Category Archives: smoking in movies

So, will Disney ban smoking in 20th Century Fox movies now?

Once upon a time, there was a LOT of smoking in Disney movies.

Anyway, speaking of Disney, Disney just completed a purchase of 20th Century Fox, does that now mean there will be no more smoking in 20th Century Fox movies?

This New York Times article points out that Fox has no such strict policy. And when asked about it, Disney bluntly had no comment on the matter. Interesting.

From a New York Times article:

Now antismoking advocates want Mr. Iger to extend that rule to all future youth-rated films (G, PG, PG-13) made by Fox and its Fox Searchlight specialty label, which are among the assets that Disney is buying from Rupert Murdoch for $54.2 billion. Among other things, activists want “graphic health warnings” added to youth-rated films in the Fox library that depict smoking — like “Avatar” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” — before selling them on DVD or via video-on-demand services.

The requests were made in a Feb. 20 letter to Mr. Iger that was signed by 46 activists and faith-based shareholders. Boiled down, the dispatch, which has not previously been disclosed, raises a broader question shared by some people in Hollywood: How accepting will the Magic Kingdom be of the button-pushing content offered by Fox, the home of the R-rated “Deadpool” superhero franchise, the violent “Planet of the Apes” movies and “The Simpsons,” the show that once produced an episode featuring a nicotine-laced variety of tomato called “tomacco.”

Activists are continuously pressuring studios over one cause or another, but Mr. Murdoch has frequently dismissed such efforts as political correctness run amok. Disney, on the other hand, pays extraordinary attention to its brand perception, which activists often try to use to their advantage.

“We ask you now to follow your convictions, common sense and experience in keeping kids safe,” the antismoking activists wrote in their letter, a copy of which was given to The New York Times by Jono Polansky, a policy consultant for Smoke Free Movies, an initiative at the University of California at San Francisco. “Amid the myriad details involved in a corporate acquisition of this size and complexity, Disney cannot afford to leave young people’s health and lives unprotected.”

Tom McCaney, associate director of corporate social responsibility for Sisters of St. Francis, an activist order helping to lead the antismoking effort, said that Disney’s response to the letter was unsatisfactory. “Disney told us it wasn’t appropriate to discuss until the Fox deal goes through,” Mr. McCaney said. “We disagree.”

PS — that brief smoking scene in Avatar was wildly controversial, because there is absolutely no point to it. There is absolutely NO reason for it to be in the PG-13 movie, which anti-tobacco advocates loudly pointed out. And director James Cameron lashed out, basically saying, “don’t tell me how to do my job, man…”

The article I believe had a minor error, pointing out that Deadpool and X-Men were actually Fox Studio movies. Yes, they were, but they were also Marvel properties and my understanding is that Disney’s smoking ban applied to all Marvel properties, even those Marvel properties being made by other studios. So if you noticed in the Deadpool and Logan movies … no smoking. Except ironically, Deadpool does smoke one cigarette briefly in Deadpool 2 to commit suicide by using it to light a gasoline bomb. In the director’s commentary, Ryan Reynolds said they went back and forth about whether Deadpool should be smoking a joint or a cigarette before committing suicide, and they decided on a cigarette since he’s in the middle of killing himself anyway.

Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049 … smoking no longer “noir”

I recently went to Blade Runner 2049 and noticed a MASSIVE difference between this and the 1982 version of Blade Runner. And it’s something the original Blade Runner got seriously wrong about the future.

In the 1982 version, there are a number of heavily smoky scenes with characters smoking cigarettes. Not just smoking, but smoking indoors.

OK, OK, I get it. Blade Runner was never meant to be an accurate portrayal of 2019, but I found it ironic. There is virtually nowhere you can actually smoke indoors in 2017. Perhaps in bars in the Deep South, but that’s about it. You certainly couldn’t smoke indoors in Los Angeles, where the film takes place.

Blade Runner … 1982 version

Blade Runner was a film noir, a callback to gritty 1940s detective movies with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, even most of the hairstyles are out of the 1940s. I remember seeing the movie as a teenager and damn near feeling my eyes tear up from all the cigarette smoke on the screen.

Blade Runner 2049. Plenty of noir … no smoking.

In fact, the original poster for Blade Runner had Sean Young holding a smouldering cigarette, looking cool and suave like Lauren Bacall from 1947..

Blade Runner 1982 … cough, cough.

