Smoker face: A brief overview of capnolagnia

Watch any film or television programme made before 2000 that features a post-coital couple in bed, and odds on, one (if not both) of them will be smoking a cigarette. I started with that anecdotal observation just by way of establishing that sex and cigarette smoking are (quite literally) not so strange bedfellows. However, for a small minority of people, smoking in and of itself can be sexually arousing and for some may even be a sexual paraphilia (called capnolagnia). Dr. Anil Aggrawal in his 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices defines capnolagnia as a sexual paraphilia in which individuals derive sexual pleasure and sexual arousal from watching others smoke. The Collar ‘n’ Cuffs website adds in an article on smoking fetishism that the smoking can either be normal cigarettes or the smoking of marijuana spliffs.

The defining features of capnolagnia are outlined at the Right Diagnosis website. It is claimed that people who experience one (or more) of the following symptoms are considered to have a smoking fetish: (i) sexual interest in watching other people smoking, (ii) recurring intense sexual fantasies involving watching other people smoking, and (iii) recurring intense sexual urges involving watching other people smoking. As far as I am aware, there is almost no empirical or clinical research on capnolagnia. Given that there are no treatment papers in the clinical and medical literature it suggests that either capnolagnia is rare and/or people who have the fetish live with it happily without feeling the need to seek treatment.

Arguably, it wasn’t really until the advent of the internet in the 2000s that people were even aware that smoking fetishes even existed. As with many other fetishes, like-minded people began to meet on online newsgroups (such as early groups like alt.smokers.glamour and and then escalated to trading stories, pictures, videos, and (now) DVDs. The overview on Wikipedia (arguably the most in-depth overview I’ve seen on smoking fetishism) claims that (like most fetishes) it has its roots in early childhood classical conditioning where smoking becomes paired with sexual response and/or psychodynamic theories rooted in Freud’s oedipal complex.

“These could include seeing the smoker as a stereotypically sweet, innocent individual behaving in ways that are considered taboo. For others, it stems from an attraction to more worldly people whose smoking epitomizes their strength and self-confidence. Within gay culture, this fetish often stems from the image of masculinity… Another cultural source for the fetish may be eroticized depictions of women who smoke that come from older motion pictures, especially from the film noir era… it has also been speculated that men who have smoking fetishes are more likely to have mothers who smoked, going back to the old belief that all men are secretly attracted to women who are just like their mothers”.

In a short article on “bizarre” fetishes, the Religious Sex website claims that there is a “darker and more extreme version” of capnolagnia found among the BDSM [bondage, dominance, submission, masochism) and female domination subcultures in which submissive partners may be treated like a human ashtray and forced by their dominant partner to swallow cigarette ash, have cigarette smoke blown continually into their face, and/or have cigarettes stubbed out on their naked flesh. The use of the submissive here as an inanimate item has overlaps with the humiliating and masochistic world of forniphilia (i.e., use of people as human furniture for sexual pleasure) that I examined in a previous blog.

The article in Wikipedia claims most smoking fetishists are heterosexual males but that there are significant minorities of gay men and bisexual men that also enjoy the behaviour (and an even smaller number of heterosexual women). More specifically, the article claims:

“Among heterosexual men, the fetish is often associated with oral fixations and fellatio and it is rather caused by the image of the woman smoking, than by the smell. It seems that the smell and taste of the cigarettes have a greater role to play in women’s smoking behavior than in that of men. Some fetishists have a fascination with the addictive properties of nicotine, and its ability to cause harm, and there is a sub-fetish relating to women being harmed by smoking, sometimes called “the dark side”, “black lung fetish” or “lung damage”. This has been interpreted as an element of misogyny in the community’s psychology”

The article on Wikipedia claims capnolagnia among gay men differs from that among heterosexual men. It is claimed that gay men become aroused at either ‘dominant’ men smoking or young (“innocent”) men initiating smoking for the first time. According to some online female domination sites, there are other sub-types of capnolagnia (described online as “sub-fetishes”), particularly in nicotine’s potential to cause harm and sometimes called “lung damage”.

For women this is seen in videos showing women smoking and coughing, suggesting self-destructiveness. More common videos are those showing a woman or a man in bondage, being forced to smoke or to inhale smoke. ‘Glamor’ smoking and ‘dark side’ smoking are the major divisions within the fetish. The glamor aspect of the fetish emphasizes the way smoking visually enhances women’s sexual appeal; the dark side links smoking to female domination, bondage and domination, and sadism/masochism. Both elements may be related to the appeal of the “bad girl” and the fantasy that even a “girl next door” type who smokes may be a tigress in the bedroom. A handful of producers specialize in videos appealing to one or both sides of the fetish…Ironically, as mainstream society has recognized the dangers of smoking, the effect has been to heighten interest in smoking fetishism. The more we recognize that smoking is bad for our health, the truer it becomes that only ‘bad’ girls smoke, and the more attractive they become to the smoking fetishist”.

