Cole Sprouse made waves recently when, amid rumors of a breakup with longtime girlfriend Lili Reinhart, he released a series of photos to Instagram debuting a new look.
While much of the internet is abuzz about his new style — lighter, longer hair, and a quarantine goatee meant to “polarize” his teen fanbase — one important takeaway of the photoshoot is that it showcases Sprouse posing, yet again, with a cigarette.
Now, Cole Sprouse smoking a cigarette is nothing new. In fact, Sprouse himself has long been open about his affinity for the habit. He has made it clear that he likes to smoke, health hazards be damned! And that’s totally his prerogative. He is an adult at the ripe old age of 27 — practically an elder by Hollywood standards — and he can do what he pleases with his life.
Where I take issue with Sprouse, however, is his overt documentation and glamorization of smoking — particularly given his youthful fanbase.
Sprouse’s fondness for smoking is well-documented across his Instagram page. In 2015, he posted a black-and-white shot of himself lighting a cigarette, captioning the post,
“Support the local cigarette companies and smoke! Your president does it so how bad could it really be?”
Other tongue-in-cheek captions that punctuated a 2016 photo series — yes, a whole series — of Sprouse smoking included, “Real men eat their cigarette buds” and “DAMN THAT’S EDGY.”
While the captions might be written to present the pictures in a lighthearted or self-deprecating manner, the crux of the issue is that the photos Sprouse posts are neither of those things. These aren’t ragged paparazzi photos or innocuous candids from a party where Sprouse was caught in the act. Rather, they are glossy, well-lit snapshots staged by a professional photographer.
They are casting smoking in an aspirational light, a sexy pastime that is reminiscent of James Dean or a ‘90s-era Leonardo DiCaprio, working to evoke the classic Hollywood sophistication and masculinity and, yes, the very “edginess” that Sprouse glibly jokes about in his Instagram caption. Sprouse even admits as much in one such picture, where he quotes a passage from the book Hollywood Portraits, saying that “there is no doubt that cigarettes did indeed have a certain glamour in Hollywood, if only by association with the stars.”
If Sprouse does believe that there is, in fact, a connection between the glamour of cigarettes and their association with Hollywood stars, it’s especially a shame that he would choose to perpetuate that association for his Instagram audience of 32.2 million followers, many of whom are young and impressionable adolescents and teens.
According to the CDC, about 4.7 million middle and high school students use at least one tobacco product. And every day another 1,600 kids under 18 smoke their first cigarette. In fact, teens are one of the groups most at-risk to pick up a smoking habit — 99% of current smokers picked up the habit before the age of 26. And those same teens are the target audience of Cole Sprouse’s show, Riverdale.
Regardless of intent, it’s disappointing to see Sprouse continue to glorify a habit that kills nearly half a million people every year in the United States alone. Even though most of his smoking photos are posted solely to his own Instagram page, they are still nonetheless shared for public consumption. And with such a massive following, it seems like his baseline personal responsibility could be to just… not post pictures elevating such a dangerous habit to millions of people around the world.
But, it seems that Sprouse has found, uh, other ways to spread the word about the dangers of smoking. In 2019, he wrote on Instagram,
“Smoking is bad for you and I make sure I cough next to anybody that does it just to remind them.”
Great work, Cole.