Smoking in the movies: 5th hand smoke?

In the ludicrously titled Movies Downplay Smoking Risk anti-tobacco activists once again try to formulate arguments for removing the very sight of people smoking. The title of the press release (because this qualifies as news in some quarters) in its departure from any connection to reality signals the tenor of the article itself. In short, just because movies do not explicitly lay out the potential harms associated with smoking does not mean they are downplaying the risk. In fact, though granted that characters do keep smoking in the movies, they rarely acknowledge the pleasure and if they talk about it at all, they almost always say something about how these things will kill them.

Carl has already written at length about some aspects of smoking in the movies (see Avatar, smoking and crazy attitudes) but I hope to bring up a few other points here.

First of all, why the insistence on the big screen when the small screen is in every household and you (and your children) can watch shows like Mad Men which have hardly a scene without some smoking going on? Of course, Mad Men accurately mirrors the smoking prevalence of the time. It is television as a thoughtful, realistic and educational medium.

Contrast that with the movie Thank You for Smoking which managed to take a pretty good book and eviscerate it somewhat by making a supposedly anti-smoking movie about smoking but without any smoking on screen. Since there was no actual smoking in the film, it contained fewer negative images of smoking than most films and so ended up rather toothless.

Imagine for a moment an alternative future where part of a strong nudge to move people to public transportation included demonizing personal transportation such as cars. Would it seem reasonable to remove all images of cars from movies past and present and place anti-car ads before any film that might include a car? Given the number of car loving movies this could be quite the challenge as opposed to smoking wherein I cannot remember one love letter to the practice.

And yet we have not only this campaign to remove historical data from motion pictures but have already seen smoking removed from old cartoons, famous photographs of Churchill and Sartre, and even postage stamps.

But on to point number two. What makes smoking so special? If as Cheryl Healton notes “the nation’s youth are still exposed to billions of toxic tobacco impressions”, how many images of murder are they exposed to? I worry more for the effects of continual exposure to the juvenile and insipid messages informing so many films, the repetition of basic tropes that do not reflect reality but in fact are quite counterproductive to producing a thoughtful citizen.

This particular imbalance struck me quite forcibly when Carl told me about watching 8mm (the Nicholas Cage film) on Thai television with scenes of degradation and torture intact but the cigarette carefully pixilated out.

According to research, more than one-third to one-half of youth smoking initiation can be traced to exposure to smoking in films, a conclusion supported by the National Cancer Institute. The landmark 1998 Master Settlement Agreement recognized the enormous impact film has on our culture and banned paid tobacco product placement in movies. Despite those efforts, smoking in movies continues to recruit more than 180,000 new adolescent smokers each year.

Love this. Does this mean that removing smoking from the movies would actually have an effect? So by that logic, the movies must be creating many of the criminals out there -heist movies fueling bank robberies and slasher movies driving random killing? But the statement about movies “recruiting” smokers is really pushing the envelope. Portrayal of a common activity is not recruiting in any sense.

Healton said. “they have only labeled a small fraction of films with smoking, suggesting that smoking is not a problem.” “It’s time for the major studios and theater chains that control the rating system to adopt the R-rating for future smoking and resolve this long-standing problem once and for all,” said Dr. Stanton Glantz, Professor of Medicine at UCSF and director of the Smoke Free Movies project. “After 80 years, Hollywood should stop smoking around kids.”

Glantz, who has been at war with reality for most of his career is taking it to the movies. What little sense of reality they have he would like to see removed. Even the most fantastic of movies grounds itself somewhat in reality and he seems to wants the medium to construct an alternate reality, a place where smoking never happened and never will. He sees this as an assault on the youth but the real assault is his on reality and history, on seeing the world as it is, on accepting human behavior rather than demonizing and removing it from the public eye.

And finally, the ultimate travesty is to call certain wish fulfilling proposals evidence based.

Legacy has joined a host of prominent health and parents organizations – including the World Health Organization, American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Heart Association, American Lung Association and more – to urge the MPAA and its member studios to adopt four evidence-based policies that would help prevent hundreds of thousands of U.S. adolescents from starting to smoke and avert tens of thousands of future tobacco deaths. The Smoke Free Movies policy solutions include:
Add strong and effective anti-smoking ads before all movies in which tobacco is depicted.
Certify that nothing of value was received in exchange for the depiction of tobacco in a movie.
End all brand appearances.
Rate any new movie with smoking as R.

