“Come Up to the Kool Taste”: Race and the Semiotics of Smoking

  • Sarah S. Jain


Although most often paired with alcohol in policy and culture debates, tobacco more readily compares to sugar or coffee in its ubiquitous and continual availability (and until recently, acceptability) to all classes. The intimate pleasures of the cigarette—from the flip-top box to the per-fected flick of an ash or the excuse to ask a stranger for a light—should not be understated. The cigarette and the social rituals it has motivated made it truly iconic of popular culture through the mid-twentieth century. Consider, for example, its adaptability: readily slipped into a pocket or behind an ear, a means to a private or a social moment, a lift or a sedative. The cigarette acts as a snack, prop, drug, or coping mechanism. The cheapness and efficiency with which it satisfies, and the only short-lived gratification it bestows, the cigarette takes the commodity to its most refined, profitable, and complete incarnation. While consumed nearly completely, literally disappearing into a puff of smoke (the butt easily disposed of under a shoe), the cigarette’s solitary blemish lies in the fact that, over time, the cumulative effect of its debris slowly and irrevocably sickens and kills its consuming host, preventing it from procuring anew.


Tobacco Industry Black Smoker Product Liability Tobacco Company High Nicotine 
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© Neferti X. M. Tadiar and Angela Y. Davis 2005

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  • Sarah S. Jain

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