I don’t smoke. That probably influences how I see tobacco use in the movies; people who don’t smoke are People Like Me, and possibly that means I don’t notice it and am more inclined to notice people who do. I was involved in a discussion this week about smoking in the movies, and the person with whom I was talking was a smoker who notices more when people aren’t smoking, and notices when the people in movies aren’t like him.
It’s worth noting that smokers have never been a majority in the United States. The highwater mark is probably the 1960s, at which point some forty-five percent of the population smoked. Currently, it’s not even half that. Literally none of the friends I spend time with are smokers. I had a friend in college who did, and it was a nuisance to me. All other issues aside, it meant I had to do this stupid little dance to keep him downwind when we were outside together. I have a friend who sometimes smokes, and these days, that’s it. I think smokers tend to clump with other smokers, because it’s more convenient if nothing else.
The attitude toward smoking in the movies these days is that showing smoking in movies influences children to think smoking is cool. Is that true? I don’t know. It never influenced me—but then, what did was my belief that smoking had killed my father, so there’s that. Children have all kinds of influences, and who knows what tips a person to start smoking when they wouldn’t if it hadn’t been for that? I don’t understand why people start smoking in the first place. It’s bad for you, and it’s weird. You ever been at a campfire with smokers? I have been, years ago, and they all spent all their time dancing around to keep the smoke out of their eyes while deliberately inhaling different smoke.
For whatever reason, people smoke. And in the movies, people smoked a lot. I’m not, you understand, planning to do analysis on this, but it always kind of feels to me that people smoke more in the movies than smoked in real life, even in the ’60s. Some 200 stars were actually paid by cigarette companies to smoke their brand, often Lucky Strike. And even if a male character in the movie didn’t smoke cigarettes, you could usually get him to smoke a cigar if you gave him one. All children were greeted, in the movies, with celebratory cigars.
I don’t know what an even balance of smoking and nonsmoking in movies would look like. I’m not sure anyone does. But while the evidence seems to suggest that children who see smoking in movies are more likely to smoke themselves, I’m willing to sacrifice a little authenticity.
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