'Cigs Inside' Is The Latest Zoomer/Boomer Divide

How ripping cigarettes indoors catalyzed yet another generational rift.
'Cigs Inside' Is The Latest Zoomer/Boomer Divide


It was New Year's Eve 2007. As I, a Limited Too obsessed 11-year-old rang in the new year, toasting to 2008 with a plastic cup of Martinelli's sparkling cider and watching the early episodes of Wizards of Waverly Place on the pink, plastic TV in my best friend's bedroom, a mandate, one that would later profoundly impact my life, slipped into effect as the clock struck midnight  – the sweeping indoor smoking ban in my home state of Illinois. 

Taking effect on January 1, 2008, the Smoke Free Illinois Act, like several other similar laws enacted in California, Massachusetts, and a handful of other states over the past several years, banned smoking at bars, restaurants, workplaces, and trains, leaving those craving that sweet, sweet nicotine alongside their morning coffee, while commuting home after a long day of work, or after a few drinks s--t out of luck – unless they wanted to like, walk outside. 

While at the time, my morally-superior middle school self was pleased with this law -- just two years earlier, I, along with the rest of my fourth-grade class, celebrated every kid's favorite “just say no” holiday, red ribbon week, by collectively signing a pledge vowing that we would never let a single drop of beer pass our lips or take as much as a lone puff of a cigarette so long as we shall live –  I, like all of us eventually do, grew up. 

Now, reader, I can feel your judgment seething through my computer screen. Rest assured, I am fully aware of the risks and dangers of smoking. Smoking is very, very bad. It causes cancer and a whole host of health problems. Two of my grandparents died of smoking-related illnesses, so any lecture you may feel compelled to bestow upon me is probably one my mother (who is both disappointed and amused that I am writing this article) has given me ten times over. I don't regularly smoke, nor do I think I ever will, but as the years have gone by I've learned that enjoying an occasional square, as us Chicagoans call it, after a night of drinking and dancing sometimes just hits the spot, a relationship best summarized by this glorious, glorious, TikTok. 


The rumors are true -- I am that girl in a Pretty Little Thing dress asking regular smokers to bum a cig on several occasions – and probably will continue to be for the foreseeable future (or like, until I endure the inevitable existential crisis that is bound to happen during my Saturn return). 

As I've dipped my toe into the world of casual smoking (a term I love as it implies that there is such thing as competitive smoking) I've noticed that despite my better judgment, sucking down a cigarette while seated at the patio of a bar or eating al fresco, just hits differently. Maybe it's because that even after absorbing years and years of D.A.R.E. propaganda, I somehow haven't been able to shake the objectively incorrect notion that smoking, especially in public, drink in hand, seems cool (but, like, let's face it, Daren the lion would 100% start ripping squares if he, too, were four G&Ts deep in Happy Fun Hideaway's backyard). Maybe it's because I like feeling like I'm an extra in Mad Men – or that I just really want to have that French girl je ne sais quoi. Maybe it's because I've only ever lived in places with Arctic hellhole winters and would rather smoke, comfortably seated near a heat lamp than stand outside in the middle of a -50 degree windchill polar vortex (“Chi-beria," my kind of town).

Yet even with these compoundingly wrong assertions, it seems I'm not alone – some of my fellow Zoomers have taken this notion even further, calling for the return of cigs inside, which as its name implies, is smoking cigarettes in various public indoor locales. 

“They banned smoking indoors when I was too young to fight back. what did our elders do? like lambs to the slaughter, they let it happen,” read a recent Twitter post which sparked more than 34,000 re-tweets and a bitter debate surrounding the use of nicotine indoors. 

Another popular post dubbed indoor smoking, alongside quaaludes – a.k.a Jordan Belfort Tic Tacs – as “boomer excellence,” a pairing of words I didn't know could sensibly co-exist until roughly two minutes ago. 

Hell, even Total Frat Move hopped on the bandwagon, crowning “cigs inside” as the phrase that can “reunite America," and as we all know, TFM is the be-all, end-all of public discourse. 

