Smoking in the movies (again) and helping out the ailing pharmaceutical industry

In today’s Huffington Post, there was yet another, and not particularly good, article on that new research report (abstract here) that smoking in the movies causes ex-smokers to want to smoke again.

I guess it takes a brain scientist to definitively state that seeing something makes someone who likes or liked to do that same thing want to do it (though I am not sure how they can separate fond memory from actual desire to do it again, and how they deal with that very iffy connection between contemplating an action and actually carrying it out). At least the abstract did not conclude with any calls to action though you can be certain that just about everybody reporting on this saw it as more evidence to support banning smoking in the movies.

There is no question that we are in some way affected by what we see but the world is too large and image sources too varied to think that the best way to deal with a risky health behavior is to remove all images or references to it. (You can bet that if the Californians have their way and all smoking references are expunged from movies (because this one is not about the kids so all of cinema is in peril now) and that when they find that some people still weirdly persist in smoking, they will not for even a second think they had it wrong but that people must be being compelled by the rest of the media and what will need to be done is to move on next to expurgating the books and the art galleries.

But it is nice to see the French exhibiting some common sense (that is, preserving the cultural record) in restoring Sartre’s airbrushed cigarette and leaving Jacques Tati’s inimitable trademark pipe alone.

Look, leaving aside that we should really not be messing with widely accepted cultural modes of expression, whether smoking is up on the screen or not, people will continue to smoke. So instead of pursuing better health through (ineffective) Philistinism, and since it seems that already most movie dialogue that concerns smoking is quite negative, why not take a lesson from The Tourist in which Johnny Depp smokes e-cigarettes. If you think the monkey see – monkey do mechanism is so powerful, why not use it to get people to switch to safer nicotine use?

In another example of not seeing the obvious, this Canadian article (which details the many reasons people smoke except they seem to have forgotten that some people actually enjoy it), along with this other one from the asks that taxpayers should foot the bill to subsidize the underperforming cessation drug industry.

After the usual bellyaching about the social costs of smoking, and what a good investment it would be to pay the drug companies so that smokers could afford their product, wouldn’t it be so much simpler to remove the ban on electronic cigarettes in this country and to let those who do not know that smokeless tobacco is a safer option (yet another good meta-review on that recently). Making e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco available and competitively priced is the best way for cessation (or health) minded smokers to switch and it will not cost taxpayers a cent.

-Paul L. Bergen

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  • Ann W.  On January 19, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Paul, I always wonder why it is only “smoking” that is the problem when seen in movies.

    Killing, drinking, reckless driving, sex and all sorts of other activities doesn’t appear to cause people to want to go out and do them, just smoking….

  • Paul  On January 19, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    Quite agree!

  • Elaine Keller  On January 20, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Smelling smoke is a much stronger trigger than viewing it in a picture. That’s why the bans on indoor use of e-cigarettes are so contrary to public health. The survey of e-cigarette users published in the Tobacco Harm Reduction Yearbook 2010 found that 79% were using them as a complete replacement for smoking, and an additional 17% were using them as a partial replacement. The 17% who are working their way down to becoming former smokers should not be sent to the smoking area. Odds are good they will smoke more tobacco cigarettes than if they stayed inside. If second-hand smoke is as dangerous as the antis claim, how do they justify sending the former smokers out there?

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