"You mean you love to watch women smoke, too?
I can't believe it! I thought I was the only one!"

No one knows how many men (or for that matter, women) are keeping this "secret" to themselves. But whenever a person who is captivated by the sight of a sexy smoker finally discovers a kindred spirit, the reaction is always the same: "I thought I was the only one!"

It's not hard to come to the conclusion that so-called sexual fetishes are much more common than "nice people" have publicly admitted. For decades, people debated the answer to an advertising slogan that became a catch phrase: "is it true blondes have more fun?" Society's focus on breasts, build, legs, and rear ends is much more than idle conversation. The never-ending mating ritual usually focuses not on personality, but on physical traits or often, other objects such as clothing, shoes, tattoos or body piercings. Everyone's heard the term "foot fetish," even though most people don't honestly understand what it means. So is it really that surprising that for years, men and women have also focused on smoking as an object of sexual attraction?

An article in the magazine "Platinum" points out that "if you want to draw a bead on the American psyche, look no further than American cinema - the who, what, where and why of hour we live our lives is all right there. If it happens on the street, it happens on the screen, particularly when it comes to smoking." The article goes on to observe: "Bogart, Davis, Dietrich, Dean. In countless scenes and studio publicity photos, smoke forever curls from the lips of our favorite stars. Whatever the image desired by the studio, the history of film is a history of smoking."

If you think about it (and if you're reading this article, chances are that you've thought about it many times), most likely you can remember dozens of movie scenes (and television scenes, before producers, networks and stations were forced to discover government-enforced political correctness) in which smoking plays a prominent role. In fact, it's not hard to conclude that many actors, actresses, writers and directors have translated their own fascination with smoking into a permanent presence in their work.

There are many opinions and theories as to why many men (AND women!) find smoking attractive, sexy and alluring. A few of the most common that we hear (sometimes by themselves, sometimes in combination);

- women who smoke are self-confident, sophisticated or socially adept; they handle their smoking with competence and style.

- women who smoke are "naughty"; they deliberately do something that is sometimes (today, more than ever!) viewed as socially unacceptable, unfeminine or just plain "wrong." (Many are attracted to innocent-looking women who 'don't look like they'd be a smoker'; that seems to be quite common.)

- women who smoke are more relaxed, carefree, fun-loving and not as uptight; many guys see smoking as a reflection of the attitude: "I do what I like."

- women who smoke are often more confident of their sexuality; they may even use their smoking as a "tool" or "prop" to attract attention.

- finally, many can't even explain the reason for their attraction to women who smoke, any more than other people can explain why they're attracted to women with long hair or nice legs. Plain and simple, it just turns them on.

There are also some "deeper" aspects of the fetish or attraction that we hear at times; some with the fetish are attracted to dominant women who smoke, with the smoking one symbol of their dominance (it seems that those who feel this way are less likely to smoke themselves, increasing the symbolism of the woman in charge who's "allowed" to smoke). Less common aspects that we also hear involve a Freudian oral fixation (it's really not a -conscious- perception among most of those we've spoken with), or an attraction to women who are heavy smokers dependent on their habit (we're not sure quite what the psychological basis is for that, but there probably is one).

As for what it is that fetishists are attracted to---again, it varies depending on the person. Probably the three most common answers we hear are:

- the exhale---it's quite sensuous and alluring, particularly when women are "accomplished" or "talented" smokers. (You'll often hear people who feel this way express a preference for women who french inhale, exhale through their nostrils, blow smoke rings, and so on.)

- the manner---how they handle their cigarette and their inhaling and exhaling.

- what's being smoked---the smoking fetish is often quite specific, with many guys often attracted primarily to (depending on their fetish) women who smoke long cigarettes, women who smoke cigarettes with white filters or brown filters, women who smoke strong cigarettes, and so on. There are also quite a few who are attracted to women who smoke cigars, or women who use cigarette holders.

And those who claim that the tobacco industry perpetuates the "myth" that smoking is attractive or sexy totally ignore the social history. Obviously, dating back to the early days of women taking up smoking in America, there was a sexual mystique surrounding women who smoke (everything from a recent book of postcards from the era 1890-1930, to the black and white films of the 30s and 40s) makes it clear that there has always been a "sexual component" to smoking. The Virginia Slims ads of the 60's, to use one example, didn't create that perception, they reflected it.

A recent coffee-table book about Marlene Dietrich (who most people probably can't picture WITHOUT a cigarette) is also worth noting. It was the work of noted photographer Alexander Lieberman, whose text accompanies his pictures. There's one well-done section of photos of Marlene (in later life) smoking for the camera; the text speaks volumes. "She would willingly play the photographer's game, lending herself easily to new suggestions that intrigued her and falling into the spirit of experimentation. But she seemed to know in advance what the results would be. I did not ask her to blow smoke. With her visual imagination and inventiveness, she knew, seeing the black background, what would be her most effective contribution to the sitting. The cigarette was for many years a magical prop for gesture. The fashion models, the photographers, liked the pretext of smoking as a stylization of modernism. The woman smoking with casual indifference appeared more liberated, more secure and sure of herself. For Marlene, in her man's suit or tails, it enriched still more her ambiguous, suggestive stance. She loved to light the cigarettes of her woman friends. Perhaps she dared these knowing, seductive hints at male-female interplay out of spite that such actions were acceptable only for men. Smoking, her need and passion, a sign of her toughness and liberation, also became an opportunity for her to play. The patterns of smoke blowing into the air created a surprising poetic illusion."

It should, then, not come as any surprise that many people have fixated on smoking as an object of sexual desire or arousal. This was spelled out recently, in of all places, an article in the Ladies' Home Journal entitled "Sexual Obsessions." The author observes: "Fetishism, the dependence on an object or body part for arousal...is believed to be one of the most common yet least often discussed sexual compulsions. Since little research has been done, it's difficult to say how widespread the condition is. Yet it may be more prevalent than even the experts suggest." This article does not single out smoking as an example of fetishism. However, studies in psychological and psychiatric journals have found smoking to be a common focus of this sort of sexual behavior. Further, most studies conclude that there is little or nothing that can be done to "cure" any sort of fetish, and a wide variety of experts has concluded that as long as the fetish is one without a victim, there's no reason to try to change it.

So, what does this say to people who are attracted to smokers or have a smoking fetish? Basically: relax, accept it as just one part of your identity, and enjoy it! That's the purpose of Smoke Signals---to bring together people who share a common interest, and to serve as a vehicle for information about the smoking fetish.