Here’s the actual cool part. In Blade Runner 2049 … absolutely … positively … NO SMOKING whatsoever. Not a puff. Not once during its grueling 2-hour, 45

It’s not a statement on the future, it’s a statement on Hollywood and how things have changed dramatically in 35 years. Blade Runner 2049 could’ve had all the smoking it wanted, it was already an R-rated movie, but it’s a statement to me that smoking is no long seen as “noir” or “cool” that the filmmakers felt no need to include it, even though the original Blade Runner was one of the smokiest movies you’ll ever see.

Blade Runner 1982.

1982 was during the dark dirty days of cigarettes and Hollywood. To my knowledge there were no payments from Big Tobacco to the producers of Blade Runner, but it was just two years after Big Tobacco paid $250,000 to have Lois Lane smoke in Superman II … a kid’s movie. Which kind of started the outrage about Hollywood’s weird and mostly one-sided love affair with cigarettes.

Anyway, something cool and interesting I noticed about Blade Runner vs. Blade Runner 2049.

“Hail, Caesar!” — and the shame of smoking

Hail Caeser 3

Finished watching “Hail, Caesar!” this week, a campy Coen brothers comedy that actually made some gentle, yet moving, statements about smoking.

The movie, which takes place in 1951, begins with a studio “fixer” Eddie Mannix played by Josh Brolin, in a confession booth giving his confession to a priest. His big sin? He had promised his wife that he would quit smoking and he lied to his wife that he had sneaked two (maybe three) cigarettes during the past 24 hours.

Brolin’s character is so wracked with guilt he actually breaks down crying confessing to the priest that he’s trying to quit smoking, but can’t.

Perhaps the scene was meant to be comedic, but honestly, I found it really touching, because I’ve talked to so many people who try desperately — and some people are legitimately desperate — to quit, but simply cannot break free of the nicotine. I’ve seen people almost on the verge of tears just talking about it. They hate smoking, they hate their addiction and they hate the fact that they cannot quit, no matter how hard they try.

hail caeser 1
Josh Brolin breaks down crying because he can’t quit smoking in “Hail, Caesar!”

Later in the movie, Eddie asks to bum a cigarette from a cop with a look of abject self-loathing in his face. He hates how weak he is when it comes to cigarettes. I found this interesting, because as mentioned before, the film is set in 1951, pretty much the height of smoking in America. Smoking was portrayed making men appear either virile or sophisticated in all of the advertising — and Hollywood films — of the time. But, for this particular character, smoking made him feel weak — and a sinner. It to me showed a dramatic change in the culture of film. It was only 10-15 years ago that Hollywood was still portraying smokers as tough or macho — in PG-13 films. Those days are quickly fading, much like the studio system portrayed in “Hail, Caesar!” was shown to be in its final days. The portrayal of smoking in “Hail, Caeser!” reminded me of “Stranger Than Fiction,” a 2006 film that under pressure from productor Lindsay Doran, was forced to portray a chain-smoking character in a negative light (The character, played by Emma Thompson, spent much of the film coughing and spitting up sputum into a handkerchief.).

hail caeser 2

I wondered a bit if this was a gimmick by the Coen Brothers to dodge an R rating. I have no idea. There’s a fair amount of smoking in “Hail, Caesar!”, but it wasn’t what I would call “pervasive” (“Pervasive” smoking in films can trigger an R rating, however, the MPAA has this funky rule that “historically accurate” smoking is OK. The year 1951 would obviously contain a lot of historically accurate smoking.).

Anyway, it was a cute movie with a cute take on smoking.

Heavy smoking in preview for “The Nice Guys”

the nice guys 2

I was really annoyed at a preview I saw the other day for “The Nice Guys.” This is an R-rated movie that takes place in 1977.

One of the characters, a private eye played by Ryan Gosling, is apparently a heavy smoker. In the preview, he’s shown in virtually every scene smoking. Not just smoking, but in one scene actually smoking sitting next to his young daughter … indoors.

