Smoked Out

How office addicts take their cigarette breaks says a lot about them.

By Tim Murphy


Half a century after the Mad Men era, smoking at the office has lost all its glamour. For one thing, no one smokes in the office anymore. Today’s smokers — holding steady since 2005 at 20 percent of U.S. adults — are relegated to ghettos in front of their buildings, where they band together in secondhand solidarity and endure the judgment of their pure-lunged peers.

“It’s socialized isolation around the need to gain rewards from a product that they’re addicted to,” says Dr. Gregory Connolly, director of the Center for Global Tobacco Control at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It borders on leperization. You can only feel for those individuals because they’ve lost any social benefit from smoking and they’re primarily treating withdrawal symptoms.” Bloomberg Businessweek spent a day watching smokers outside buildings in midtown Manhattan. To make sense of the observations, we called on Dr. Connolly, as well as Dr. Stanton Glantz, director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California at San Francisco; body-language expert David Givens, author of Your Body at Work; and leather-faced, tough-guy character actor Danny Trejo (Grindhouse, Machete, TV’s Breaking Bad), who proudly gave up his 40-year smoking habit last year.

18% (of people observed)


They text or e-mail while they smoke. Connolly: “Funny, a U.K. study claimed that cell phones decreased smoking because it replaced one ritual with another.” Givens: “You’re stimulating the tactile pads of your fingers, your lips, and your tongue at the same time, which is pleasurable.” Trejo: “One thing is triggering the other, Holmes.”



Coughing, poor posture, chalky skin. Glantz: “All symptoms of smoking-induced diseases.” Connolly: “Smokers today are already at risk for other diseases.” Givens: “A downward-bent head and slumped shoulders are signs of guilt.” Trejo: “Smoking isn’t good for you, Holmes.”


Sensual Inhalers

Long, slow, orgasmic drags. Connolly: “The deeper you get the puff into your lungs the quicker you’ll get absorption. People inhale ‘light’ cigarettes more deeply, so we’ve seen a shift in lung cancer from high up in the lungs to deeper inside.” Trejo: “They’re really trying to enjoy their death.”


Chain Smokers

They double down on their smoke break, often lighting one cigarette off the end of another. Connolly: “They’ve been denied the opportunity to smoke for hours so they’re gonna compensate. Your total puffs go from 9 to 18.” Givens: “They’re stocking up on nicotine to take it back into work.”



They disgustedly toss their butt away, disregarding nearby receptacles. Connolly: “They’re rejecting it. They’ve treated their withdrawal symptoms and wish they were never there. It’s saying to the cigarette, ‘You a-hole, you forced me here.’” Trejo: “It’s none of my business unless you flick it at me. Then I’ll choke you.”


Double Fisters

Sip of coffee, drag, sip of coffee, drag. Glantz: “There are biochemical interactions between nicotine and other stimulants.” Connolly: “It’s the synergistic effect of an upper and a downer.” Givens: “It’s double-stimulating that oral cavity.” Trejo: “Holmes, one thing is triggering the other!”


Directional Exhalers

They blow smoke upwards or through the side of the mouth. Connolly: “Smoke gives lots of stimulating effects in the mouth and nose.” Givens: “Smokers tend to blow upwards when they’re together because even they don’t like to breathe each other’s smoke.” Trejo: “I dunno. I play a bad-ass, not a psychologist.”


Precision Holders

They grip their cigarettes like a joint, between the thumb and index finger. Connolly: “[This is] unconscious vent-blocking. That’s where the filter attaches to the rod.” Givens: “The Humphrey Bogart style. A little more dramatic and masculine. It’s a precision grip, like writing with a pencil or pen.”


Guilty Chucklers

They share looks that say, Hey, needed your fix too, eh? Glantz: “They’re explicitly recognizing their addiction and they don’t like it.” Connolly: “They’re not proud that they’re out there.” Givens: “They’re bonding as fellow travelers in the culture of the oppressed.” Trejo: “They’re doing joint suicide.”


The Unabashed

They proudly hold their cigarettes near their head. Givens: “The more addicted you are, the closer you’ll keep it to your mouth so you can quickly puff.” Connolly: “In the ’50s, everyone held the cigarette to their face. Now it’s reversed. It’s defensive, like hiding the joint — you don’t want the CEO to walk out and see you.”


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