Smoke signals: new dating paths?


Last updated at 14:20 02 July 2007

As smokers are driven outside, could the pavement become the new place to meet a perfect mate?

Sex and smoking. They go together like vodka and tonic or tequila and salt. Think of Uma Thurman, sultry through the smoke in Pulp Fiction, or James Dean, the epitome of cool with a fag permanently hanging from one side of his handsome mouth.

Of course, we know that behind that smoke, Uma had breath that smelt of an old ashtray, and that James's untimely death in a car crash quite probably prevented him from dying a deply unglamorous death of lung cancer.

The reality of smoking - the shortness of breath, diseased lungs, sallow, lined skin, smelly breath and stained fingers, not to mention teeth - is very far from sexy, but the associations of smoking with a slightly naughty, illicit time are as hard to kick as this painfully addictive habit. And with the ban now in force, those associations are just about to get a whole lot stronger.

As a teenager, I remember the thrilling allure of nipping behind the bike sheds for a cigarette before double chemistry. And it soon became clear that “Coming for a quick fag?” was the way that all the naughtiest girls, who looked as if they were having the best time, made sure that they could entice the prettiest boys out to play with them. Frighteningly, a couple of decades later, and with the ban now in place, not much has changed.

In parts of America and all of Ireland, where the ban has been in place since 2004, a whole breed of new social smoker has adopted the habit with a newfound enthusiasm. The reason for this? Smoking has never been quite so sexy. Banned from bars and restaurants, the naughty smokers pour out onto the streets, where they meet other smokers, swap lighters, smoke, flirt, smoke, and before they know it they are smirting.

Smirting is fast replacing both internet dating and speed dating as the hottest way of finding yourself a date, and is a far more time efficient way of sorting the real players from the pretenders when the stakes are as high as sex and love. Any single girl will tell you that these are desperate dating times, and we all know that desperate times call for desperate measures.

Smoking will almost certainly kill you, but what the heck, if it means you can slip off from the bar with a guy you really fancy: at least you have got to be alone with him for a few moments. So forget hours spent trawling the internet for men who lie about themselves and their lives, or a dizzy, wasted evening spending three minutes each with twenty men, none of whom you remotely fancy. Smirting is an efficient and very sexy way of breaking the ice with a handsome stranger you find yourself huddled together on the pavement with.

“I was going to stop smoking when the ban came in, but giving up was harder than I thought,” says Ella, a stylist from Dublin. “But after a bit I realised I didn't want to stop, because for a large part of the evening, half of the sexiest men would be standing outside to smoke anyway. I have dated three guys that I smirted with, and one of them is now my current boyfriend.”

Part of the key to successful smirting is that it should be an evening activity, and so must not be confused with outside, day-time smoking, an altogether less provocative and sexy affair. There, the reality of smoking is made all too obvious, and you can see it for the nasty, expensive, inconvenient activity that it really is, one that has you banished from your office to the bottom of the fire exit by the dustbins, with only foul smelling fag butts and a couple of other lone losers for company.

Come the evening, however, and the Cinderella effect takes hold. Then, the heady combination of alcohol and darkness work their wicked magic, and smoking becomes the sexy, seductive activity that, deep down, you always wanted to believe that it was.

It goes something like this: you are sitting in a bar with a girlfriend, trying to work out a way to catch the attention of that cute boy laughing with a group of friends on the far side of the room. Abandoning your Pinot Grigio, you go outside for a smoke, which is banned in the bar, only to find the cute boy has had the same idea.

You now have the perfect excuse to walk brazenly up to him and whisper that famously erotic line “Got a light?” and before you know it, voila! you are alone with a guy you fancy, and you're smoking and you're flirting. In short, you're smirting.

“Because smoking is now banned in so many restaurants in London, I have already noticed more people outside smoking than a year ago,” says Annie, a journalist who lives in Fulham. “It has given me a great opportunity to be really upfront about going to talk to people, particularly guys, who I would have felt too embarrassed to approach if I had not had an excuse. I'm actually looking forward to the ban now as it means that more people will be outside on the pavement.”

Annie's experience mirrors smirters everywhere, because there is something slightly thrilling about the fact that you are indulging in a potentially unlawful activity together. And it is certainly a very efficient way of meeting people who might be prospective dates.

Smirting gives you the chance to cut straight to the chase, banishing the agonising moments trying to make eye contact or desperately casting around for a reason to talk to someone you fancy.

If you meet on the pavement for a smoke, you can be totally upfront about talking to a guy you really fancy, with plenty of common ground: styles of lighters, favourite brand, length of addiction, number of fags smoked a day. If he wants to respond to you, the potential is enormous, but if he turns away once you have handed him back his lighter, you can finish your cigarette without having humiliated yourself.

The new smirting etiquette demands that smirters always share their cigarettes, but never ask for more than one from someone else, and try to limit their smokers cough while on the pavement, so that at least the impression of smoking as a glamorous activity is maintained.

Carry a lighter in case of emergencies, but never light your own cigarette, as successful smirting often starts with a shared spark of a Zippo. Likewise, don't complain that smoking is getting too expensive or making your skin look like a crumpled paper bag when in the company of other smirters, and never, ever admit that you want to give up. Cultivating an air of being a dedicated, twenty-a-day girl is crucial if you don't want to be shopped as a post ban faker, only their for the smirting and good times.

And as well as a potentially flirtatious activity, it also gives you the chance to talk to people you might not necessarily have met in the first place. In a recent interview, boho aristo and onetime squeeze of Jade Jagger and Kate Moss, Dan McMillan admitted that in New York, most of the interesting people are likely to be outside on the pavement smoking than inside at the party.

“However much I am told that smoking is bad for me, I can't help feeling that it is often the most interesting people who smoke,” agrees Annie. “Smirting is definitely sexy, because you feel like you are doing something a bit naughty, but I also have met masses of really cool people smoking outside in restaurants where it is banned.”

Smirting is taking such a hold in Ireland that the ban has spectacularly backfired: it was anticipated that it would cut the number of smokers dramatically, but in fact they have only fallen by 2%. There are even whispers that some desperate daters have adopted it as a pulling method. And if you more normally associate smokers with tobacco stained fingers or greying, haggard skin, then it comes as a bit of a shock to realise that smokers really are having the last laugh.

It may be a filthy habit but Smirting has made smoking sexy again, and the midsummer timing for the ban could not be more perfect from a potential smirters point of view. After all, wouldn't you prefer to be the girl, leaning languorously against a wall outside the pub, smirting away to your hearts content on a hot summer night, than the girl left inside, alone, with only the air conditioning for company?

At that point, you can forget the fact that, come the harsh light of morning, you will have breath like a skunk and lines to match Dot Cotton. And come November, of course, when the night is cold and wet and dark, you might just find that smirting has lost its allure.

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