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On a normal Tuesday, Taimie Hannum, a 33-year-old former Playboy model ("Say I'm 29") wakes up just before noon, has her nails and toes trimmed, shops for watermelon or microwave pizza, comes home to her Hollywood apartment, and flips on her "spy" webcam, finally ready to perform her labor: She lights up a Marlboro Light 100.
People pay to watch her, among other things, smoke.
"It's much easier for me to smoke in the privacy of my own home," Hannum says while live recently from her Web site, Taimie.com. "Especially while it's being broadcast to the world!" she adds, gingerly blowing smoke rings at her webcam.
As New York and other cities try to ban smoking in public places like parks and beaches, there may be few places but the Web for smokers to congregate.
"As physical public space becomes increasingly inhospitable to smokers, it's quite natural that they would shift to virtual public space," says Dr. William J. Mitchell, MIT Dean of Architecture and Planning and author of City of Bitsand e-topia, books that discuss how digital communities will transform the shape of urban areas.
"Virtual smoking," he adds, "may not be such a bad thing. Smokers get to smoke in peace, and they don't bother the rest of us in doing so."
Not a bad point. Why not take a five-minute smoke break at cybercigarettebreak.com? Even non-smokers can get some virtual secondhand smoke, courtesy of Ashtraycam.com. "Want to see people smoke, but don't want to have to breathe in those nasty cancer-filled fumes?" the latter site's designers ask. "Now you can see cigarettes in action with the handy Ashtray Cam."
Virtual smoking has turned into a giant industry. Hold your breath and type "smoking" and "fetish" into any browser, and you're liable to get over 100,000 hits. Pregnant women puff down at Smokesigs.com, and other sites offer amateur short stories revolving around virgin smokers and carcinogenic fantasies.
Naturally, smoking also spills into other identities. "As a lesbian with a fetish for cigarette smoking," one person writes on an AOL message board, "I tend to focus primarily on the awareness of my shared 'identity' as a 'smoker' with other smoking women, especially those that are similar to me in terms of being feminine and sensually aware of their OWN smoking.
"I am further enraptured by the thought that whenever I smoke a particular cigarette, I am having essentially the same sensual experience as any other woman in the world who is smoking the same brand of cigarette at the same time that I am; we share a sort of deeply intimate bond inside our bodies that transcends all distance . . . thinking about these things drives me wild!!!"
However, Mike Williams, editor of the smoking fetish magazine Smoke Signals, says the pictures and visual fantasies posted on his site don't necessarily have to do with nudity or sex. "My readers," he explains, "would much rather see a regular man or woman French inhaling than the most beautiful woman in the universe just holding a cigarette."
Taimie Hannum, on the other hand, does it all. Once a week she puts on a special show in front of her "naughty cam." Her favorite trick? "Smoky blowjobs, definitely," she says. "I can also smoke out ofwell, you know, my private partsif I want. I've trained my muscles to inhale and ex."
Normally, she just hangs out at home and does nothing, with the webcam running. On a recent evening on the spy cam, Hannum, naked but for a skimpy tube top dangling around her neck, could be seen chatting up a few of her cyber-smoking fans, watching TV, and sucking on a bottle of Corona. "This is just my everyday life," she explains, writhing on her office chair, rocking it back and forth doggy-style. "One day my friends said, 'Taimie, you might has well get paid for this.' "
And she does, claiming to make over six figures a yearnot all of it, of course, from smoking online. "It's great," she says. "I don't have to do any real work and I can sit here and chill and smoke and talk to different people."
Mayor Bloomberg's anti-smoking crusade is "absurd," she says. "Outside. Way outside." Her fans, questioned in her chat room, say the same thing, more or less. Some deride the "thought and action police" for "taking things too far," or they compare it to Prohibition. Others blame the "damn hippies" or the "damn liberals." And then there are those who just can't help themselves when it comes to either Taimie or smoking. "I'm against smoking in public places cuz I have a two-year-oldbut I want you [Taimie] to smoke wherever your fine azz wants," one fan writes. Another adds, "I'd like to quit, but when I see a girl like Taimie, it just slips my mind." The guy with the two-year-old finally admits, "Dude, you're asking the wrong group of guyswe're about as deep as a saucer."
Others can provide the deep stuff. Sally Schwager, for instance, is both a psychologist and a former smoker, so she can see how cyber-smoking could develop. "Some people have places inside them that feel empty, like there's something missing, like there's a literal hole inside their body," she says. "To feel better, they unconsciously look for stuff to fill in the holes in their body: eating, drinking, other people, and now, obsessive Internet use coupled with smokingit's anything they go after addictively."
Schwager says she has a friend who, in the moment of drawing smoke into her lungs, feels like she's being hugged. "Her hole is the feeling of lack of love," says Schwager. "Even a dim awareness of it causes anxiety, and she reaches for a cigarette. Literally, she tries to plug the hole up."
But nothing's forever. Even Taimie Hannum's smoking gig. "I think of quitting all the time, for my health, and for my boyfriends that don't smoke," she says. "But for now, I think I'll continue to show the wilder side."