Once upon a time I, in the absence of literally anything better to do, uploaded a video of me lighting a cigarette and taking the first drag to YouTube. Ten seconds of ‘action’ at most. I didn’t think much more of it. A few days later, the views had shot up into the hundreds; unusual for the self-indulgent crap I’d been putting up on an irregular basis for a year or so beforehand.
Also, it’s gone. I’ve already looked.
Sure enough, a few new subscribers had joined the party. One of them had several uploads showing nothing more than nervous-looking Eastern European men smoking topless in a freight container in total silence. Like anything else it has its place, but it wasn’t for me.
Despite the repeated health warnings, gross pictures all over the packets in up to 60 countries and the banning of it indoors in public areas, smoking has and always will carry a sense of charm.
James Dean, Audrey Hepburn, James Bond, Mad Men, the countless characters that clog up any mobster, army or action movie, the Marlboro Cowboy, big camels, Paul on the crossing at Abbey Road and erm… Dennis Hopper in Waterworld; even if more and more people are turning into health nuts, it’s there to be admired from afar.
Then there is the erotic side of it. We’re all aware of the inherent symbolism, the open space for body language in the drawn out consumption of a cigarette. It’s at once a prop, a decoy, a weapon; its subtle and brief high a bold opposite to the damaging effects it can ultimately wreak.
Men may fantasize about a lithe figure above them, a half-spent cigarette with lipstick stains between smiling lips. Women may think up the perfect bad boy; the rebel without a cause.
Smoking fetishism (aka capnolagnia) enjoys the rare distinction of being a fetish that is perpetually fed images of smoking, aided and abetted by sexualization, within mainstream media. By the late 90s, just as cigarette advertising was being led toward the gallows, the two elements would have been indistinguishable on a Venn diagram (Video here but NSFW).
But let’s get down to brass tacks: what’s the lure? I enlisted the help of two members of Smoking Fetish Kingdom, a message board dedicated to the art.
‘Pete’ and ‘wisper’ both begin by saying that they are “not sure” or find it “hard to say” what the main lure of smoking is to them. Like any other fetish, tracing a path through it can be a subtle and intricate thing. That’s shorthand for: ‘there’s a lot of variety’.
“It is probably the visual aesthetics of it all” says wisper. “A woman taking it between her lips and drawing in the smoke. Her pursed lips exhaling a cloud of toxic substances all for the sake of her own satisfaction. The way she holds it between her fingers and the smoke curls up and dances around. The way she pulls the next one from the pack and ignites the process all over again.”
I’ve always been, oddly, fascinated with smoking” says Pete. “Even as a toddler I would pick cigarette butts out of ashtrays and sniff them and put them in my mouth.
“I suppose what gives me the most arousal or interest in it is when the woman smokes in a manner which is confident and as if she really enjoys being a smoker. I don’t care for the type who smoke unconsciously, by rote, out of habit. I also like when a woman inhales and exhales slowly, languidly, holds the cigarette in a graceful manner. I also love the scent of cigarette smoke on a woman, mixed with subtle perfume.”
Like most other forms of attraction, capnolagnia may lie in the simple perception of ‘coolness’, vulnerability or simply an unconscious signal to the world that here you are, this is what you do and to hell with anybody who thinks otherwise. It’s the same reason the world is littered with urban legends of renegades and outlaws. We love those whose exude raw confidence. In a world where smoking is being chased away from the indoors and being tossed around by various governments, it stands as a small act of rebellion.
For Pete and wisper, they retain strong, sexually-charged memories of the time when they understood that smoking was their fancy; the thing that got the motor running. They both confide of similar experiences based around a female form buried in smoke.
“I remember once a friend’s mom came outside in a shear nighty looking for her at night and the glow of her cigarette was hypnotizing” says wisper. “But it all came about when I was around 11. A neighbor girl, very sweet, who used to babysit some of us she was about 1-2 years older. I saw her one evening behind her garage with a friend and they were sharing a cigarette. I actually came in my pants when I saw it.”
Pete was lucky enough to receive a more hands-on early, defining experience: “It became entwined with my sexuality when I had my first cigarette with a neighbor girl in third grade. We were pretty much each other’s best friend at the time and it was first time I really equated smoking with desire for a female, going into uncharted territory together.”
As with any other fetish, it’s not difficult to see how it all comes together. Whether we have clearly marked fetishes or not, a large number of people can be shaped by their early sexual experiences (or indeed, lack of them). It’s also totally harmless to admire smoking from afar. As much as those who ‘come out’ with their distinct tastes or preferences may face castigation from their peers for ‘daring’ to make such a bold move, smoking may face double the opprobrium solely by virtue of the anti-smoking feeling that pervades the common culture.
“I guess I just find women who smoke to be much more appealing. Some people think smoking is disgusting and trashy, but I’ve always thought it to be sort of glamorous. I also think that women who smoke confidently and gracefully, especially in this day and age, are probably pretty confident, strong, and independent. It’s a sort of statement, I suppose, or can be” says Pete.
But here’s a question: with the abundance of smoking imagery perpetuated by the media, and no shortage of websites set up to cater towards the smoking fetish, which is better: real life or fantasy and video?
Both Pete and wisper plant their flags firmly in the basis of reality.
So says wisper: “Websites/films allow a level of refinement, practice, lighting and set-up that make them visually more appealing. However, they also can look over produced and sometimes you have a girl who clearly is smoking only for the camera. IRL it is often less refined, but the positive is that the girl there is real and 3 dimensional.”
Pete remains in total agreement: “I actually prefer real life sightings, and even conversations with women, as opposed to videos. There is something fun about breaking through the layer of political correctness and all the phobia about smoking and getting to talk about why I or they still smoke, how I’d never imagine quitting, etc. pictures online are OK, videos are probably my least favorite as they are usually very scripted, and sort of ‘less than’ my own imagination.”
Our final questions to our passionate puff chasers: what are your favorite types or brands to watch being smoked? Anybody who has ever been into a real tobacconist’s shop will already be expecting a wide range of answers…
“Salems, VS, Eve, Misty any 120 brand especially of the menthol variety. I do not like cork-type cigarettes. For me a woman’s choice of cigarette should exude femininity: long and slim” says Wisper, while Pete prefers “a woman smoking a long cigarette. 120’s are the best, but 100’s are great. Standard King Size make me sad – they look so disappointing and stubby, but depending on the woman smoking, aren’t all bad.”
For a habit so physically dangerous, smoking really does set the minds of some sections of our society alight. If you read this and think you might feel the same… remember there’s no smoke without fire.