The NonVerbal Dictionary of Gestures, Signs & Body Language Cues


I gave her a cigarette and lit a match and held it for her. She drew in a lungful of smoke and let it out raggedly. . . . --Philip Marlowe describing client's daughter, Vivian Regan (The Big Sleep, 1939:225)

With men in the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard, the favorite cigarette is Camel. (Based on actual sales records.) --Camel advertisement on back cover page of Life magazine (July 10, 1944)

Afferent cue. 1. A potent alkaloid drug (C10H14N2) of the tobacco plant, ingested by hundreds of millions of men, women, and children in consumer products such as cigars, cigarettes, and snuff. 2. The most addictive chemical substance ever used by Homo sapiens.

Usage I: Nicotine "speaks" directly to the brain as an incoming nonverbal cue. Currently, there is a worldwide epidemic of nicotine use.
Usage II: According to a 1999 World Health Organization estimate, there are four million deaths a year from tobacco. Based on present smoking trends, tobacco is predicted to be the leading cause of disease in the world, causing ca. one in eight deaths.

Usage III1. Nine out of 10 human beings who smoke a cigarette for the first time become addicted, according to statistics of the U.S. National Institutes on Drug Administration. 2. According to a trade publication, Tobacco Reporter, the average American cigarette smoker buys ten packs of 20 cigarettes per week. 3. Worldwide, a third of all adults (36%) smoke cigarettes--and are hopelessly addicted to nicotine.

Usage IV. According to a March, 2001 study published in Preventive Medicine (Vol. 32, pp. 262-67), the use of smokeless (i.e., chewing) tobacco is a predictor of later cigarette-smoking initiation in young U.S. adult males.

Usage V. Cigarettes may be used as antidepressive drugs. It has been proposed that chronic smoking has an antidepressant-like effect on the brain, which could explain why so many depressed people smoke--and are unable to quit (see research by University of Mississippi Medical Center [Jackson] psychiatrist, Gregory A. Ordway and colleagues in Archives of General Psychiatry , Vol. 58, 2001, pp. 821-27).

Evolution. Nicotine evolved as a communicative sign, i.e., as an insect-repelling secondary product.

Early history. 1492: "Almost from the day of first landfall, on October 12, 1492, the inhabitants of Guanahani (San Salvador, Bahamas) regaled the newcomers with such herbs [i.e., tobacco plants]. And upon encountering near Fernandia Island a man in a small canoe carrying the same plant material among his meager essentials, Christopher Columbus surmised that the Indians held the leaves in high esteem" (Wilbert 1987:9).

Later history. 1797: Cigarettes appear when Cuban cigar makers roll little cigars in paper wrappers (Trager 1992:354). 1883: Gold Flake cigarettes appear in London (Trager 1992:567). 1885: Thomas Edison, a tobacco chewer, refuses to hire tobacco smokers (Trager 1992:585). 1925: Old Gold cigarettes appear, with the slogan, "Not a cough in a carload" (Trager 1992:773). 1955: U.S. cigarette consumption increases as media ads promote filter-tipped Winstons, king-size Tareytons with "activated charcoal" filters, and Marlboro filters (Trager 1992:953).

LiteratureFor, like his nose, his [the Pequod's second mate, Stubb's] short, black little pipe was one of the regular features of his face. --Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1980 [1851]:125)

Media. In the U.S. the advertising of cigarettes on television was banned in 1971, "abruptly removing one of the major categories of broadcast income" (Jankowski and Fuchs 1995:106).

Mr. Potato Head. In 1987, Hasbro's Mr. Potato Head quit smoking (after 35 years) and handed over his signature plastic pipe to then U.S. Surgeon General, C. Everett Coop at a press conference for the Great American Smokeout (Hoffman 1996). (N.B.: Both tobacco and potato plants belong to the nightshade family [see SHELLFISH TASTE, Prehistory].)

E-Commentary: "Just spent a pleasant couple of hours with The Nonverbal Dictionary. I especially like how you've used media examples. However, I feel that smoking has a much richer communicative value than you've documented. Bogie was the premier artist at communicating with his stogie." --K. G. (10/1/01 12:20:24 PM Pacific Daylight Time)

Neuro-notes1. Nicotine ". . . mimics the neurotransmitter acetylcholine by acting at the acetylcholine site and stimulating the nerve cell dendrite" (Restak 1995:116). Nicotine leads to the release of pleasure-enhancing dopamine and morphine-like endorphins. 2. "In both mice and humans, they [Joseph R. DiFranza, University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, and others] say, the number of high-affinity nicotinic cholinergic receptors has been seen to increase in the brain after only the second dose of nicotine" (Cooke 2000).