Man, my head exploded. I hate to be such a judgemental nerd about this stuff. I get the First Amendment and I get that this is obviously an R-rated movie taking place in 1977 … but the preview isn’t R-rated! There was no red band with this preview. It was an all-audience preview, not one of those red band previews that are only shown before R-rated movies.  It was part of some “pre- preview” studio feature they show before the previews begin along with Coca-Cola commercials (let me put it this way, the lights in the theatre were still on.). Is this being shown at PG movies? It better not be. And the smoking is what I would definitely call “pervasive.”

the nice guys 3

Hollywood has slowly and grudgingly gotten better about removing smoking from PG and PG-13 movies marketed to kids. Not ideal, but it actually is tangibly improving.  But, this ticks me off that you will still see plenty of smoking in an all-ages preview for that R-rated movie. How hard would it have been for the studio to put together a preview excluding the smoking?  I’m assuming because of the R-rating, there’s probably plenty of salty language and violence in the movie, and manage to not show that in an all-ages preview.  This is something the MPAA needs to crack down on.

Anyway, I think this is indicative of how stubborn Hollywood continues to be about depictions of smoking in movies, and how much still needs to be done to get Hollywood to quit dragging its feet.

Liam Neeson
A preview shown on TV for “Up All Night.”

Anyway, that really pissed me off. It was the second time I’ve seen this in the past year. A few months ago, I saw a preview … on TV, no less, for some Liam Neeson movie called “Run All Night” showing Liam Neeson smoking. You can’t having smoking on network TV or tobacco commercials, but you can still have smoking in movie previews.

Anyways, here is the smoking preview for “The Nice Guys.”

Here is a non-smoking preview for “The Nice Guys” that I assume — and hope — is being shown at PG and PG-13 movies. See, how easy that was to make a non-smoking movie preview?



Tobacco disclaimer in “The Big Short”

the big short 3

We finally got around to seeing “The Big Short” this week, an excellent film that actually manages to be entertaining explaining the mortgage crisis and resulting massive economic collapse that happened in 2007 and 2008. Steven Carell is amazing in this film as an intense  hedge fund manager right on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

Being a tobacco nerd, I noticed something kind of interesting about the movie. It’s very much an R-rated movie, with plenty of F bombs scattered throughout the film and a couple of brief scenes of nudity. (You can show as much smoking as you want in an R-rated movie, smoking is discouraged — not banned — in PG and PG-13 movies.)

However, there is virtually no smoking. There is a very brief scene of smoking in the first two minutes of the movie, flashing back to the boring old days of banking in the 1970s. A couple of bankers are shown smoking in boring-looking banking office. So, it’s historically accurate. Smoking rates were still really high in the 1970s.

the big short
The one very brief smoking scene in “The Big Short.”

After that very short scene, the movie quickly moves to the 1980s and then the 2000s. I don’t believe there was another smoking scene in the entire movie. Which is interesting, because it featured a bunch of richer-than-crap high rollers living it up in Las Vegas, Miami, etc. But, no smoking.

Here’s the part I actually found interesting, and I’ll be paying attention to see if I notice this in any more movies. During the closing credits of “The Big Short,” they showed a disclaimer that the producers did not receive any payments from the tobacco industry for the depictions of smoking in the movie (I got a screen capture of the disclaimer).

I had never seen one of these before. Why I thought it was so interesting is that one of the conditions of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement barred product placement in Hollywood movies 18 years ago. So, supposedly, studios have not been receiving payments from tobacco companies for nearly two decades.


I emphasize supposedly, because a very weird and inexplicable thing happened after the 1998 MSA … depictions of smoking in movies marketed to teens actually went UP, not down. Apparently, movie directors were giving tobacco companies all this advertising free of charge, out of the goodness of their hearts. I’m not being snarky, I really think they were doing this for free. Because Hollywood was extremely stuck in its way when it came to smoking and that cigarettes somehow made characters seem more cool and sophisticated.

Anyway, an interesting observation about “The Big Short.” It didn’t have all that much to do with the actual movie, but this disclaimer was a new thing to me.


Class-action lawsuit filed to force automatic R rating for smoking in movies

Bogart helped make smoking look cool — he also died of esophageal cancer in his 50s.

I’m not sure how I feel about this, it certainly seems a bit extreme. But, an interesting tactic here, nonetheless.

A class-action lawsuit was filed recently to force the MPAA to require an automatic “R” rating for any smoking in a movie. As it stands now, the MPAA has kind of a convoluted policy to discourage smoking in PG-13 movies, but not outright ban it. Smoking is allowed under a complex set of conditions — as long as it isn’t pervasive, if it’s historically accurate (say if the film takes place in the 1950s), if smokers are shown hating cigarettes or getting sick from smoking.


