Are Non-Smoking Bad Boys Still Bad?

Strong guy b&w

Tough, gritty, and deliciously bad. No cigarette needed.

Let’s say someone tells you to picture a bad boy. What comes to mind? For me it’s a mixture of the following: tattooes, silver chains hanging from the pockets (purpose unknown), riders of bad-ass motorcycles, occasional scrapes with the law, listeners of hard rock, swillers of alcohol, kickers of ass. But what about a cigarette hanging from the lip or casually dangling between the fingers? When I was in school bad boys were always smokers. Not to smoke was not to be cool, and bad boys are definitely, unequivocally cool. So cool your parents warned you within inches of your life to stay far far away. But what about nowadays? The recent announcement by CVS drugstores to phase out all tobacco products highlights the global decline of smoking. Yet I wonder. Can a bad boy who doesn’t smoke still be bad?

I’m reading a dystopian erotic romance, the “Beyond” series by Kit Rocha. This series is chock full of bad boys – and bad girls, for that matter – surviving and thriving in a dog-eat-dog world where today’s rules don’t apply. It’s gritty and sexy and exciting and I’m really loving the series. Yet here’s the thing – not only does the bad-ass bad boy leader smoke, but so, too, does practically everyone else in his posse. The characters are  the wild and scary types who command respect the second they step into a room or else beat the crap out of anyone casting them a jeering eye. They’ve got tattooes a’plenty, fight in cages for fun, have lots of group sex, and they smoke. It seems to me that if you omit that last part you’d still have a pleasingly scary dude, so why include it? Is smoking still one of those required “props,” for lack of a better word, without which a bad boy’s badness takes a dive?

Here’s another consideration: is it possible for badness to be redefined? Imagine this scenario: you’re reading a romance in which the bad boy is a committed vegan, loves to swing dance, and can embroider sweaters like nobody’s business. But he’s had scrapes with the law and boasts some wicked ink on both arms. He doesn’t smoke and prefers classical music to rock. Could the inclusion of just a couple bad ass elements be enough to give this character official bad boy status?

There’s ongoing finger wagging directed at Hollywood for the inclusion of smoking in so many films. Impressionable youth who view movies look up to their silver screen idols and emulate their every move. If that includes smoking, so goes the thinking, then kids will be lighting up. I’d venture to guess that, if pressed, those in the film biz would say they need to include characters who smoke, in some instances anyway, because they’ve got to come across as tough or gritty or edgy or non-law abiding and a cig in hand goes right along with the image. So if Hollywood includes cigs as part of the bad boy appearance, and some romance authors do as well, what are the chances that that part of the persona can be redefined?

A lot of bad boy elements are equated with things illegal. Underage drinking, speeding, brushes with the law. Cigarettes fit in there as well – if you’re under eighteen (or under 21 in a couple of states). The thing is, though, that adult-level romance characters are generally older than that. So what is it about those smokes that transform a clean, nice boy into heart-pounding badness?

What do you think? Do you need a truly bad boy to be smokin’ or tokin’? Let us know what you think in the comments below. And don’t forget to hit that follow button. I won’t just blow smoke up your . . . well . . . you know.

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