Somehow if a movie receives something of value for depicting tobacco that that will encourage smoking? Wow. The others are a little more likely but there is no real evidence supporting them.

Ultimately this attack on tobacco in films has nothing to do with people smoking. It is an attack on history and verisimilitude. It is a further erosion of a medium already sadly lacking in any dedication to social realities. It is an aesthetic affront on adult sensibilities.

It is just plain ridiculous.

– Paul L. Bergen

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  • nerdy girl  On July 5, 2010 at 7:25 pm…. Parents who smoke should be slapped in the face!

  • Carl V Phillips  On July 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Don’t forget that in THR2010, in the Introduction chapter, we pointed out that this is a perfect example of how the anti-tobacco extremists think they can get away with making any pseudo-scientific claim they want, without any risk that someone will call them on it. We point out that anyone wanting to prospectively witness them rewriting history, just watch as they are successful in their demands about film (which has largely already happened over the last few years, despite their protests to the contrary, and their wealth and power will likely finish the job) and then observe that, no, smoking initiation did not drop by 20% as they claimed it would. Then watch them quietly forget they ever made such a claim.

    I don’t know about Glantz and some of the fellow travelers, but I am quite sure that Healton and some others are too smart to actually believe this claim; they must know that their prediction will not occur. Thus I can only contend that they have just become so arrogant in their power that they are sure that it does not matter that they are making claims that will inevitably be proven wrong.

    On a lighter note, we made the observation in the yearbook based on relatively lower-key statements. We did not actually predict that anything quite this absurd would be sent out as the message of the month. Thus, it almost seems like we should get credit for it in our contest (scroll back in the blog to find it) for the most absurd claim. I think Snowdon still has the leader in the contest, but I will appeal to the judges that we should be considered for an honorable mention.

  • Anon1  On July 5, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    Antismoking has a long, sordid history. There have been murders, maiming, and jail for tobacco users, all based on the bigotry of antismokers.
    Dillow (1981) provides a good, brief history of antismoking. The antismoking crusade of the early-1900s in the USA was based on a plethora of inflammatory lies. The lies are intended to promote outrage (bigotry) in non-smokers to the point of “justifying” banishment of tobacco use. Tobacco was banned for a short time, during which tobacco-use was a criminal offense. The point that Dillow does not indicate is that eugenics was mainstream in the USA during this time and it was this movement that allowed antismoking (and anti-alcohol) to flourish. It was eugenics that allowed antismoking to flourish in Nazi Germany. And it is eugenics-driven Public Health that has allowed antismoking to flourish over the last three decades on a global scale.

    Antismokers (and eugenicists) are typically pathological liars that will say or do anything to promote their deranged “cause” – history indicates this clearly. It is a mentality that is self-absorbed (Narcissistic), is bigoted, has delusions of infallibility and benevolence, and is obsessed with control, i.e., these are destructively immature minds. The pathological lying holds all of these dysfunctions together. How many times have the antismokers made outrageous claims (that are slanderous to smokers) that turn out to be wrong? When these are exposed, the antismokers disavow any detrimental consequences of their actions, or, if there are undeniable detrimental consequences, they simply blame it on something else. They then go on to concoct the next outrageous claim. And they will keep doing this, wreaking utter havoc, until they are recognized as disturbed, destructive minds.
    It should become obvious very quickly that the hyper-reactivity that antismokers typically have to smoking is severely inordinate or disproportionate. Their hyper-reactivity indicates nothing about smoking but, rather, the depth of their delusional, unbalanced mental state projected onto smoking.
    Paul, your observation is astute: “This particular imbalance struck me quite forcibly when Carl told me about watching 8mm (the Nicholas Cage film) on Thai television with scenes of degradation and torture intact but the cigarette carefully pixilated out.” Antismoking reflects an acute fixation: To the antismoker nothing else matters. This reflects unbalanced perception. Smoking is constantly removed from any greater context and “catastrophized” beyond all else. The tragedy is that most people cannot see this, repeating mistakes of the past, ever-willing, it seems, to be manipulated into bigotry.
    The strategy this time is slightly. Rather than seeking to ban the sale of tobacco, the antismokers/eugenicists are trying to get tobacco-use banned in all of the places that tobacco-use would typically occur.

