Giselle Benatar
May 01, 1992 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Basic Instinct‘s depiction of lesbianism has aroused controversy, but what is the movie trying to tell us about smoking? Director Paul Verhoeven’s film both glamorizes and demonizes the noxious weed. Consider that the leads — Nick (Michael Douglas), Catherine (Sharon Stone), and Beth (Jeanne Tripplehorn) — have a thing about butts, uhhh, cigarettes, and that their 22 on-screen light-ups are associated with the following antisocial behavior: rough sex (Nick smokes after bedding both Catherine and Beth); cheating (Catherine smokes after beating her lie-detector test); lying (Nick smokes while deceiving interrogators); defying authority (Catherine and Nick light up in nonsmoking zones); and drinking (Nick lights up after he hits the bottle).

Despite the evidence, Nick insists he’s given up cigarettes five times in the movie. Catherine helps by pointing out, ”Killing isn’t like smoking — you can quit,” as she offers him another lung buster. Doesn’t that constitute some kind of harassment? A spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society says the organization hasn’t received any complaints about Basic Instinct, but ”we don’t believe any film should glamorize smoking. We prefer it when the bad guys smoke.”

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