Why We Don’t See Smoking in Movies and TV Anymore

Smoking has been depicted in movies and TV since the 1920s and has persisted up to the present; it’s no longer surprising to see it in media then and now. In the Old Hollywood films of the ‘50s and 60s, it wasn’t uncommon to see actors and actresses smoke real cigarettes on screen, and many of them smoked extensively behind the scenes too. Cigarette brands like Camel and Lucky Strike would also make deals with motion picture studios to have their products shown on screen, using the film or show to promote their products, which also earned the studio money. Smoking was already prevalent then, so many didn’t see a problem with its depiction on screen. 

While smoking is still done in today’s media, the one thing that’s shifted is the sentiments around the habit, which has changed the usage of tobacco products in film and television. Here’s why we don’t see smoking in movies and TV anymore:

How sentiments have changed smoking in media 

The views on smoking in movies and TV have changed mainly due to consumer perspectives on cigarettes. Smoking was seen as glamorous, seductive, or even healthy in the early to mid-20th century and was depicted as such in media. Cigarettes also earned the same reputation in real life; the combined impact of films and TV and widespread tobacco marketing prompted many to take up the habit. However, the product placement problem became more rampant in later years, when cigarettes were already found to be unhealthy. Cigarettes no longer had the same value on screen and were no longer seen as cool.

When smoking was depicted in media in later years, it was often reserved for troubled characters or those dealing with poverty. Truth Initiative's insights on smoking in pop culture point out that smoking is still pervasive in movies and films, noting how it can greatly influence audiences. Though smoking in media may be impossible to eradicate, studios and executives are being called to take action to ensure that cigarettes aren’t glorified, a far cry from the sentiments a few decades ago.

How the industry has adjusted

Now that smoking is known to have severe health impacts, greater care is taken when using or depicting cigarettes in movies and TV. Even much behind-the-scenes work is done to ensure the health of actors and crew on set. Set designers like Gabriella Douglas work with prop masters and other crew members to properly craft a believable scene and viewing experience down to the minor details—cigarettes included. Many productions use prop cigarettes with herbal ingredients that look identical to real ones, minus the health impacts of smoke and tobacco. Prop smoke is also used to replicate the smoke a real cigarette produces. Actors are also made aware of the use of cigarettes for a role, and contracts must state whether they’ll be working with smoke. 

The rise of alternatives

With cigarette usage declining and falling out of favor on screen, alternatives have emerged to fill the demand and help wean people off smoking in real life. Newer smokeless options like nicotine pouches are becoming more popular for those looking to curb nicotine cravings and smoking. Smokeless ZYN wintergreen nicotine pouches that are manufactured exclusively for the American market showcase how these products provide an authentic and satisfying nicotine dose with experience-enhancing flavors and ingredients. Their discreetness and convenience are currently driving their use in the US.

Nicotine gum has long been a popular alternative in the market and is often used to help smokers quit. Gum like those from Nicorette is easily accessible and can be bought over the counter in stores and online. NRT alternatives have also gotten on-screen depictions, presenting a unique shift from smoking. BBC’s Sherlock series adapted the titular character from the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle into a modernized version. Instead of smoking his iconic pipe, Sherlock opted for nicotine patches placed on the skin to heighten his abilities and curb his smoking habit.

Cigarettes no longer have the same glamour as they did back then, both on-screen and behind the scenes. While smoking in movies and TV may continue, stricter regulations and consumer perspectives may continue to influence its portrayal in media. This may also be giving rise to new ways of depicting nicotine use, such as using props or cigarette alternatives that may become more popular in the future.

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