Sound the alarm: Movie stars are increasingly being caught by paparazzi sucking down nicotine off-screen — and it could have an untoward effect on your children!


For the #2 slot in its Sunday Styles section yesterday, the New York Times focused a lens on this growing trend in celebrity journalism. The heart of the story was this:


Such images of stars smoking off-screen were relatively rare five years ago, but with the proliferation of celebrity magazines and the competition for candid pictures, more shots of celebrities smoking are being published, magazine editors, photographers and stars’ publicists say. …


It is too early to document whether this kind of exposure can influence young readers to light up, but some antismoking groups have voiced concern.


That was the news. All of it, as it turns out. For the Times, though, it was reason enough for a winding, 1500-word discourse on the subject.


As evidence for the new trend in question, the Times listed five celebs who have been depicted smoking in glossy weeklies recently, including minor starlet Mary-Kate Olsen, whose photo has appeared in three publications. From “Leonardo DiCaprio inhaling as he squints from a balcony” in People to “Kate Hudson contemplatively holding a butt at one of her husband’s concerts” in Us Weekly, the Times reported, “paparazzi pictures of celebrities smoking are still the exception to the rule, [but] they are becoming almost as routine as shots of actors walking around with cups of coffee or cuddling toy Chihuahuas.” (And we all know how overwhelming that Chihuahua craze turned out to be.)


The photos send the message, as one worried director of a cancer prevention program said, that “Cool people smoke,” while another antismoking expert fretted that not just celebrities but also magazines should be mindful of the negative effect they can have on young fans.


For the celebrities, their smoking habits are not news. For the glossy weeklies, it’s not particularly noteworthy, either, with editors and photographers telling the Times that “pictures of famous smokers is not something they set out to get or show.” The only people it’s news for, then, are the antismoking groups the Times quotes, who point to various studies purporting to show a relationship between on-screen and teenage smoking.


It would be one thing if the photos in question bespoke the glamour of, say, a sultry James Dean veiled by his own cigarette smoke. But for the moment — with America’s youth arguably under constant bombardment by images of sex, violence and general irresponsibility — the sight of an anorexically thin Mary-Kate Olsen clutching a pack of Marlboros or a scruffy Leo DiCaprio puffing away hardly strikes us as cause for a veritable tome on the subject.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.