The craving for smoking indoors spans beyond some peeps on Twitter and an off-brand Barstool Sports. This irrational and insatiable longing for being able to chain smoke wherever and whenever you god damn please has been humming in the background for years, or, well at least in the early 20-teens, when my dear friend, who we'll call Zach (for the sake of his dignity, he asked to remain anonymous as I share this bizarre tale of Frat Boy DebaucheryTM ) was a student at Lehigh University. 

“My friend started this joke where he'd always demand cigs inside, and he and like two other brothers in my fraternity would be like ‘CIGS INSIDE!’ whenever someone mentioned this is a no-smoking zone,” explained Zach, now 26, who is a music producer in Washington D.C. “It was about fighting authority, it was about smoking cigarettes inside and enjoying life,” he said. “It was about the freedom to smoke a cigarette at the dining table and then put it out in your mashed potatoes when you were done.”

Although Zach admits that Lehigh's #CigsInside movement was mostly “for the meme,” -- as are all the best things in life -- it quickly took on a life of its own, breaking free of the confines of the campus cafeteria and emerging as a symbol of adolescent rebellion and independence. "Eventually as a joke we all started chanting cigs inside outside the university administrative building while they were doing tours of the school," he recalled, a memory he says prompts that song from Remember The Titians to softly play in the background of his mind.

So why exactly did Zach and his Phi Delta Theta brothers fight so intensely for cigs inside that their struggle apparently evokes memories of a sentimental Disney sports flick starring Denzel Washington? “Smoking inside is the best way to smoke,” Zach said. “It's why hookah lounges exist. It's why smoking jackets exist," he continued, calling the act of lighting up indoors “the height of human control over nature."

Now, reader, I know what you may be thinking – “If he and his brothers wanted to smoke inside so badly, why didn't they just get a vape like pretty much every other Zoomer with a nicotine addiction?” Although it seems more than plausible that there was at least one frantic search for a lost e-cig at any given moment in that frat house, Zach seemingly came prepared with a counter-question. “Let me ask you this: would Mad Men hit the same if Don Draper was constantly hitting his Juul?” 

The answer to this bold television inquiry – and the broader question of whether indoor smoking actually lived up to its Zoomer-generated hype – are the same: Cigs inside suck, at least according to my friends and colleagues who were actually there. 

“Here’s the thing, it's the same problem as The Wolf of Wall Street,” said Cracked editor Logan Trent, adding that Zach's Mad Men-themed ask was “missing the point,” considering Betty Draper's terminal lung cancer diagnosis in the show's final season.  “He wouldn’t do it; modern Mad Men would have him as a weed dude,” he continued. “A big part of the character is him having disconnect with younger folks. He’s very much a '50s dude having some trouble with upcoming generational adjustment.”

Aside from canonical speculation about how a theoretical, modern Mad Men reboot would approach vapes, Trent broached yet another point seemingly bygone via Hollywood MagicTM -- the fact that Don Draper probably smells like a f--king bowling alley. “If TVs had smell-o-vision, no younger person would be on the 'let's bring back indoors smoking' bandwagon," he said. “And all the nostalgia serious sidelines the horror of second-hand smoke and how sh--ty it makes other experiences (flying, eating food, etc.). Like if the pro argument is ‘but it’s fun at bars!’ realize that you are drunk at time i.e. dumber. It’s like blunts, seems cool on-screen but a pain in the ass in real-life.”

Trent also didn't mince words when it came to the broader concept of cigs inside. “Smoking inside f--king sucks,” he said. “Pretty much in the '90s as secondhand smoke awareness became a thing, they started cracking down, and they’re right to. Like non-smoking waitresses were getting lung cancer.”

And he's not wrong – the consequences of cigs inside were that bad. While smoking indoors posed a serious health risk to everyone who frequented restaurants, airplanes, bars, and offices – even children, in the case of the former two examples – workers were particularly in harm's way due to the dangers of second-hand smoke, which can cause ailments including lung cancer, heart disease, and even Asthma attacks, according to the American Lung Association. In 1993, The Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention's Office on Smoking and Health conducted a study that showed that waiters, bartenders, and other food service workers were at a 50% higher risk of contracting lung cancer than those who didn't work in restaurants. 

