powerful than smoking, because the latter includes the power of ontological participation (see below).
  2. Marketing—Specific attitudes are drawn from the glossary of Known Smoking Faces (KSFs), which have set meanings and have been ingrained into us by advertising. These meanings are fixed by association. Only through association. People start smoking to acquire the mojo and aura associated with KSFs—and in this way to effect a kind of attitude makeover. People smoke to create a new character that is not their own but one attached to the smoking attitude created by marketing.
  3. Ontological participation—These faces are especially potent because inhalation connotes ontological participation. Taking-in is an act of self-making. There are many things you can copy to become someone new, but smoking stands apart from all the rest because, like piercing, it is a public act of self-penetration. You are not simply wearing the same Nike cap, you are injecting the same poison, with the same flair, while making the same face. Because it is physically self-altering, smoking is the most effective ritual means for effecting a makeover of your very soul.
  4. Lungs are more vaginal than vaginas—Your lungs are not only invaginated tissue, but are made of the endoderm, the original vagina. The alveolar sacs are geometrically vagina-like, and spraying them with poisonous molecules is a masochistic-sexual act.
  5. Meiotic trauma—Sexual organisms exist for others as craving 50%ers. The particular feature of psychological damage displayed by smoking is the intentional reception of death. And the reason we decode this as sexy is because we see it as an intentional replaying of the meiotic trauma. Self-destruction is sexy because sex (meiosis) is self-destructive.

Ugly truth preamble

The ugly truth is that tobacco juice is some sick shit you’d scrape off your shoe (if you stepped in it) and wash off your body (if it splashed on you) and induce vomiting (if you accidentally drank it).

“But what about nicotine?” you ask. “What about the high?”

Nearly all “the drugs” out there that we take for their experiential effect are teachers. That is, they teach you about consciousness by perturbing its normal functioning and revealing what self-and-world are like with the absence of some automatic (and so normally transparent) feature.

If you have somehow lived your life with tobacco as your only “drug” then you have learned almost nothing about consciousness and probably have less reflective self-presence than most humans. Out of all the drugs available, tobacco is the least educational. Out of the psychedelics (cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, salvia), the coca family (coca leaves, cocaine, crack/freebase), the opium family (morphine, heroin, and prescribed pills), the amphetamine family (Desoxyn and Adderall), the alcohol family, and tobacco—tobacco is the most harmful and provides the lamest alteration of consciousness. It's doubly shitty.

There are two categories of chemical in tobacco—nicotine and poison:

  1. Nicotine—Unlike the psychedelics (which increase intelligence, novel insight, and real transformation of habit) nicotine doesn’t improve you at all. It's lame and useless, though it does increase focus for certain kinds of mathematical and literary work.
  2. Poison—All the other chemicals in tobacco are super toxic. Pesticides, herbicides, and shit that would get you shut down if OSHA ever found it in the workplace. Brown poisonous juice.

Burned tobacco extract, or shit juice, is something that you wouldn’t ever touch. Yet you spray it on the tenderest and most important gateway tissue in your body—your air-gills.

The chemicals in tobacco are exactly the ones that you'd remove from your kitchen if you had kids. You wouldn’t touch them without gloves. You definitely wouldn’t eat them. And you ultra-definitely wouldn’t spray them onto the tennis-court sized membranes of your unfolded lungs. That is to say—if you unfolded your lungs into a sheet, got a spray bottle full of brown poisonous juice, and then sprayed the sheet until it was soaked brown with the poison, you’d probably figure you were dreaming.

Of all the permeable tissues that constitute you, the lungs are the most important. Of all the substances in the world that you would avoid, shit juice is the most repulsive. Yet we combine them—all because we want to embody a known smoking face.


Forbiddance may also be part of the attraction.

  • Only adults can smoke, so kids think it’s cool. Adults are freer, have more sex, have authority over kids, are smarter, are physically stronger … and smoke. What kid doesn’t crave adult power? Improved status is definitely one of the attractants.
  •  In the olden times, only male smoking was culturally acceptable. Hollywood stepped in and invented a proxy for female economic power, which is the power of image appropriation.

