Posted at 01:34 PM ET, 03/10/2011

From “Rango” to Lady Gaga: Is smoking making a pop culture comeback?

Is this PG lizard flick worthy of an R rating? (AP Photo/Paramount Pictures, Industrial Light &Magic) The animated tale of a wee lizard trying to find his place in the harsh desert is winning with movie critics, but anti-smoking groups are fuming.

Movie critics are praising the adult-friendly flick, but not since Cruella De Vil’s compulsive chain smoking in “101 Dalmatians” has an animated film featured so much tobacco usage, according to advocacy group Breathe California. The nonprofit’s “Thumbs Up! Thumbs Down!” recorded at least 60 instances of “Rango” characters lighting up, and is now calling for the film’s PG rating to be bumped up to R. Back in 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America mandated that such a rating bounce could occur if the movie featured too much smoking.

Paramount execs are fighting back. “The images of smoking in the film, which primarily involves the animals, are portrayed by supporting characters and are not intended to be celebrated or emulated,” Virginia Lam, the spokesperson for Paramount Pictures said. In other words, Paramount’s saying that smoking is for the bad guys.

Is smoking acceptable when it’s not the hero taking a drag?

Due to health hazards and rising costs, smoking is obviously

Is smoking less shocking than a Kermit costume or meat dress? (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

viewed as unacceptable in American culture -- any sort of “comeback” is impossible. But nicotine has always been a rebel’s drug. Ever since the likes of Humphrey Bogart and James Dean began flicking away spent cigarettes like calling cards, those on the fringes have followed.

Modern rebels, while less glamorous, are equally influential. Charlie Sheen debuted “Charlie Sheen’s Winning Recipes” on FunnyorDie today, in which he chain smoked and swigged “tiger blood.” Yesterday, model Kate Moss lit up the Louis Vuitton runway with a cigarette in hand, presumably in protest to tighter smoking restrictions in the U.K. And in what was actually one of her tamer stage acts, Lady Gaga debuted on a Paris catwalk last week with a lit cigarette in her mouth.

There’s an unspoken rule here. Smoking is okay as long as the smoker in question is somehow corrupt. Why is Sheen -- currently the object of our national spotlight -- a less harmful influence on impressionable young minds than “Rango’’s fringe characters? Watch and discuss in the comments below:

By  |  01:34 PM ET, 03/10/2011

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