Photos of Kids Smoking Are Beautifully Disturbing


janssensSometimes art is made to be beautiful. Sometimes it's made to disturb. Belgian photographer Frieke Janssens' images of (brace yourself) smoking children are made to do both. They totally succeed.

Even the artiest parents are bound to find Janssens' highly stylized, intensely provocative images a little hard to take. In them, we see children ages 4 through 9, styled to look like old-fashioned glam Hollywood stars, holding cigarettes, cigars, and cigarillos. The children suck in, breathe out, blow smoke rings, and stand with dreamy, faraway looks on their faces as smoke curls around their heads and makes patterns in the light.

According to reports, the cigarettes are made from cheese, but in both the photos and a moody, making-of video, those cancer sticks look pretty darn real to me: I, personally, have never seen cheese produce smoke like that.

So what was Janssens' point? Apparently, the artist was inspired by the public-area smoking bans that have been enacted in many U.S. cities and in her native Belgium. She (at least I'm pretty sure Janssens is a she) was also moved to create them after watching that awful video of a chain-smoking Indonesian toddler that went viral some months back. (Remember that charming artifact?)

"These portraits evoke question such as: is the smoking ban the right way to get rid of an absurd addiction and are smokers treated like little kids who can't make the difference between good and bad?" writes Tom Tack on the blog I Love Belgium.

Well, that's an interesting question to ask, I suppose, but I honestly think it gets a bit lost here. It's hard to see past the haze of horror -- Smoking kids. Smoking kids? Smoking kids! -- and to contemplate the issue in a nuanced way. On the other hand, I'm all for art that raises issues and sparks debate. And I suppose, if these children aren't really smoking cigarettes (but rather ... cheese), it's not like they were harmed in the making of this, right?

Ultimately, the viewers' disgust with these images could prove beneficial. If grownups are so grossed out by seeing kids smoking, why would we want to do it ourselves?

What do you think of Janssens' photos of kids smoking?


Image and video via YouTube

in the news, kid health


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

ajbro... ajbrownies

I think it's an interesting choice. Oddly it doesn't bother me as much as the pictures of the children in lingere. It's art and if, as she says, they are fake it's not a big deal. Now if I thought that she was trying to sell smoking to children it would bother me a lot more. I think she's trying to make a political statement. 

For me her possible argument that smoking bans are treating adults like children concerns me more. The smoking ban has nothing to do with smokers and everything to do with nonsmokers. People who don't smoke don't want to drag themselves of their children through a cloud of cancer-causing toxic waste. Second-hand smoke is a weapon, while not intentionally aimed at a person, is devestating. People who get lung cancer from second-hand smoke didn't make a bad choice that decision was made for them. So I suppose the question is who's rights are more important? And since we can't answer that the other question is WHAT right is more important? The right to smoke any where you please or the right to breathe clean air and avoid damaging chemicals? Not really a tough choice. 


Three... ThreeKidsEnough

I chose not to look at the pictures, but the whole idea of visualize young children smoking is sick.  Actually, the whole idea of posing kids in provocative, sexy, grown up styles is very disturbing to me.  As far as the smoking goes,, who would even want to picture/encourage kids doing that--even if it is for "art."  I smoke, and one of my biggest regrets (aside from wishing I'd never picked up my first cigarette at 15) is that my two oldest daughters are now smokers.  My husband and I always told them never to start, but we were--and continue to be--terrible role models.  I have been trying to quit--without success so far.  We need to do everything we can to encourage kids never to start!  I can't imagine why anyone would want to glorify it, like these photos do.

phoen... phoenixmom2011

I am an ex smoker I am the first person to admit it is a disgusting habit, however the emissions from your car even your "eco friendly" car, is more dangerous to my lungs than walking through someones cloud of smoke.

nonmember avatar EcoSalon

Thanks so much for linking to this post. We thought it was such an interesting series, albeit disturbing.

Kasey Comingore

there is a picture of my oldest cousin sitting at a piano with a page boy cap and a (unlit) cigarette in her mouth. this was almost 25 years ago. the family thought it was funny, her mom did not. but it is just a picture. if they had given children lit cigarettes to smoke, that would be a different matter.

Amy Knoch

meh.  I started smoking when I was 10.  Smoking kids really isn't that big a deal. It's art. 


And phoenixmom is right, car emissions are much deadlier than second hand cig smoke.  Which is why public smoking bans in places like Los Angeles are positively funny... in that "people are so stupid" kind of way.

Green... GreenMtnMama

It's not uncommon for children to smoke in Europe. A friend of mine in Austria said, that growing up parents set the smoking age. Most everyone was done by 20 having gotten it out of their system and not addicted to it like we are. I think posing children in sexy positions and dressed as adults is more disturbing. Why are we as a culture,so obsessed with sexualizing our children? Let them be children! There is no reason to dress your 6yr old like a whore, as is so common these days.

Jema McCardell

Honestly, for me, the pictures do the opposite of what the artist intended. Instead of emphasizing the gov't treating smokers like children, it emphasizes that those who insist on their right to smoke in public are forcing our children to smoke whether they wan to or not.

jagam... jagamama0710

"The smoking ban has nothing to do with smokers and everything to do with nonsmokers. People who don't smoke don't want to drag themselves of their children through a cloud of cancer-causing toxic waste."




I think the project was a poor choice.  If a child ever sees these small children smoking, they might get the idea that it's okay for them to smoke.  It sets a very bad example and I do not find beauty in it at all.

1-10 of 46 comments 12345 Last