"This is no longer an issue of comfort for restaurant customers," said researcher Michael Siegel, who at the time, was pushing for indoor smoking bans. "It's a life-and-death issue for restaurant workers." 

Considering food service industry employees already have to deal with having their livelihoods at the whim of if/how patrons tip, the risks of working during a pandemic, and worst of all, meltdown-having Karens, the last thing our essential workers need is to be drowned out by cigarette smoke. 

But it's not just non-smokers that are perplexed about Gen Z's desire to suck down square after square until the eyes of the family sitting next to their table at Olive Garden tear as they shoot dirty looks and their unlimited breadsticks taste slightly of ash – some smokers, too, also say they found cigs inside to be too much. 

“As a millennial smoker, especially in NYC which I feel cracked down pretty early, I was kind of caught between two worlds," said Briana, a New York City-based editor, citing the 1995 city-wide ban on smoking indoors at most restaurants which later expanded to include bars in the early 2000s. “But we weren't in the smoking on planes and in offices era, so it's not like we were ever wistful for that prevalence,” she continued. 

Although Briana says she mourns for her high school's designated smoking area and Amtrak's smoking cars, which vanished circa 1993, she maintains that overall, cigs inside were “gross." “It definitely takes over a lot of the vibe," she added. "Who wants to be inhaling cigarette smoke when you could be inhaling the seductive aroma of some fine cuisine?"

Even with these practical difficulties, it seems cigs inside are about more than just, well, cigs inside. “Nobody likes rules, and I think that maybe, especially now, they feel extra restrictive after going through, what, two years of being told what to do for the greater good,” Briana explained, adding that to many Zoomers' dismay, being granted the ability to smoke indoors will “partially cancel out their expensive skincare routines."

But the pandemic seemingly only represents a fraction of this phenomenon. Dan, a 27-year-old healthcare worker from New York City who smoked for a decade before quitting less than two weeks ago – including indoors once while visiting a bar in Tennessee for the novelty – cites both selfishness and a sense of impending, generational doom as the catalysts behind this urge to light up inside. “Younger people just don’t consider the fact that it’s totally selfish I think,” he explained, noting that “if you’ve never had a chance to do it you don’t know how it affects other people."

While he says cigs inside as a pandemic reaction “makes sense,” as “psychologically you'd retaliate by reclaiming a breath-based vice," he argues that the cigs inside bandwagon may be representative of Zoomers' signature nihilism. ”I think Zoomers have to look backwards 'cause looking forward is just looking at a fascist environmental hellscape," he explained “What is there, grand scheme, for the average Zoomer to look forward to?" 

The answer to his question, it seems, isn't anything particularly great. We only have less than a decade to subvert the catastrophic effects of climate change, according to the UN. The Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade in the very near future, a ruling that would prompt 26 states to entirely outlaw abortion, USA Today reported. The U.S. has been at war for basically the entirety of most Zoomers' lives. Hell, we will have to endure the eventual death of Betty White. And that's just the tip of the rapidly melting iceberg that will soon turn Miami into Atlantis. It's a surprise Olivia Rodrigo stuck with “God! it's brutal out here" and not “Holy f--k we're all going to die before we hit 50 due to several coinciding apocalypses."

“Thinking things are only gonna get worse is why people smoke in the first place,” he added. “Not concerned for long-term health. So nostalgia for smoking inside is probably both those things combined.”

Zach agrees, naming control as a factor for why young people choose to smoke at all, let alone indoors. “I think cigarette smoking is largely about wanting control over one little thing,” he said. “One special moment that's all yours, that people can't take away from you, and yet you're told you do it in your own room,"  he continued. “Especially since life is so chaotic, and you're constantly being told what to do --go to this class at this place at this time, go home and research this topic while reading this book.”

So, my Zoomer/Zillennial friends, I get it. The world is slowly ending. Smoking is a cathartic outlet. We're already in hell, let's not make it worse for everyone else. 

Top Image: AMC

For more internet nonsense, follow Carly on Instagram @HuntressThompson_ on TikTok as @HuntressThompson_, and on Twitter @TennesAnyone.

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