Thoughts on smoking as identity

Four smoker characters

Text and drawings by Frits Ahlefeldt

Over one billion people on the planet smoke, even though it has been proved above any doubt how harmful it is. Half of the smokers die from smoking, but they still do it… why? 

Four smokers - sailor, detective, soldier and woman
Collection of smoker characters

The identity of smoking

Smokers are often seen as rebels, dare-devils, gun-fighters and rough-necks. People who smoke as the world, their life, or ship goes down in flames. there seems to be a distinct appraisal of self-destruction about smoking. Something that is longed for – despite the consequences.

The long tail of the peacock and smoking

Maybe some animals (including humans ) indulge in risk-behavior to prove just how capable they are… it is the long tail of the peacock thing. Having a long and impossible tail, that makes you easy prey – and still surviving can be impressive. Showing of in this way is known from a lot of species.

Smokers tend to die from smoking, just like people, jumping of mountains in wing-suits, people playing Russian Roulette etc. – They still do it though.

Four smoker characters

I have drawn up four classic smoking characters here, each with a special “smoker identity

The old Captain

Pipe smoking old sailor - drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt
The Old Captain Character

Weather beaten old sailors sitting back in the harbor, after a long, risky life at sea, surviving storms, pirates, gigantic octopuses, meeting sea-maidens, exotic cultures and spending months crossing the oceans, are often described with a pipe in their mouth, like Captain Haddock from the Belgian cartoon Tintin

The Detective / investigator

illustration of a man in cottoncoat in the rain with a cigarette - drawing by Frits Ahlefeldt
The detective / journalist in the rain, waiting for the story to happen

Waiting in the rain, for hours the detective, or journalist or investigator in his cotton-coat and hat, looking up at the window. Is also a classic smoker character. An often disillusioned, lonely character, spending his night waiting for things to happen, that might never happen. Alone with a cigarette and a bottle of scotch fishing for some kind of story, evidence he can’t get in any other way than by waiting in the rain.

The Soldier

Illustration of a tired looking soldier with a cigarette
The disillusioned soldier, with a cigarette, staring into nothingness

Soldiers are often described with a smoke in their mouth, gazing out over the battle field, far, far from home and from being able to make sense of anything anymore. Dying soldiers get the last smoke, lying in the arms of their best comrade. Smoking and war seems to be the yin and yang of dying – either very fast or slow, but meaninglessly.

The woman in a man’s world

illustration of a woman looking tired and hardened, smoking a cigarette
The woman in a man’s world character, with a cigarette

Smoking is mainly a thing used to describe male characters, one exception is the woman gun-fighter, gang-member or other hard-core, street-wise, disillusioned woman type.

Just four of the many smoker characters, often the villain, the rebel and the reluctant / disillusioned / traumatized hero are smokers, being caught up in a story they can’t get out of…

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