A Chronological History Of Cigarette Smoking, By Brand

Parliament Lights, 1986: The First. Smoked on the train tracks on the way home from school, after we ran into a friend’s older brother who had a pack. I am proud to say that I toughed it out and only coughed once, although this still does not diminish the embarrassment of having one’s first cigarette be a Parliament Light.

Camels, 1986: Look How Bad I Am. When we speak of Camels here, we speak of filterless Camels, smoke of prison inmate and off-track betting habitue alike. Chosen both as an attempt to look harder and an obvious overcompensation for my guilt over the Parliament thing. The next year or so would find the brand interchangeable with Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields, also unfiltered. I seem to remember these as being the last packs I was able to buy in cigarette machines, which were already starting their slow march towards extinction.

English Ovals, 1987–1988: Family Tradition. When my father, who had given up smoking upon my birth, found out that I had picked up the habit, he evinced a combination of disappointment and resignation, but he was also enthusiastic about these sweet unfiltered American classics, which were his favorite brand during his lung-damaging years. For a while they were mine as well, although I do remember a brief flirtation with Player’s Navy Cut.

Sher Bidis, 1988: A Shameful Summer Indulgence. I was young, what do you want from me? I still blush when I recall this era. It was only two months though. Best not to think about.

Gauloises/Gitanes, 1988–1993: The Age Of Pretension. They were dark. They were strong. They were French. They spoke of exoticism, of cosmopolitan ways. They were absolutely brutal, “but so is life,” said the impossibly precious teen. (Also known as the years of terrible breath.) I smoked more of these than I (or my eventual pulmonary specialist) care to consider, but wow were they great at the time. I think a few puffs off of one now would knock me on my ass, but, ah, youth. I generally preferred Gauloises, since the Gitanes packet looked like you were carrying around condoms with you, but either would do. The cigarettes I still dream about when I dream about cigarettes.

Basic, 1993: The Frugal Year. Ah, generic cigarettes. How many more drinks was I able to buy because of the money I saved on you? Notable for marking my entry into the filtered cigarette category.

Marlboro Reds, 1994-present: The Final Cut. And so, I gave in and became the typical American cigarette consumer. Sure, I’ve bummed the illicit menthol when desperate. There was that brief period when I quit and gained 30 pounds (resuming smoking managed to take five of those off, so, you know, yay, me). I’ve smoked the occasional Nat Sherman at fancy parties. I’m not bragging or anything, I’m just setting the record straight. But if the last fifteen-odd years of my life have had one constant, it has been that red-and-white pack sitting on my dresser, an old friend ready to console whatever, whenever, a soothing hit of nicotine is needed. Which is fairly frequent. In fact, right now would be a good time. Anyway, consider yourselves caught up.

Photo by Rick Phillips, from Flickr.