So women smokers get the most social benefit from smoking. They are doubly improved. Smoking is non-juvenile and non-delicate, so women who smoke are mature and strong.


Known smoking faces

The set of attractive smoking faces is finite and familiar:

  • You can squint your eyes like the Marlboro man to get that ultra-gay tough guy look, or squint them by raising the bottom eyelidsnarrowed eyes is what they call it—to get that sexy bitch-face look.

  • You can worm your eyebrows to create the Bemused Arrogance Forehead—a look associated with James Dean, James Bond, and Justin Bieber—which says either “I don’t give a fuck” or “You’re so below me I can only crinkle my brow in amusement.”

  • If you’re a girl or trans-woman, you can sit or recline to expose your long shiny legs, part your lips (or pout) and let it dangle therefrom. Or hold it and raise one eyebrow.

Whether you are male or female, when you inhale you have an opportunity to look slit-eyed-mean. The slit-eyed inhalation face is a huge deal. The slit-eyed inhalation face is so important that most people start smoking just to finally be seen making, and so being, it. And the exhale is also attractive. It is the one acceptable act of public excretion in Western societies. Burping, farting, pissing, and shitting are all forbidden in front of strangers or even friends. But shitting smoke from your mouth is acknowledged as a successful display of disdain and superiority.

Sexy face is one thing, but sexy face smoking is omnipotent. Beauty that embraces death fearlessly, even craves death, is spellbinding. As Sebastian Seung once pointed out to me, Chuck Klosterman has said that there is nothing more alluring than a psychologically damaged woman. And now this attraction has been, in fact, empirically verified:

Damaged women are more attractive

Goetz, C. D., Easton, J. A., Lewis, D. & Buss, D. (2011). Sexual exploitability: observable cues and their link to sexual attraction. Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 33, Issue 4, 417-26.

Abtract: Although antiexploitation adaptations, such as cheater-detection mechanisms, have been well explored, comparatively little research has focused on identifying adaptations for exploitation. The present study had two purposes: (1) to identify observable cues that afford information about which women are sexually exploitable and (2) to test the hypothesis that men find cues to sexual exploitability sexually attractive, an adaptation that functions to motivate pursuit of accessible women. Male participants rated photographs of women who displayed varying levels of hypothesized cues to exploitability. We identified 22 cues indicative of sexual exploitability. Nineteen of these cues were correlated significantly with sexual attractiveness, supporting the central hypothesis. Results suggest that sexual attraction to exploitability cues functions to motivate men to employ exploitative strategies towards accessible targets, and contribute foundational knowledge to the diverse classes of cues that afford information about which women are and are not sexually exploitable.

Origins: product placement

Hollywood invented the KSFs and gave them the power that only widely disseminated images can have.

Actually, it was actors who invented these faces. But these actors had to use cigarettes in their parts because they were required to by the producers of the films they were in. It’s called product placement. It provides half of the advertising revenue in television and all of the advertising revenue in film.

Rod Serling even made a “commercial” to his advertisers saying as much. (And this is no impugnment against Serling. I’m sure he did a Satanic Ritual prior to carrying out the act of selling himself like a character from his own morality tales. He just bucked up and performed, like it was part of his job.)

Actors were required to smoke by the producers of the films they were in. And, being actors, they did a good job looking good while smoking. And thus the Known Smoking Faces were born—now-famous associations between smoking and emotion that we all feel to be natural today.

BONUS: When you inhale while making any face, you freeze and strengthen its meaning. If this face is anywhere similar to a KSF, then you gain all the power of that face. Adding fake association invented on film like its an objective meaning is what people do when they choose a type and then imitate it. For example, you can squint and look slit-eyed-mean while you inhale, and let the pain of the inhale mix with your anger in a kind of sympathetic-magickal ritual.