It’s under this convoluted set of rules that you get an early 1960s movie like “Man From U.N.C.L.E” that is rated PG-13 but has virtually no smoking, or a PG-13 movie like “Bridge of Spies,” which takes place in the late ’50s and early 60s and has several smoking scenes, or a really violent, foul-mouthed R-rated movie like “Deadpool” that despite its extremely hard R rating, has absolutely no smoking in it (mostly because of a Disney/Marvel studio policy that forbids smoking in its movies now).


The lawsuit was filed in federal court in California in late February. It seeks monetary damages for the promotion of tobacco use among kids and an injunction to immediately stop PG-13, PG and G ratings for any movies that depict tobacco use.

From a Hollywood Reporter article:

The lawsuit points out that since at least 2003, Hollywood has known that tobacco imagery in films rated “G,” “PG,” and “PG-13,” is one of the major causes of children becoming addicted to nicotine. Disney, Paramount, Sony, Fox, Universal and Warner Bros. are said to have been given recommendations from health experts at leading universities throughout the country as well as the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association and the American Public Health Association, and yet are allegedly continuing to stamp “their seal of approval” on films meant for children that feature tobacco imagery.

Among the films cited are Spectre, Dumb and Dumber To, Transformers: Age of Extinction, X-Men: Days of Future Past, The Amazing Spider Man 2, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Iron Man 3, Men in Black 3 and The Woman in Black.

According to the complaint, “From 2003 when the defendants were notified that exposure to tobacco imagery in films causes children and adolescents to smoke, through 2015, youth-rated movies recruited approximately 4.6 million adolescents in the United States to smoke, of which approximately 1.5 million are expected to die from tobacco-induced diseases in years to come. And, at current rates, if defendants continue their current practice of certifying and rating films with tobacco imagery as suitable and appropriate for children and adolescents under the age of seventeen unaccompanied by a parent or guardian, defendants’ conduct will cause an additional 3.2 million American children alive today to smoke, and one million of those children to die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases including lung cancer, heart disease, stroke and emphysema.”

The lawsuit demands a declaratory judgment that the industry’s film ratings practices amount are negligent, false and misleading and a breach of fiduciary and statutory duties. The lawsuit also aims for an injunction where no films featuring tobacco imagery can be given “G,” “PG” or “PG-13” ratings.

One of the reasons I’m not wild about this lawsuit is the current MPAA policy is more or less working. Is it working a bit too slowly for my tastes? Yeah, a bit, it’s certainly not perfect, and Hollywood has shown to be damned stubborn about the issue. But, studies have shown that smoking has dropped dramatically in PG-13 and lower-rated movies since the policy went into effect about seven or eight years ago (It’s been cut roughly 50 percent from 2008 and about 60 percent since 2004). It hasn’t been eliminated, but it has dropped. Mostly because studios just don’t want to expend the energy defending smoking scenes to the MPAA board. And some studios, like Disney/Marvel, have voluntarily banned all smoking in its movies. (And for the record, movies can depict all the smoking they want in R-rated movies as far as the MPAA  is concerned.).

bridge of spies smoking 2
Bridge of Spies, rated PG-13

According to the New York Times, the lawsuit, if it’s allowed to move forward, could result in blowing up the MPAA system, a voluntary rating system agreed to by all the studios in the 1960s to ward off potential governmental interference in movie ratings.

From the Times:

But judicial interference might also crack the ratings system wide open, exposing it to similar challenges by those who would like to see tougher ratings for portrayals of gun violence or drug use.

Key decisions are still months away. But the Forsyth suit, currently just a skirmish in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, has the look of a future battle royale — perhaps the biggest since 1968, when Jack Valenti, then president of the motion picture association, established the voluntary ratings system with an eye toward keeping the courts and lawmakers away.

While I may not be on-board with this lawsuit (my attitude is I actually do believe in the First Amendment. Give the MPAA another 10 years or so with the current policy — frankly, it’s working, so I’m not sure this lawsuit is necessary.), the issue of smoking in movies is a very valid one. One of the main pro-tobacco influences on kids for decades were movies, as smoking characters such as Lauren Becall, Humphrey Bogart (who died of esophogal cancer in his 50s) and James Bond were shown to be cool and suave and sophistated. And all this advertising for the tobacco industry was free. It wasn’t until 1980 that the tobacco industry actually started paying Hollywood studios to promote smoking and tobacco products, and disgustingly, this practise actually began with a kids’ movie — Superman II.