I did a literature search on psychological databases for empirical research into capnolgania and identified only one paper that had even mentioned it. This was in a 2012 issue of the journal Tobacco Journal where the authors Dr Mary Carroll, Dr Ariel Shensa and Dr Brian Primack (all at the University of Pittsburgh, US) systematically analyzed YouTube videos with cigarette-related content. Their systematic search online yielded 66 cigarette-related videos for qualitative analysis. The researchers coded the overall portrayal of smoking as positive if the smoking was largely portrayed as attractive, fun, powerful, pleasurable, relaxing or sexy. Their findings showed that 9% of the videos analyzed contained fetishistic smoking content. Given the small sample size and the selective search methods used by the research team, we have no way of knowing if the results can be generalized.

However, I realized that after reading this paper that this was the latest in a number of studies that have looked at smoking and smoking fetish videos on YouTube (except in the previous studies no-one called it capnolagnia). For instance, an earlier study published in a 2010 issue of Nicotine and Tobacco Research, by Dr. Susan Forsyth and Dr. Ruth Malone (both at the University of California, US) examined 124 of the most popular YouTube videos about cigarette use. They reported that the videos they analyzed frequently associated cigarettes with sexual themes and commonly portrayed cigarette smoking in a positive light (however, smoking fetishism wasn’t studied in isolation).

In a 2002 issue of the Journal of Health Commerce, Dr. T. Hong and Dr. M.J. Cody conducted a content analysis study of 318 pro-tobacco websites and examined the models in the photographs displayed on these websites. They reported that female models were most often portrayed in sex/fetish sites and were slim and attractive. Similarly, in 2003 in the journal Health Education and Behavior, Dr. Kurt Ribisl and his colleagues in North Carolina (US) also conducted a content analysis of over 1600 photographs displayed on 30 smoking websites and examined the amount of smoking and nudity displayed. Five of the websites mentioned smoking fetishes and 7% of the photographs contained nudity and smoking.

Another study, in a 2007 issue of Tobacco Control by Dr. Becky Freeman and Dr. Simon Chapman (University of Sydney, Australia), examined YouTube videos with smoking content and identified those videos were most commonly watched. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most watched pro-smoking videos were the smoking fetish and female smoking videos. Similarly, in a 2010 issue of the journal Health Communication, Dr Kyongseok Kim and colleagues conducted a content analysis of the smoking fetish videos on YouTube. Among the 139,000 videos that were located, a total of 2,220 (1.6% of all smoking videos) were smoking fetish videos. Although none of these studies tell us much about the etiology and psychology of smoking fetishes, they do tell us that there are a significant minority of smoking fetish sites out there, and that maybe capnolagnia is not as rare as first believed.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Amos, A., & Haglund, M. (2000). From social taboo to “torch of freedom”: the marketing of cigarettes to women. Tobacco Control, 9, 3-8.

Carroll, M.V., Shensa, A. & Brian A Primack, B.A. (2012). A comparison of cigarette- and hookah-related videos on YouTube. Tobacco Control, doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050253.

Collar ‘n’ Cuffs (2010). Smoking fetishism (capnolagnia). February 19. Located at:

Forsyth, S.R. & Malone, R.E. (2010). I’ll be your cigarette-Light me up and get on with it”: Examining smoking imagery on YouTube. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 12, 810e16.

Freeman, B., & Chapman, S. (2007). Is ‘YouTube’ telling or selling you something? Tobacco content on the YouTube video-sharing website. Tobacco Control, 16, 207-210.

Hong, T., & Cody, M. (2002). Presence of pro-tobacco messages on the Web. Journal of Health Commerce, 7, 273-307.

Kim, K., Paek, H.J. & Lynn, J. (2010). A content analysis of smoking fetish videos on YouTube: regulatory implications for tobacco control. Health Communication, 25, 97-106.

Religious Sex (2012). “Bizarre” fetishes (Part 1). Gothic Fetish, May 8. Located at:

Ribisl, K.M., Lee, R.E., Henriksen, L., & Haladjian, H.H. (2003). A content analysis of Web sites promoting smoking culture and lifestyle. Health Education and Behavior, 30, 64-78.

Right Diagnosis (2012). Capnolagnia. February 1. Located at:

Wikipedia (2012). Smoking fetishism. Located at:

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. His most recent award is the 2013 Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 600 research papers, four books, over 130 book chapters, and over 1000 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 2000 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on October 23, 2012, in Addiction, Cigarette smoking, Obsession, Popular Culture, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

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