Rebel, rebel, I love you so… and so does everyone else, which means the last bastion of unfiltered anti-authoritarianism is the menthol cigarette, writes Charley Gordon
By Charley Gordon
It’s hard to be a rebel these days because these days you can do anything you want and nobody bothers you. Even doing something as formerly controversial as changing your gender lands you in a warm bath of tolerance and encouragement. Also you can wear anything you want and say anything you want, so long as you do it anonymously on the Internet.
So to be a true rebel you have to do anything you don’t want to do, wear anything you don’t want to wear and say anything you don’t want to say.
Most people don’t see the fun in that. Still, there are people who want to be defiant and need things to defy. Now, this isn’t hard to find in repressive dictatorships, but around these parts most people’s taste in defiance doesn’t run quite that far. Would-be rebels among us would like to be show our defiance without necessarily being jailed or tortured. In fact, being mildly inconvenienced wouldn’t be all that great either.
In the old days, showing defiance was easy. You could grow your hair long or dress eccentrically. You could wear buttons with controversial slogans on them. You could play protest songs on your guitar, along with other protest singers and other guitars.
And you could hang a cigarette out of your mouth. Nothing said “I’m a rebel” like the weed dangling from your lips. Think Marlon Brando in The Wild One; think Vic Morrow, the leader of the hoods in Blackboard Jungle; think Jean Paul-Belmondo in Breathless. One look and you could tell.
Well, we all know what happened to smokers. They were rounded up and herded outside buildings and forced to huddle together no closer than nine metres from the entrance. It is hard to look rebellious under such circumstances, although standing eight and a half metres from the entrance could be seen as daring.
Marijuana was once a good rebel thing to do. Nowadays it is so commonly accepted, not to mention legal in some places, that you would be more likely to run afoul of anti-smoking rules than anything else if you lit up in a public place.
So where does that leave us, the middle-class wannabe rebels of North America?
There is an answer and it is menthol cigarettes. These are the new targets of those who feel the need to make our society healthier. Both Nova Scotia and Alberta are banning them and it won’t be long before others follow suit.
The thought is that menthol makes smoking less harsh for beginning smokers and therefore starts them on the road to tobacco addiction. Other forms of flavoured tobacco have been banned, so the ban on menthol cigarettes is consistent with a trend.
(Whether that trend would now extend to banning fruit-flavoured wines and vodka thingies is a good question, to which the answer is no. This has to do with scientific evidence, the evidence being that almost no legislators smoke but most of them drink.)
It’s true that the menthol cigarette’s bona fides as a symbol of defiance is not firmly established. Vic Morrow would never have smoked one. His girlfriend might have. The cigarettes favoured by rebels without a cause were, initially, non-filters. These, while as manly as you could get, had two disadvantages. One was that the paper stuck to your lip. The second was that you’d have to pick bits of tobacco off your tongue, which could delay a rebellious utterance. Rebellious guys eventually switched to filters — but strong ones, like Export A’s or, if you could get them, Winstons.
But you know what? Nobody around today remembers any of that. A banned substance is a banned substance and that’s what you have to work with. The road to rebellion is now clear and it smells like peppermint. Just slide a menthol weed into the corner of your mouth and fire it up, eight and a half metres from the entrance.