Lois Lane smoking
Philip Morris actually paid to have Lois Lane smoke in “Superman II”

The practise of tobacco product placement in movies was banned by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement. However, shockingly, depictions of tobacco use in PG-13 and PG movies actually went UP between 1998 and 2008 — the movie studios just kept giving the tobacco industry advertising … completely free of charge. This resulted in a grass-roots effort to change the MPAA rating system to include tobacco use as a factor.

Deadpool — lots of cussing, sex, violence … but not one, single cigarette

deadpool quote

This is kind of a follow-up to my earlier posts about “Bridge of Spies.” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E. ” I finally broke down and went to see “Deadpool” and it was A) ridiculously funny, B) the first movie I’ve ever liked Ryan Reynolds in and C) incredibly violent and incredibly crude — it had about the harshest language this side of “The Big Lebowski.” It even had some good sex scenes.


Which means, this is what they call a “hard R” movie. And it was frankly an extremely hard “R” rating. This was a  movie that was determined from the get-go to be R-rated, they didn’t try to play coy at all with trying to get a PG-13 rating. And it didn’t have a single, solitary smoking scene in it. Not one cigarette. Not even a cigar or a pipe. Wow, that’s just amazing. All kinds of bad, rough guys with bad, rough language, hanging out in bars and other sordid environs and not a single cigarette or cigar was to be found.


What’s interesting about this is Disney issued an edict about a year ago that there would be no more smoking scenes in any of its films, and that includes Marvel films, which Disney owns, and this even includes Wolverine, Nick Fury or Thaddeus Ross, all of whom are cigar-chompers (Love to see if Disney actually follows through with this in the next Wolverine film.) Now, this was a Marvel film, but it was also a 20th Century Fox-produced film. Not sure how this works, honestly. Marvel is still a Disney-owned subsidiary, but it was produced by Fox. Maybe the Disney edict still stands for its Marvel properties no matter what studio actually makes the film.


Anyway, through all the F-bombs and jokes about genitalia and decapitations and brain splatter, not a single cigarette or cigar. I might be the only person in America who even noticed this. So help me, I thought that was amazing. And tells me we are slowly, slowly, slowly winning the fight to rid Hollywood of its addiction to smoking.  Seriously, I half-expected Deadpool to make a joke at some point about the lack of cigarettes in the movie.


Period smoking in “Bridge of Spies”

bridge of spies smoking 2
Mark Ryland in “Bridge of Spies,” playing Soviet agent Rudolf Abel. Abel died of lung cancer in his 60s.

I wrote a few weeks ago how there was virtually no smoking whatsoever in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E,” which is set in 1963, an era in which the majority of males smoked.

“Bridge of Spies,” also a period piece taking place from 1957 to 1961,  is a PG-13 rated film. In watching it this week, I noticed it did have smoking in it, though it wasn’t what I would call “pervasive” smoking. Was it more than necessary? Yeah, maybe.

Soviet spy Rudolf Abel and head of the CIA Allen Dulles are both depicted in the movie smoking. Abel, while he is in prison, asks for and receives a pack of cigarettes from his attorney, played by Tom Hanks. What is interesting about one scene between Hanks and Ryland, Ryland holds a cigarette the whole time, but never actually takes a smoke. He holds a burning cigarette and flicks ashes, but doesn’t actually smoke it.

Meanwhile Dulles spends a short scene smoking a pipe. (I think some KGB guy might have smoked in the movie, too. I can’t remember.)

bridge of spies smoking with inset
Mark Ryland, left, the real Rudolf Abel (inset).

The thing is, historically, both Abel and Dulles were smokers. In fact, the actor playing Abel (Mark Rylance, he won the award for Best Supporting Actor) actually did a remarkable job of mimicking exactly how Abel held his cigarette. Check out the photo I posted from the film, with the inset of the real Rudolph Abel. Dulles was also well-known for always smoking a pipe.

allen dulles
Allen Dulles in “Bridge of Spies,” at left, and in real life, at right.

Did seeing smoking in a PG-13 film bother me? A bit, I guess, but I have to concede that the movie was trying to be historically accurate, and in order to be historically accurate, it would be a bit awkward to have no smoking in the early 1960s. I give Steven Spielberg credit for not going overboard with the depictions of smoking. The truth of it is, in 1960, the majority of males did smoke. That’s a fact, and it’s certainly historically accurate to show people in that era smoking. I certainly didn’t think the smoking in the movie was what I would call “pervasive.” And the MPAA has loopholes for the R rating if smoking is shown in a historically accurate way and if it is not, in the MPAA’s words, “pervasive.” There’s also two “fucks” in “Bridge of Spies.” Like smoking, the F-bomb, as long as you’re not describing the sex act (A really silly rule, I know), will not trigger an R rating if it not “pervasive.”