Inhalation as real participation

The climax of the “attractive smoker” act is inhalation, during which time you express one of the KSFs. The moment of inhalation is the climax because it is the actual act of self-harm, self-stabbing—willfully taking in poison. In that moment, your face becomes frozen in time and resonates with a KSF belonging to one of the Smoking Immortals.

To participate in the hero archetype who defies death by participating in it. You say, “Look at me. I’m hurting myself and I like it. This hurts and is bad for me and watch me enjoy it. I’m a badass. And look, I’m wearing a smile. I want to be hurt! Being hurt turns me on!” Participation by ingestion is more effective than other kinds of participation because acts of ingestion are ontologically constitutive.

If you want to convey I love death, you could paint a skull on your arm. Or you could eat a skull—that would be (literally) more hardcore, because you would be bringing the thing more deeply into your being. Or you could smoke the skull. That would be best, because now your are transmuting the skull into spirit (breath) and mixing it with your soul (breath). Mixing of breaths is the deepest interchange. Breathing your lover’s breath underwater is more intimate than sucking her breast, even if she’s lactating.

The smoker’s inhalation of shit juice is a stronger gesture of death-love than getting a skull tattoo. It is a gesture of final moksha, and is very profound. Like the Aghori—ultra-barbaric ascetics who live in the ashes of cremation grounds and eat bloated, rotting corpses—the smoker says, “Transcendence over death comes by accepting it!”


Find the worst possible shit, and then fuse with it. Find the most unbearable thing, and then love it. If you want pain, then who can hurt you? If the bad and the good are both affirmed, then your life will be a success. You will never be disappointed if you embrace ALL things. But the most important thing to love of all is the thing that you dread and cannot love.

This is the wise message of the insane Aghori. And this is the mini-message of the smoker.

Hey man. I’m gonna die anyway. Why not bring it on faster?

Not caring that what you're doing is dangerous and deadly is inherently cool.

Lungs as true vagina

A table of the three derms and what becomes of them after folding in weird ways a few hundred times. Here is your original vagina. The “in” in “Come in me!” is supposed to mean this. Sadly, the actual vagina is just ectoderm—invaginated skin, basically.

A table of the three derms and what becomes of them after folding in weird ways a few hundred times. Here is your original vagina. The “in” in “Come in me!” is supposed to mean this. Sadly, the actual vagina is just ectoderm—invaginated skin, basically.

It is just a fact that we interpret the soul (or reified or hypostatized self) as what in inmost. We say that my real self is deep or core. I say that I am deeper than my skin. That you can kill the surface but “I” will still remain? What is this untouchable “I?”

It is in the center of our three-dimensional body only as an analogical projection onto 3-space. Really, my self is outside the whole spatial way-of-thinking. It would be what Gilbert Ryle calls a category mistake for me to ascribe color, position, shape, size, and other spatial attributes. It cannot have these attribute because it does not fall under the domain spatial.

Nonetheless, we say inside and center and inmost. And when we want to retreat from existence as a body, we don’t imagine disappearing, we imagine going infinitely inwards.

The male during orgasm wants to explode out to infinity and abolish his compressed point-hood forever. The female during orgasm wants her center to by annihilated by being filled, by otherness. For the girl, center is replaced by otherness; for the boy, center is exploded into otherness. In both cases, the starting self is a ghost in the center.

[I have written elsewhere about how the sympathetic nervous imperative of inwards retreat may indicate that consciousness is 4D trying to find an additional orthogonal escape from 3D harm.]

Anyway, you have a center (even though it is a false analogy for the 4D reason), and this is your endoderm.

The endoderm produces tissue within the lungs, thyroid, and pancreas.

The endoderm is your original vagina.

Here is your original vagina. The “in” in “Come in me!” is supposed to mean this.

Here is your original vagina. The “in” in “Come in me!” is supposed to mean this.

Sadly, the female organ we call the vagina is actually just a patch of ectoderm—invaginated skin, basically. Your authentic vaginas are (1) your mouth–anus tube and (2) your lungs.

