Despite well documented health risks, young women are still drawn to the act of smoking and continue to smoke at an alarming rate. Yet, a century ago, women were vocal leaders of campaigns against tobacco across North America. In Sex, Lies, and Cigarettes, Sharon Anne Cook explores the history of the paradoxical relationship between women and the cigarette, in a sensitive and lively description of the many different meanings that smoking has held for women. Focusing on the social context of smoking, Cook explores its allure for elite, middle-class, working, and marginalized women from the late-nineteenth to the early twenty-first centuries. She argues that smoking's attraction is rooted in women's changing identity formation and in strategies for empowerment, an idea enriched through extensive analysis of visual culture. It is in these images (yearbooks, posters, photographic collages, print advertisements, billboards, movies) but also in the act of smoking itself, that women harnessed the power of the visual. Smoking remains a powerful way for women to express themselves and is closely connected to the processes of modernity, sexualization, and commodification of desire.
Textual documents (newspapers, magazine features, textbooks, teachers' guides) and oral testimony are also explored to show how dominant discourses of smoking, sexuality, and health have shaped women's experiences and how women have moulded these discourses themselves. Sex, Lies, and Cigarettes creates a rich portrait of the cultural factors that have resulted in over a century of women smokers.