For Most Actors, Smoking Is Fatal

Movieline’s Stu Van Airsdale, an admitted smoker with a slight-to-moderate guilt complex, bitched yesterday afternoon about a recently announced Facebook finger-wagging campaign supported by a “voluntary” arm of the American Medical Association. (As opposed to an involuntary arm?)

The idea, as reported yesterday by the N.Y. TimesBrooks Barnes, is to “publicly shame movie studios for depicting images of smoking in their mass- appeal movies” with a campaign that asks Facebook readers to send along scorecard reports about movies that feature cancer clouds. “Which Movie Studios Will Cause the Most Youth to Start Smoking This Summer?” is the slogan.

There’s also a low-rent Facebook video that explains it.

Smoking is “deadly as hell” Van Airsdale writes, but this new campaign “still boils down to is censorship, just like every other ratings hassle in Hollywood. And censorship always boils down to asking how much these freaks will deny kids any semblance of agency in their lives, all while absolving adults of any responsibility as parents. A Movie Smoking Scorecard? Are you serious? Who’s the real bad guy here?”

Two years ago I addressed the primary problem with smoking in movies, which is that it often reflects bad acting. It’s not smoking in movies per se that’s so bad, but actors who use constant smoking as a behavioral crutch.

I put it rather well in this April 2007 piece, which I don’t mind reposting:

“Smoking can look marginally cool depending on how skilled or preternaturally cool the actor is, but it becomes extremely tedious and off-putting when done to excess. Cigarette smoking used to be extremely cool but no longer, and that goes for actors in movies especially.

“The only people I know in real life who smoke are (a) young and courting a kind of contrarian identity, (b) older with vaguely self-destructive attitudes, and in some cases beset by addiction problems, (c) serious “party” people with unmistakable self-destructive compulsions and tendencies, and (d) life’s chronic losers — riffraff, low-lifes, bums, scuzzballs.

“The point is that all the above associations seem to kick in every time sometime lights up in a film, and it’s gotten so that I don’t want to watch characters in movies smoke at all. Unless it’s a period film or unless they look extremely cool doing it (a la Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past or Jean Paul Belmondo in Breathless), but very few actors have that ability.

“I smoked for years and years but I don’t any more, and I don’t like the way cigarettes smell unless I’m in Europe. (It’s different over there). Smoking isn’t exactly outright suicide but it’s the next thing to it, and every time someone lights up in a movie it half-pisses me off and makes me think negatively about the film in general, especially if this or that actor smokes all through the movie and looks and acts like a lowlife.

“Criminals in movies are always smoking because of (b), (c) and (d), but I think it’s way too easy for an actor to use smoking as a piece of business. It’s tedious and repellent. It makes me want to see the actor get shot or at least beaten up.

“I think the sun has really set on the sexiness of smoking in movies, and I’m starting to think that actors who light up all the time in front of the camera are second-raters.

“People should be free to do anything they want of a self-destructive nature — cigarettes, booze, compulsive eating, coke, heroin — as long as they don’t hurt anyone else doing it. And actors should be free to do anything they want that will make a performance connect. But smoking has lost its coolness, and actors who lean on it repeatedly or compulsively are boring, and I’m starting to say ‘the hell with them’ when they pull one out and strike a match.

“Deep down I guess I’m acknowledging that I wouldn’t be surprised if I live a slightly shorter life because of my smoking in the ’70s and ’80s, and I’m kind of angry about that possibility.”

  • Terry McCarty

    I don’t think smoking needs to be censored from future film/TV projects that have period settings. And I’m tired of the political correctness that now extends to special warnings about “tobacco consumption” on print ads.

  • http://www.incontention.com Guy Lodge

    I think the intelligence with which Kristin Scott Thomas used cigarettes in aid of her characterisation in “I’ve Loved You So Long” (a case, perhaps, of the character using them as a prop, rather than the actor) singlehandedly made the case for cinematic smoking last year.

    As someone who has never smoked in his life and never been tempted, I’m with Stu Van Airsdale here.

  • DeeZee

    If certain individuals want to see less smoking in Hollywood, how about starting with our air pollution?

  • Gordie Lachance

    Nothing annoys me more than the anti-smoking crusade in this country. It’s so infantile and closed-minded. It’s a perfect example of that old cliche about a little knowledge being dangerous.

    There are 100 types of cancer out there. We know what causes a couple of them. We have no interest in figuring out which of our destructive behaviors causes any of them, we just repeat what we’ve been told about smoking, like a child reciting the pledge of allegiance.

    So if you get pancreatic cancer, or bone cancer, or breast cancer or a brain tumor, that’s just god or fate or random cosmic chance. But lung cancer, well, that’s definitely from smoking.

    Many people have replaced cigarettes with Xanax as their social anxiety crutch. They don’t worry about the long term heath effects of all these prescriptions, because no one knows, and that’s a good thing. No one cares about the heath effects of walking around with all that stress and anxiety. No one cares about the residual effects of all those medicines working their way into our drinking water. Why think about anything at all? Just keep walking around repeating what you’ve been told. Smoking is bad.

