Comfortable and Furious

Will Hollywood Ever Stop Showing Smokers?

Smoking has long been part of cinema, with some of the most well known actors in history having been celebrated for their smoking scenes. There’s Sean Connery introducing himself with the phrase “Bond… James Bond” in Dr. No for instance, or Robert De Niro holding a cigarette while deciding whether a character will live or not in Goodfellas. And the list goes on.

Talented actors like these can transform smoking into a fascinating aspect of a performance, making cigarettes (or other smoking instruments) look appealing or sinister as needed. Often, all it takes is a subtle change in facial expression, or a shift in how a cigarette is held. In short, great actors have long used smoking to enrich scenes.

As time passes and attitudes change however, we have seen smoking scenes making less frequent appearances in Hollywood. But does this mean that tobacco use will completely disappear from the movies?

The Trends:

Widespread knowledge of the health risks of smoking, and ever-broader restriction of the activity in public places, have led to fewer productions depicting characters smoking. Not to mention there’s simply less interest in smoking amongst audiences. When we took a look at the film Thank You For Smoking (a film that lampooned Big Tobacco) back in 2016, we noted that only 1 in 5 Americans were smoking. Most people didn’t smoke but knew someone that did and had likely seen its negative effects.

The numbers have reduced considerably since then, with the CDC reporting that in 2019, only about 14 of every 100 American adults smoked cigarettes. And with fewer people smoking, support for regulations restricting the habit has grown. Today, most means of transportation don’t allow smoking. It’s also forbidden in restaurants and cafes, and its depiction in advertising has been severely restricted.

In short, smoking is less and less a part of actual society – and so perhaps only naturally, less a part of Hollywood.

The Alternatives:

Another important factor in the reduction of smoking as a habit is the emergence of more advanced substitutes. Smokers can now choose from a variety of smoke-free alternatives, some of which – namely, dip and chewing tobacco – can actually be somewhat theatrical as well. Indeed, we’ve all seen a film or show in which a character is busily chewing one tobacco product or another in lieu of smoking – and perhaps spitting as well. This sort of scene does reflect a real-world habit, though perhaps not the most modern or progressive one.

The primary alternative to smokeless tobacco in real life is fast becoming the nicotine pouch. An article about nicotine pouches on Prilla notes that pouches offer a more discreet nicotine hit with no need to spit, no risk of stained teeth – and even some pleasant flavor. It works by releasing nicotine through the tissue of the upper lip, and it’s becoming popular among smokers and ex-smokers alike. But, it’s not cinematic in the slightest. Sure, we could in theory see a Clooney or Pitt popping in a nicotine pouch, but for what purpose?

If there is a cinematic alternative to smoking, it would probably be vaping – although this is not really an activity filmmakers will want to encourage, as restrictions are fast catching up to those placed on smoking. Furthermore, as The Conversation has already noted, vaping looks a lot less glamorous than the “Hollywood smoking of yesteryear.”

The History Element:

Given all of the above, it’s actually reasonable to assume that we’ve more or less seen the last of some forms of movie smoking. It’s pretty unlikely that we’ll see main, modern characters lighting up, unless being a smoker in the modern world is somehow crucial to the development of the character in question. But this doesn’t mean we won’t see smoking in the movies anymore, because at the very least there will always be period pieces.

We’ll see characters smoking in locations and times where it was less frowned upon. In fact, it wouldn’t be shocking to see directors make a point of it – because there is something glamorous about those Old Hollywood smokers, and it may only feel more that way in time. Watch Clint Eastwood holding a cigar in The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly, or Audrey Hepburn delicately lifting a smoking stick in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, and you just can’t imagine Hollywood entirely letting go – even if society just about has.



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