Do I think it would have lessened the film if Spielberg had eliminated the smoking? Not really. People might have pointed out the inaccuracy of showing Dulles without a pipe. But, to be fair, despite, the PG-13 rating, it was a very adult film, slow, talky, no explosions or CGI and was definitely not marketed to teens.

Anyway, I was really struck how this movie differed from “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” in how it treated smoking in the early 1960s.

As an aside, Rudolf Abel died of lung cancer in 1971 at the age of 68. Allen Dulles died of pneumonia at the age of 75.


World Health Organization calls for adult ratings worldwide for allowing smoking in movies

Lois Lane smoking
Lois Lane smoking in Superman II. Philip Morris paid six figures to have Lois smoke in this PG-rated movie.

A follow-up toa  series of stories I’ve done in the past few weeks. The World Health Organization has now jumped on board, calling for adult movie ratings for films that depict tobacco use.

What prompted my latest series of stories on this was watching “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on a rented DVD and noticing there was virtually no smoking in the movie at all, even though it took place in 1963, which is literally during the height of the smoking era. Shortly afterward was a story about how data shows that depictions of smoking in movies, in particular PG and PG-13 movies, has dropped fairly dramatically since the MPAA in 2009 adopted guidelines discouraging (discouraging, not banning) smoking in movies marketed to teens and kids.

Yup, a real still from a Tom and Jerry cartoon, with real free advertising for Marlboros.

The new MPAA policy hasn’t been perfect or ideal, but for the most part it has been working. Studios have been voluntarily removing smoking from PG and PG-13 movies because they just aren’t interested in butting heads with the MPAA over it. In fact, Disney, which now owns the Marvel brand, has said no more smoking in any of its movies, including Marvel movies. That means Wolverine and Nick Fury and J.J. Jameson no longer get to chomp on cigars. Call it revisionist history, but hey, back in the day, James Bond used to actually spank women. Times change.

Anyway, this story about the data on smoking in movies claimed there were 10-29 depictions of smoking in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” I thought, “seriously? Really? I can’t remember a single one.” I had already sent the DVD back to Netflix, but my friend Nancy watched the movie for me and confirmed that there was no smoking in the movie. Not sure what “depictions of tobacco” means, according to Smokefree Movies.


I digress … a LOT. WHO has issued its own opinion that movies that depict tobacco use should be given an “adult” rating (R-rating in the U.S., but there’s myriad other terms for it in other countries.)

From a WHO press release:

“With ever tighter restrictions on tobacco advertising, film remains one of the last channels exposing millions of adolescents to smoking imagery without restrictions,” says Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO’s Director for the Department of Prevention of Noncommunicable Diseases.

“Smoking in films can be a strong form of promotion for tobacco products,” adds Dr Bettcher. “The 180 Parties to the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) are obliged by international law to ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”

Dr Armando Peruga, programme manager of WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, says countries around the world have taken steps to limit tobacco imagery in films. “China has ordered that ‘excessive’ smoking scenes should not be shown in films. India has implemented new rules on tobacco imagery and brand display in domestic and imported films and TV programmes. But more can and must be done,” Dr Peruga adds.

I honestly believe this is an important issue because most tobacco advertising has been curtailed. No tobacco ads allowed on TV or radio and tobacco advertising in magazines has for 18 hours not been allowed to use cartoon characters such as Joe Camel. So, where is one of the biggest sources of kids continuing to get the idea that smoking is cool or hip — if not the biggest source? Hollywood, plain and simple. Hollywood has for nearly 100 years had a bizarre symbiotic relations with tobacco. In the 1930s and 1940s “cool” characters created by Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall smoked; the tobacco industry actually started paying Hollywood to advertise its products beginning with Superman II in 1980, and yet even after this was exposed and banned by the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, smoking depictions in PG and PG-13 movies actually went UP in the 2000s. Only by advocates making a huge stink about it, did the MPAA crack down on smoking in teen-marketed movies … a crackdown that wasn’t as severe as some people wanted, but has served its purpose and hasn’t infringed (In my opinion) on freedom of expression.