This is why smoking is such a spiritual experience for people (especially tobacco addicts). You are ingesting a pleasure molecule—that’s fine. But you are also associating this direct pleasure rush with a copulation-like sensation. You are fucking your alveoli with smoke-cocks.

Women and men alike also have an additional 500 million vaginas.

Women and men alike also have an additional 500 million vaginas.

Alveolar cells are in fact made of the endoderm germ layer—the original vagina. Your innermost flesh, or endoderm, folds and complexifies and eventually develops into those five areas of the body that I am sure you already knew developed from your original vagina.

Dramatizing meiotic trauma

Masochism dramatizes meiosis

Self-destruction is the prelude to love. I cannot love (fuse with) you without first giving you space “inside” me; I cannot receive without prior emptying. This is accomplish through meiosis, through the meiotic half-death. The only me that can fuse with you is a me that is half-empty and which can accept another. This is my gamete-self, which is only 50% of me. To live again, my future self must throw half of itself away. Meiosis is the basis of love; or, love is the agent-voiced affirmation of a potential genetic complement.

Sperm cells and eggs are 50% Mini-Mes. My cell colony reads the behavior of yours, and if the symptoms reveal good DNA, then my call colony makes “me” want to fuck you—want to conflate my Mini-Me together with yours. I “feel” this decision as “my” “attraction” to “you.”

Suicide lurks behind every approach. The mere fact of my approach signals the truth—that I approach because I am cut in half. When I approach you, I do so gamete-in-hand; the germ cells of my semi-suicide are my bouquet. When I approach you, we both know that I am being propelled forward by the wound of meiosis. My wound both propels me and it is also what I offer, which is myself after my meiotic half-death, but marketed as a candidate 50%-you.

The 50% loss of my meiotic half-death is, in material fact, a species of wound (where wound is defined as any even involving the culling away of vital physical material). So I can use wound as a metonym for the meiotic trauma:

I offer you my gaping wound as candidate complement to your gaping wound, and I seek your gaping wound as a complement to my own.

In this way, the semi-suicide can be incorporated into the content of my seduction. Replaying the meiotic suicide in your approach—cleverly, artfully, self-consciously and semiotically—is a deadly aphrodisiac. It’s like confessing to a crime to prove that you didn’t do it. When I approach you while smoking, I re-enact the semi-suicide of my gamete production and announce that I am cool with being half-dead. That is the soul of sexiness.

The allure of marred perfection

We have covered all but one of the major factors that make smoking sexy. For kids and women it is automatically sexy because it is forbidden. For everyone who watches TV or film it is sexy because of marketing. For everyone who is aware of physiology, inhalation is copulation and smoking is a kind of dirty, naughty masturbation. And for sex-born (and so sex-manic) organisms generally, masochism is seductive because it replays the meiotic trauma that motivates every seduction, every approach, and every act of communication.

But we have left something important out. The person smoking has to be physically attractive. If the smoker is physically repulsive, then all of these factors are cancelled out.

When I was in India, I lived near a leper colony and saw skull-headed lepers smoke. In Austin, you will find Texas-style obese women who like to smoke, and you can see that they are doing it precisely to compensate for their horridness. Fat old men also smoke. Native Americans ritually smoke from pipes and, although their deeply creased black leather skin is noble, their smoking doesn’t emanate sexiness.

But now when a Young Evil Naughty Girl (YENG) does it, the inevitable truths of poison, stink, and ugly seem to vanish, and smoking reduces merely to its aspect of sexy (meiosis-connoting) self-harm.



When a YENG does it, she’s trying to be naughty to get Daddy’s powerful attention. Also, the girl who smokes is promiscuous. Bad girls smoke and fornicate.

Do the (a) leathery, splotched, cancerous, corrugated, leprous, and insecticide-saturated smokers and the (b) YENGs and other sexy-type teen smokers have anything in common? Yes—they both smoke, and the former are the future of the latter.

Why don’t we see this when we see a YENG smoke?

Why don’t we see this when we see a YENG smoke?

