a burgundy zine

Cigarettes: Over Romanticized and Over Done ’till Death

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By: burgundy bug

Digital art of a girl smoking

Source: POISON | Penelope Peru Photography P3

Between the parting of your lips and secured between your teeth is nothing but pure bliss – or what some might call a “cancer stick.”

Cigarettes are more than just a quick hit of dopamine and death sentence. They are a timeless aesthetic, romanticized and over done until the very end.

Although the harmful effects of cigarette smoking are widely advertised and well documented over the last century, references to cigarettes still plague our favorite songs, clothing, art, and memes.

A Bit of Context…

Just need to breathe, just need some air

Source: Traditional Art | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Tobacco has been indigenous to America for 8,000 years, but it wasn’t until about 2,000 years ago that humans started chewing and smoking it during ceremonies and events, according to the Cancer Council of New South Wales (NSW).

The first European to smoke tobacco was good ol’ pillaging Christopher Columbus. By the 1600s, it had become the norm across Europe and England, continuing to spread on through the 1700s.

All of this, in spite of doctors – albeit, far and few between – beginning to put the safety of smoking tobacco under the microscope.

Under the pen name “Philaretes,” a doctor published the first analysis of health risks that could be associated with smoking tobacco in 1602, according to a review published by Health Education Research.

Philaretes work exposed the health risks of both chimney work and tobacco smoke.

Interestingly enough, Philaretes so blatantly opposed tobacco that he wrote it’s “Better to be chokt [choked] with English hemp than poisoned with Indian Tobacco.”

In 1912, Dr. Isaac Adler voiced his suspicion that tobacco and alcohol abuse may be linked to lung cancer in a clinical study, although he remained apprehensive, stating, “The entire subject is not ready for final judgement.”

52 years later, the Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service, Dr. Luther L. Terry, released the first report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC).

Basing their research on over 7,000 articles on smoking and disease available during the 1960s, the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee caught cigarettes red handed for causing lung cancer and chronic bronchitis.

So What? We All Die Anyways, Right?

words words words

yawn yawn yawn

just sleep all day long

Source: Traditional Art | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Yes, while death is inevitable and therefore pointless to fear, I will go on the record for saying it is downright idiotic to purposely poison yourself simply because it’s “cute,” “trendy,” “an aesthetic,” or “feels good.”

If your reason for smoking cigarettes happens to be a death wish, then I’m sorry to inform you that cigarette smoking is a slow, bitter, and painful way to die.

Lung cancer is merciless. According to the American Cancer Society, it is the second most common form of cancer, right behind prostate and breast cancer. However, it is by far the leading cause of cancer-related death.

That being said, the earlier it’s detected, the more likely you are to survive. Currently, there are nearly 500,000 people alive that had been diagnosed with lung cancer at some point.

Why People Smoke Cigarettes


Source: My Brain 21 | Penelope Peru Photography P³

Although the CDC reports cigarette smoking kills well over 480,000 Americans annually and costs $170 million a year in medical expenses, it remains a $125 billion market, according to Statista. The CDC estimated that 34.3 million U.S. adults smoked cigarettes in 2017.

According to the American Cancer Society, most people start smoking in their teens because they believe it’s “cool” or “just wanted to try it.”

90-percent of those who smoke cigarettes took their first inhalation before they were 18-years old, and those who start smoking as a teenager are far more likely to smoke throughout their adulthood. It is estimated that 75-percent of high schoolers who smoke will continue beyond graduation.

In other words, “it’s not a phase, mom!”

Why are Cigarettes Addictive?


Source: Traditional Art | Penelope Peru Photography P³

This over romanticization and idolization of cigarettes quickly evolves into addiction, study after study has found.

In short, we aren’t addicted to the culture of cigarette smoking: we’re addicted to the nicotine.

Research suggests nicotine is as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol

Source: Nicotine | American Cancer Society

As the American Cancer Society writes in their article on why people start using tobacco, nicotine is absorbed by the lungs and enters the bloodstream rapidly, reaching the brain within seconds of the initial inhalation.

Nicotine is a stimulant, just like caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines.

Unlike other stimulants, which delay the reuptake of dopamine in our brains, nicotine causes a release of dopamine.

Dopamine, is pretty dope – I mean, it’s the feel good hormone.

We’ve covered dopamine before in our article What Happens to Your Brain When You’re in Love.

