Smoking Stars Fuel Online Obsession

Supermodel raises question: Is smoking "in" again?

March 16, 2011 — -- A supermodel puffed one on a runway. An actress snuck one at a park. Television's formerly highest-paid actor is rarely seen without one dangling from his mouth.

Is it 1929, or is smoking really back in style?

Last week, Kate Moss sauntered down the runway of Louis Vuitton's Paris fashion show, cigarette in hand. Not only did she break the law (in 2007, France banned smoking in public places), she also insulted her native Britain, which observed No Smoking Day as she puffed away.

Most significantly, she revived an impression that had laid latent in pop culture for years and has recently flourished online: smoking is sexy.

It would be one thing if Moss were caught with a cigarette on the street (as has happened plenty of times before). But when she lights up on the runway of one of the world's leading luxury brands, does that mean the fashion house endorses smoking too?

"Kate Moss is a rebel and I hope this was a singular act, not one endorsed or supported by Louis Vuitton," said Marvet Britto, president of the brand architecture firm The Britto Agency. "It was disrespectful to the attendees and it was disrespectful to the models who had to follow her. Now, the attention is solely on the cigarette versus the clothes. In my mind, that couldn't have been the intent of the brand."

Representatives for Louis Vuitton did not respond to's repeated requests for comment.

Like Moss, Charlie Sheen elevates smoking by association. The former "Two and a Half Men" star turned unprecedented online sensation (1 million Twitter followers in less than 24 hours) takes drag after drag on his new online show, "Sheen's Korner," and in his many rambling interviews. Uma Thurman furthered the trend when paparazzi caught her smoking mid-hike through a Beverly Hills, Calif. park.

For anyone who knows the danger of cigarettes, the drug-related dalliances of the rich and famous seem frivolous. Problems arise with those who don't.

"Study after study has shown that there is a connection between what kids see and how they act," said John Spangler, professor of family medicine and director of tobacco intervention programs at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine. "A thin, beautiful model or actress smoking? There's a really powerful message right there. They didn't call Virginia Slims Virginia Chubbies."

While Moss and Thurman glamorize cigarettes, Sheen -- who, with his gaunt face, scraggly hair and gravely voice embodies many nouns but not "glamour" -- lends smoking another allure, according to Spangler.

"It's shocking watching videos of Charlie Sheen chain smoking," Spangler said. "You don't see that anywhere anymore! It just normalizes the behavior."

A genre of online videos goes a step further and fetishizes the act. Google "smoking fetish video" and more than 1.25 million results come up. Many links lead to YouTube montages of models including Moss, Adriana Lima, Jessica Stam, Lara Stone, Heidi Klum and Cindy Crawford -- some of the highest paid women in the industry -- smoking on and off the job. Others feature nameless young women in front of a camera, puffing on a cigarette and wearing not much at all. They generate comments like, "You're as sexy as ever and your style is so much more......erotic now" and "looooove your open mouth inhales."

Before, smoking was sexy because stars like Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn made it look sexy. Now, for some, smoking equals sex.

"Celebrating smoking as something truly sexy and erotic will key in to kids," said Dr. Leslie Walker, chief of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children's Hospital. "Those pictures alone might not change behavior but it's added to what they see on television and at the movies. The fact that these videos are just a few keystrokes away, it's disturbing."

What can be done? Stand outside of any fashion week tent or Hollywood night club -- the glitterati's lighting up, surgeon general's warnings be damned. Spangler suggested Moss and her ilk might "put on frumpy, old, dirty clothes and mess up their hair," but admitted that they'd probably still look pretty fabulous in spite of all that.

For children, there are website blockers and parental controls. For adults, there's the knowledge that momentary resurgence aside, smoking has been deplored for a long time, and grown people who want to emulate cigarette-chomping celebrities have bigger problems to address.

One note for Moss and Louis Vuitton, though: If shock value was what they had in mind, they could have done better.

"I'd rather see her walk the runway with a cheeseburger deluxe," said Michael Musto, culture critic for The Village Voice. "That could be deadly too, but at least she'd be making a statement against fashion-industry-generated eating disorders."