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THE GOODS | CYBURBIA

A Site That Just Might Be Addictive

November 05, 1996|DAVID COLKER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's hard to imagine a less than dapper image of Humphrey Bogart, but as depicted on one particular World Wide Web page, he looks especially dashing.

Dressed in a trench coat and slightly cocked hat, he stands in a foggy locale, looking off to one side with a knowing smile made up of equal parts world weariness and amusement. His left hand is in the pocket of the coat and his right hand casually holds--as it so often did--a lit cigarette.

This is the Smoker's Home Page, dedicated "to the great pastime of smoking." Here you can find essays, message boards, resource lists and photographs, all devoted to political advocacy and to the proposition that smoking is elegant, stylish and sexy.

Nowhere on this extensive site is it mentioned that Bogart died at 56 of lung cancer.

If cancer is mentioned at all at this and the several other pro-smoking sites on the Web, it's usually to deny or downplay the disease's widely accepted connection with the habit.

The Smoker's Home Page--at http://www.tezcat.com/~smokers --is a refuge, where those who agree with Bob Dole that smoking is "not necessarily" an addiction can find support and solace.

"It's no surprise that these people have turned to the Web for a sense of community, a sense of belonging," said Shelley Pasnik, the director of children's policy with the Washington D.C.-based advocacy group the Center for Media Education.

The center is certainly not known as a friend of smokers. Earlier this year, the group urged the FDA to establish rules that would prevent the tobacco industry from targeting Internet promotions toward young people. But Pasnik said she can understand the reasons smokers have taken to the Net: "These are people who might feel ostracized in so many parts of society."

Indeed, there is a feisty, "us versus them" attitude throughout the handsomely designed page.

"Warning! this page may be hazardous to anti-smokers' blood pressure," it states on the opening page in a parody of the cigarette package warning.

This site and other pro-smoking spots are so rebellious and frisky, that at first glance it's easy to admire them. These lively folks are having fun thumbing their noses at officialdom and much of society.

But then you get to the message board, where you find a posting titled "New Smoker!!" from a woman named Marie: "Could someone please tell me the finer points of inhaling? I'm about killing myself when I inhale and then I don't quite know what to do. Help!"

Several male posters jumped to her aid and more than one message had sexual overtones. "Relax, it helps you control your breathing," suggested a man who described himself as an "admirer of young ladies who smoke."

"Tell me how old are you and when and how did you start," urged another.

Marie responded that she was 20. And although she declined to disclose details about her start in smoking, she enthusiastically thanked all respondents for their suggestions and support.

Marie is now a member of the club to which Bogart belonged. She has a 12 times greater chance of dying of lung cancer than a nonsmoker, says the American Cancer Society (for male smokers, the incidence is 22 times greater).

It may not take a village to make a smoker, but it doesn't hurt to have a Web community on hand for support.

* Cyburbia's e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.

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