  • Paul  On July 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    Nerdy Girl,
    Fail to see the relevance of your remark.

    Many thanks for that link to an article I was not aware of. Its a keeper.
    However, i don’t think that eugenics drove anti-smoking in Nazi Germany. Germany was at the forefront in investigating smoking related disease even before the Nazis came to power. I suspect it was more the case of Hitler, who personally did not like smoking, using his position to enact partial bans. There was an interaction of eugenics just in the sense that he did not want German women to smoke because it would weaken their offspring but I think he went looking for that excuse to buttress his existing preference.

  • Anon1  On July 6, 2010 at 2:15 am

    In addition to curtailing the procreative potential of “defectives”, negative eugenics was also anti-tobacco and anti-alcohol, viewing these as “racial poisons”. In early-1900s USA, the tobacco ban in many states and alcohol Prohibition were eugenics-driven. Eugenics was supported/funded by many of the mega-wealthy, e.g., Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford. Nazi eugenics was a continuation/extremizing of USA eugenics. Hitler was a student of USA eugenics. There was a strong (and since downplayed) connection between USA and Nazi eugenics.
    It is not surprising that California lead the “antismoking way” post-WWII, and now attempting to lead the way with “thirdhand smoke danger”. It is a continuation of its strong eugenics heritage. Eugenics was mainstream in America for the first half of the last century. California performed, by far, more sterilizations than any other state over this period.
    Some insight into the connection between American eugenics – California in particular – and Nazi eugenics.
    Nazism (“applied biology”) and anti-smoking

    A little known fact (well covered-up) is the “Business Plot” in the USA, in 1933/34. Very shortly after the fascists took power in Germany (supported and funded by IG Farben, the German petrochemical giant), there was an attempt in the USA to overthrow the Roosevelt government and install a fascist government. The backers of the “plot” was a who’s who of the mega-wealthy, many of these were supporters/funders of American eugenics (and antismoking, anti-alcohol) and of the Nazi regime.
    A congressional hearing concluded that there was an attempted, but failed, coup. No prosecutions followed.
    BBC documentary

    Another documentary

    Eugenics did not die out with the defeat of Nazism. Many Nazis were given sanctuary in a variety of countries (Operation Paperclip). Eugenicists in the West laid low immediately post-WWII, then started their derangement – again, in the 1950s. They were careful not to use the “E”[ugenics] word given its negative connotations. The genetic aspect of eugenics now goes by the name “genetic engineering”. For example, the “genome project” is housed at Cold Spring Harbor, New York, in the original building/complex of the Eugenics Record Office. The obsession with the body, health reduced to an entirely physical phenomenon (healthism) controlled by the medical establishment, the use of population-level statistics developed by earlier eugenicists intended for eugenic population control (i.e., lifestyle epidemiology) IS EUGENICS by another name(s). The World Conferences on Smoking & Health, beginning in the 1960s, were/are eugenics conferences (antismoking chapter) starting another “extermination of smoking” crusade. The mentality was exactly the same as its predecessor – haughtiness, delusions of infallibility and benevolence, bigoted, obsessed with control, pathological liars – posing as “heroes” battling the “evil” tobacco empire (see Godber Blueprint, )–EU.html

    The connecting “thread” between antismoking in the early-1900s USA, the Nazi regime, and currently, is eugenics.

  • dgreatblog  On July 16, 2010 at 6:15 pm

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  • Chris F J Cyrnik  On August 22, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Put Stanton on the stage

    I would like to see any film or television programme heavily pixilated whenever someone begins to smoke…to the point where it’s almost impossible to watch, and why not have strap lines top and bottom showing endless stats about the dangers of smoking with reference to ludicrous numbers of deaths each year by 6th hand smoke.

    You could even include Stanton Glanz in the corner of the screen popping up at regular intervals when smoking appears on the screen – spouting his interminable crap.

    I don’t think it would take long before the general public got completely pissed off with this relentless persecution.

  • yemek tarifleri  On November 12, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    good post. tnk you editor.


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