In short, dopamine plays a vital role in coordination, movement, bliss, and our sense of accomplishment, according to University Health News Daily. It also affects our sleep, mood, and short term memory.

Your brain releases dopamine when you feel pleasure. Whenever you listen to your favorite song, finish a major project, kiss that someone special, or suck down a cigarette, dopamine floods your brain.

Dopamine is the very reason nicotine is highly addictive. Every time you smoke a cigarette, your brain lights up like fireworks, signaling from one neuron to to the other, “HEY THIS FEELS GOOD SO THIS MUST BE GOOD KEEP PUTTING GOOD THINGS IN YOUR BODY!”

Yes, nicotine is addictive, but it isn’t necessarily the root of all evil.

While withdrawal is unpleasant, nicotine’s stimulant properties may serve as a promising treatment for depression, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as Parkinson’s Disease, according to research published by the Public Library of Science Biology.

What is Addiction?

Addiction is a physiological and psychological dependence on a substance. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) lists the following effects of nicotine withdrawal:

  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Disordered sleep
  • An increase in appetite
  • Powerful nicotine cravings

Cigarette Alternatives


Currently, e-cigarettes are a $2.35 billion dollar industry, according to Statista.

This then begs the question: are e-cigarettes safer than cigarettes?


Burgundy Bug | The Burgundy Zine

Even the NIH acknowledges the source of cigarette smoking’s carcinogenic properties are from the tobacco, not the nicotine.

The research on potential adverse health effects from e-cigarettes is still in its infancy, as e-cigarettes were only invented in 2003, the Consumer Advocates for Smoke Free Alternatives Association (CASAA) reports.

However, the American Lung Association reviewed over 800 different studies and published their findings in 2018. They found that there are a myriad of toxic chemicals in e-cigarette products.

The American Lung Association also noted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not acknowledge e-cigarettes as an effective or safe method for quitting cigarettes.

If you are actually interested in cutting back on the cigs, you ought to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or speak to your primary care doctor.

Nicotine Gum and Patches

Nicotine gum and patches are sold at just about every pharmacy and touted as an alternative to cigarettes.

However, chewing too much nicotine gum or applying too many nicotine patches does have some adverse effects.

RxList provides some of the following side effects of chewing Nicorette, a brand of nicotine gum:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite
  • Heartburn
  • Hiccups
  • Nausea
  • Vomitting
  • Gas
  • Oral irritation

Alternatively, NicoDerm, a brand of nicotine patches, lists some of the following as their adverse side effects:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Digestive issues
  • Dizziness
  • Vivid dreams
  • Skin irritation


While the American Lung Association warns the carcinogens from smoking cannabis “flower” in a joint, bowl, or bong are no better than those from smoking cigarettes, vaporizing cannabis cuts out the middleman.

Again – the research on the safety of vaping is still in its infancy, but vaporizing pure flower or cannabis concentrates may be the safest method of inhaling cannabis.

Of course, the safest method of administering cannabis is through edibles, such as capsules or gummies.

The Safety of Edible Cannabis

Source: Are Cannabis Edibles Safe? | NutritionFacts.org

In Conclusion


Source: My Brain 12 | Penelope Peru Photography P³

In conclusion, cigarettes are over romanticized and over done until death – quite literally. Tobacco is loaded with carcinogens and toxic chemicals that lead to lung cancer, the second most common type of cancer and deadliest.

While the romanticization of cigarettes may inspire a few to buy their first pack, it is the nicotine that keeps them coming back.

Nicotine itself isn’t carcinogenic, but it is a stimulant. Research suggests it is just as addictive as alcohol, cocaine, and even heroin.

Additionally, there aren’t many safe ways to get your fill of nicotine. E-cigarettes contain their own toxic chemicals and the side effects of nicotine gum or patches aren’t always so pleasant.

You could opt for a little cannabis over cigarettes – but again, smoking cannabis is no less harmful than smoking a cigarette. The only safe way to indulge in cannabis is through the use of edibles.

In any case, be good to your lungs and be good to yourself. Whatever you do, exercise caution and responsibility.

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burgundy bug


A cynical optimist and mad scientist undercover, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, webmaster, social media manager, and primary photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Entangled in a web of curiosity, burgundy bug’s work embodies a wide variety of topics including: neuroscience, psychology, ecology, biology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. You can learn more about working with burgundy bug by visiting her portfolio website: burgundybug.com

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