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Nice girls don't smoke
When the Irish born American femme fatale Lola Montez had her photograph taken at a Boston studio in 1851, neither she nor anyone else could foresee the future symbolic value of the cigarette as a sign of emancipation for women and the tragic development that we are now facing with women as the next wave of the tobacco epidemic. With the dress and hairstyle that she was wearing in the photograph Lola Montez could have passed for a lady, if it wasn't for the cigarette which stood out so effectively against her black gloved hand (fig 1). Used as the focal point of this picture, the cigarette was intended to be provocative. Ladies in 1851 did not smoke, and the very notion that women and girls might be experimenting with cigarettes was certainly not acknowledged publicly. Indeed smoking by women in North America and Europe had long been associated with loose morals and dubious sexual behaviour. As far back as the 17th century Dutch painters had used tobacco and smoking to symbolise human folly. The only women shown smoking in these paintings were either whores or procuresses.1 Similarly in the 19th century women smokers were viewed as fallen women, with smoking the occupational symbol of prostitution.2 Indeed cigarettes became a common prop in Victorian erotic photography.3 Only rebellious, bohemian intellectuals and artists such as George Sands dared challenge these social mores. So widespread was the social stigma attached to women smoking that as late as 1908 a woman in New York was arrested for smoking a cigarette in public,2 and in 1921 a bill was proposed in the US Congress to ban women from smoking in the District of Columbia.4
It is therefore remarkable that within 50 years of …