For the record, like F bombs, sex, and brain-splattering gore, I’m all for allowing as much smoking as a director wants in an R-rated movie. I’m all for freedom of expression. I just want it out of kid- and teen-marketed movies.


Update: Data shows smoking is decreasing in Hollywood movies


First of all, I have to post a “sort of” correction, even though I’m not convinced yet I was completely wrong.

According to this group called “Smokefree Movies,” which is based out of San Francisco State University, which means my hero and longtime anti-tobacco advocate Stanton Glantz is involved, there IS smoking in the film version of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” Between 10-and 29 instances, in fact. Darned if I remember any smoking scenes, but again, I’d have to watch the movie again to confirm that. Perhaps the old Soviet and CIA guys smoke. I think the old CIA guy might have been chomping a cigar. I tweaked my earlier post to reflect this new information I stumbled on.

(EDITOR’s NOTE: According to a friend who watched the movie again in response to my post … she confirmed that there doesn’t appear to be any smoking in The Man from U.N.C.L.E, so I have no idea what Smokefree Movies is talking about.)

Anyway, it was pretty interesting timing coming upon this article just as I posted a story about The Man From U.N.C.L.E. This story from the Smokefree Movies project confirms that the 7-year-old MPAA policy to discourage smoking in PG-13 movies, while not perfect and definitely not ideal, is in fact, having an effect.

Augustus, a cancer patient, in “The Fault In Our Stars” has a cigarette continually dangling from his mouth throughout the film but he never actually lights it.

According to Smokefree Movies, the number of films that contained “tobacco imagery” (Not necessarily smoking, but “tobacco imagery”), was about 105 in 2007, the year before new MPAA policy that went into effect threatening (threatening, but not requiring) an R-rating for smoking scenes in PG-13 movies. That number included more than 50 PG-13 and younger-rated movies.

In 2008, that number quickly dropped to less than 90, though the number of PG-13 movies that had smoking went up slightly. In 2009, the effect of the MPAA policy really started being seen. There were about 75 movies that had tobacco imagery, and about 41 one of them were rated for PG-13 or younger.

In 2010, it even got better, with about 61 movies total with tobacco imagery and only 26-28 in PG-13 movies. Frustratingly, that number crept up a bit over the next couple of years, but according to SF State, in 2015, the number of movies with tobacco imagery was about 70 total, with about 30 of those in PG-13 movies. That’s a decrease overall of 33 percent and over 40 percent for PG-13 movies.

Again, I don’t know what the term “tobacco imagery” means exactly. but the policy means there’s been a serious decrease in tobacco imagery in films (both overall and in PG-13 films) since 2007. Man, that’s a big step forward.

Keep in mind, even though supposedly the tobacco industry was no longer paying Hollywood studios a dime after 1998 for including tobacco products in movies, the rate of tobacco imagery in movies actually went UP between 2002 and 2007. So, Hollywood was giving the tobacco industry all sorts of free advertising without collecting a dime in return. What a bunch of shmoes!

Here’s where I might take exception with the term “tobacco imagery,” and maybe why i didn’t notice smoking in “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” Here is a list of films that contain tobacco imagery. One of those films is “The Fault In Our Stars.”

I have to disagree with SF State on this one. “The Fault In Our Stars” has more than 50 instances of tobacco imagery listed. In this film, a teenager battling cancer keeps a cigarette dangling in his mouth as a specific message — the message being, and I’m quoting from the movie:

“They don’t kill you unless you light them. And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.”

So, the character in the film never once lights a cigarette and uses them to remind himself that cancer is death, cigarettes are death, and that cancer has no power over him if he chooses not to let it have power over him by not lighting the cigarette. I think that’s touching, a bit unfair by SF State to include that. There is such a thing as context. Trust me, when I first saw images of a teenager apparently smoking from this film, I was plenty outraged .. until I read up on the context.

Anyway, a really interesting update to my post the other day and I’m sure I will see “Man From U.N.C.L.E.” again to confirm how right or how close I was in my earlier post. Smoking scenes in films ares down roughly 33 percent from eight years ago, and, more importantly, down over 40 percent in PG-13 films. (More importantly to me, because yeah, I still believe in artistic freedom for the most part and if people want to have smoking characters in movies, that’s their prerogative and I sincerely have no problem with it … I just think they should be prepared for an R-rating.)