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The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001
The Royal Tenenbaums, 2001(Film still)

Will it ever be ‘cool’ to quit smoking?

Despite the health dangers, the image of the smoker as a chic, louche, sexy figure is one we’ve never quite been able to shake as a society. Can anything be done to change that?

Smoking looks cool. It’s an unfortunate reality given how bad cigarettes are for your health. Blame films, blame advertising, blame James Dean, Margot Tenenbaum and Lily-Rose Depp, blame the Marlboro Man – whatever the source, the image of the smoker as a chic, louche, sexy figure is one we’ve never quite been able to shake as a society. Quitting smoking, on the other hand, paints a less glamorous picture full of beige nicotine patches and preachy PSAs. Can something be done to change this perception? Princess Gollum, AKA Josephine Lee, is hoping so.

Blip is a new brand on a mission to create a fresh perspective around quitting and give nicotine replacement therapies a “cool” makeover. Launching with two flavours of gum and one lozenge, Blip hopes to take some of the stigma away from quitting, with playful visuals, colourful packaging and an in-built community support system which will be online initially before evolving into in-person meet-ups.

Lee was on set at a Starface photoshoot when the lightbulb moment for Blip came. The model – who once had her head 3D-scanned for Dazed Beauty – was in the midst of trying to quit smoking for what felt like the 30th time, when she started talking to Starface founder Julie Schott about her struggles. “Quitting felt impossible, even if my life depended on it,” she says. “The old approaches to quitting didn’t work for me at all, and I’ve found that to be such a common experience.” Having already taken on taboos like acne (Starface) and the morning-after pill (Julie), Schott and business partner Brian Bordainick recognised that this was their next frontier and, together with Lee and Alyson Lord, they came up with Blip.

The timing couldn’t be more apt: we are in the midst of a smoking revival. In 2020, The New York Times declared that “smoking is back” after cigarette sales increased for the first time in two decades. Cigarettes are popping up everywhere on-screen and celebrities are smoking again. The bio of an Instagram account dedicated to pictures of smokers (which has over 30k followers) reads: “Hot people keeping the art of smoking and being cool alive.” Meanwhile, memes call on us to reject the modernity of vapes and embrace the tradition of cigarettes. It’s a vibe shift that writer Imogen West-Knights termed luxury fatalism: “the feeling that everything is garbage, and that there is no real recourse to change that fact, so we should all just go all in on whatever it is that we enjoy about life.”

Of course, everything would be a lot more garbage with lung cancer added into the mix, which is why you should still strongly consider quitting. And with 18- to 35-year-olds making up half of the 30 million smokers in the US, it makes sense that brands like Blip are attempting to make the idea more palatable to young people. “From our bold design approach to using social platforms to create a supportive community, we’re enforcing the idea that it’s cool to be healthy, feel good, and achieve independence from nicotine,” as Lee says. Here, she and Lord tell us more about the brand.

You are a former cigarette smoker and long-time vaper – what was your journey with quitting like before you tried Blip?

Josephine Lee: In 2021, I experienced my real first health scare. The one piece of advice I received from my doctor was to quit smoking if I haven’t already. That included vaping. Right then and there, I threw my vape in the trash can outside the office and got into my car. Before I could even start the engine, I was walking back to the garbage to get it back. It was this moment – the thought of digging through the trash only to retrieve my vape – that made me realise how strong of a hold this device had on me. That internal dialogue with myself was enough to make me walk back to my car without my vape in hand. But, I still felt overwhelmed by the anxiety and fear of not having it. Quitting felt impossible, even if my life depended on it.

This is when I went into creative solution mode and yearned for something like Blip. I tried to quit cold turkey like 13803716 times before. Most of my friends told me they switched back to cigarettes to quit vaping, which I wasn’t comfortable with – especially in the condition I was in physically. It wasn’t until I tried adding NRTs + sessions with Dr Mark + friends as tools. Quitting to me was making a commitment to myself and the betterment of my health (physical and mental), but the fact that I didn’t have to do it alone, and had help from both people and product, was truly life-changing.

What was the gap in the market that you wanted to fill with Blip?

Alyson Lord: Smoking cessation products have remained largely unchanged since their inception. But, nicotine addiction is still prevalent and on the rise. Bringing in elements of community support and destigmatisation to the current nicotine replacement therapy market was pivotal, yet absent, in helping folks quit smoking and vaping.

We saw the opportunity to meet people where they were in their quitting journey. Blip meets the needs of today’s smokers and provides them with a new blueprint to quit smoking that is focused on a built-in support network. By coupling community with FDA-approved NRT products, Blip concentrates on removing the stigma associated with quitting to turn a traditionally isolating experience into one worth celebrating.

Josephine, as creative director you played a big role in the branding, design and content of the brand – what was your vision for it?

Josephine Lee: I envisioned Blip as the first brand in the quitting space to be approachable and unique. I wanted the branding to feel like nostalgia in the future, injected with other elements you wouldn’t normally see in this category, while still keeping it medicinal and tactical. The design had to be bold, so we went neon – one of my favourite colour palettes ever. The goal is to always further connection and attraction to break bad habits, and so by creating something that resonates with today’s generation of quitters, we’re making them feel empowered along the way.

One of the aims of the company is to destigmatise the industry of quitting resources – how do you want to change that?

Josephine Lee: The quitting process can be an isolating experience that no one really talks about. Friends and family don’t quite know how to help, and the scary PSAs don’t necessarily resonate among real smokers and vapers. A little bit of encouragement and accountability goes a long way for someone who is curious about quitting or is ready to start. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone if you don’t want to!

Part of the brand is a built-in support network – can you tell us more about that?

Alyson Lord: Blip is evolving what cessation resources look like by taking a well-rounded approach and focusing on one crucial element that’s been missing up until this point – human connection. We’re building this community both in person and online, which will begin through our website and social channels. However, we plan to continually evolve our support offerings to meet our community where they are.

In the last few years, smoking has been on the rise among young people. Why do you think this is?

Josephine Lee: I think various factors are at play here. Modern social media algorithms push controversial content, and memes like [the modernity/tradition one] certainly fit the bill. And when vapes didn’t exist, the meme would just have been pipes and cigars. I don’t think anything new is happening, we just have newer smoking equipment. If you keep something out for long enough, it might be trending again decades later. 

Why do cigarettes have such an enduring appeal?

Josephine Lee: It’s 2023 – cigarettes are considered vintage and computer cigs have taken over! They are purposely designed to be highly addictive, and many have picked cigarettes back up to quit vaping. It’s becoming an endless loop, and Blip exists to help break that cycle.

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