If we know that the result of smoking is so repulsive, why do we not feel repulsed when we see a YENG smoke? Yes, smoking accelerates her transformation into a drooping, wrinkly, tar-lacquered bag of leather. But remember that hastening of death is smoking’s chief allure. When she inhales and widens her eyes, she is saying:

That’s right, I’m killing myself right in front of you using this silly Hollywood marketing oral-sexual self-poisoning display behavior. I'm killing myself and, as you can see from my pleasure face, I’m enjoying it. Can you pleasure me with death as well as I pleasure myself? Are you good enough … to kill me with the same satisfaction?
Pouty and young, this is her best photo.

Pouty and young, this is her best photo.

As Rick Roderick used to tell me when I was freaking out over a lost lover, love, or long-term girlfriend,

Man loves what is fleeting.

Loss is the substance of value. Without the thing’s existence, its value could never exist. Suicide imparts immense, gut-churning value. The Gospel of John self-consciously riffs on this idea beautifully, and brings the “intentional suicide strategy” for spinning the crucifixion (made famous by Paul) into the most profound and moving depths:

The greatest love

John 15:12-15

12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.

We love what is fleeting, and the smoking YENG hastens the death of her own beauty, which may be her only virtue. Jesus died out of compassion, but the YENG dies out of meiosis-emulating lust.

Why the YENG rules

Smoking is a cheap, easy, short-cut cheat to looking experienced, dangerous, worldly, danger-loving, and sexually advanced. It takes no skill, and you immediately get the Bette Davis Badge, the Uma Thurman Badge, the James Dean Badge, the Clint Eastwood Badge, and all the other Badges of Immortals.

The secret here: she is moving from an inward, masturbatory self-focus to an outward, uplifted and fearless face—with perfect apathy.

The secret here: she is moving from an inward, masturbatory self-focus to an outward, uplifted and fearless face—with perfect apathy.

It depends on what you’re going for. The kinds of fake smoking self are as many as the fake selves we invented in high school by our choice of rock band T-shirt. The band on your shirt was your brand image. YENGs are sexy in multiple ways.

  • The YENG who smokes with flair and confidence is dangerous in the promiscuous, man-eating way.
  • The mousey YENG in the black turtleneck who smokes to look intellectual and self-fascinated is dangerous in the potentially psycho way.
  • And there are other and even non-YENG masks of teen smoking.

Besides these particular types, there are looming in the background the two universally sexy factors we've already discussed. These are the most important images. First, smoking itself is dangerous in the body-killing way, so both types get a +2 on (apparent) strength and charisma. Second, smoking itself is also oral-sexy by plain geometry and mechanics—she is sucking dark monster into her true vagina.

These bad acts already hang together loosely. Marketing then combines, amplifies, and purifies them into near universal cultural archetypes. As a result, the YENG knows that she has some sexiness advantage over her non-smoking peers.


But that’s only part of it. The whole point of this ridiculous post was to isolate and name all of the tributaries that feed the common belief that smoking is sexy. These reasons were:

  1. Prohibition—Smoking, like sex, is forbidden to youth, which is precisely the stage in life when both sex and mystery are the most alluring.
  2. Marketing—Product placement of tobacco in films linked smoking with tough alpha old guy, sexy young irreverent rebel punk, sexy sex-pot buxom woman, sexy strong self-determined financially self-supporting woman, and fever-provoking sexy Naughty Young Girl.
  3. Ontological participation—Just like wearing KISS makeup lets you participate in the Four Avatars of KISS, so also smoking lets you invoke the actual James Dean or Bette Davis into your very spirit (spiritus = breath, how perfect).
  4. Lungs are more vaginal than vaginas—How apt that smoking is sexualized, because lung tissue is more vaginal than the actual vagina membrane, for lung tissue is endoderm.
  5. Meiotic trauma—Being self-destructive in public is part of every animal’s courtship rite. So suicidal smoking is bound to seduce. Except for the vomitous breath. (But even this can be sexy under the right circumstances, such as integration with scat sex.)