  • Gordie Lachance

    Of course I meant health effects, not heath. Dumb spellcheck.

  • http://www.sammyray.com Ray

    George Burns lived to be over 100 years old, and he smoked in almost every one of them. But generally, the smoking/lumg cancer connection correlates too well to simply ignore.

  • Sabina E

    wow, who cares. Smoking is normal, and so many people smoke. It’s only natural that some characters would smoke in films, too. It doesn’t mean anything. People need to quit whining and get over it.

  • http://lipranzer.blogspot.com lipranzer

    I’m about as big an anti-smoking person as you’ll find (my father smoked a pack a day, and he didn’t live to see 60), and even I think this is a bad idea. I agree smoking shouldn’t be glamorized, but I also don’t believe in any prior censorship. Certainly, as Jeff says, it’s too often a crutch, but there has to be a better way to get people to stop smoking.

  • Steven Kar

    Yet another group of people wishes to police us and tell us what to do and what not to do…

  • DeafBrownTrashPunk

    wow, who cares. Smoking is normal, and so many people smoke. It’s only natural that some characters would smoke in films, too. It doesn’t mean anything. People need to quit whining and get over it.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    Nothing annoys me more than the anti-smoking backlash in this country. You voluntarily put a burning, smelly stick of tobacco in your mouth and you’re going to honestly tell me that smoking isn’t bad? Get the fuck out.

    I’m sorry, people can do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t infringe on my rights. And secondhand smoke in any public place infringes on my (and anyone else’s) rights to live a healthy lifestyle — on top of that, it’s also nasty and rude, but there’s no constitutional infringement there. I think we can all agree that a healthy lifestyle should be encouraged, not discouraged.

    Sorry to be an asshole on this subject, but it’s your fucking addiction, so either get the hell over it, or do it in the privacy of your own cancer-ridden place.

    Thank you.

    Now having said all that, this vendetta against smoking in movies is just plain silly. There are plenty of crimes committed in movies, too. It’s, uh, pretend n’ stuff.

  • Gordon27

    “And secondhand smoke in any public place infringes on my (and anyone else’s) rights to live a healthy lifestyle”

    I definitely have some sympathy for this argument. However, I find that the places that do the most to regulate smokers polluting the air all share one common trait — they have the worst air in the country. It always seems odd to me for people who live in Manhattan or LA to act as if a cigarette is lowering their personal air supply. If you care that much about breathing clean air, you’re living in the wrong place.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    And that’s a fair point, Gordon. I live in suburban flyover country, so I suppose it’s a bit of a different world in that respect. Invasion of one’s personal space is defined a lot looser out here, whereas it’s much tighter in NYC (it has to be).

    My general rule is the more congested the population, the more you just have to learn to let things go.

    Never been to L.A., but everything I’ve read about the smog makes it out to sound like a mid-afternoon walk (not that they even exist out there) is pretty much an invitation for your lungs to get clogged. So yeah, there does some to be a sort of involuntary forfeit there.

    “Excuse me, sir, could you point your cigarette away from me so I can breathe in those lovely sulfurous fumes instead?”

  • Gordie Lachance

    Second hand farts probably cause as many health problems in this country as smoking, but as I said before, no one knows how to think or question anything, they just repeat what they’ve been told like little robots.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    I should clarify, especially after my particularly grouchy post, that I definitely do approve of certain public places (especially after-hours social establishments, or maybe even between certain hours) being smoker-friendly.

    As long as there is some indication outside the place so I can make a choice whether or not I want to go in.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    You find me someone that farts as compulsively as a chain smoker lights up, Gordie, you be sure to let me know…

    You know that argument is specious as hell and honestly not even worth addressing.

    And answer me this: who is more like a little robot, the person who has to get their fix every 15 minutes at any cost, or the person consciously trying to exercise their personal right to stay healthy despite someone else’s addiction?

  • mccool

    You smoke as many cigarettes as you want so long as I get to throw away as much glass as I want without worrying about being fined, or I get to install as many 150 watt bulbs as I have light sockets cause, hey, I like it bright. I’ll never worry about the tremendous social cost (or stench) of your smoking if you agree to never worry about the environmental cost of my un-green behavior. Deal?

    Not bloody likely. Once you start legislating other people’s behavior, there’s no turning back, and there’s no leg to stand on when someone decides you need to be “protected”. We’ve crossed the line from protecting consumers to protecting us from ourselves. What started under Teddy Roosevelt as a good thing has become a dangerous and unstoppable monster.

  • Gordie Lachance

    Yeah, but you’re ignoring my original point.

    There are millions of dollars spent every week in this country on those “truth” ads, and the ones with that guy with the hole in his neck, telling us what we already know. Smoking is bad. We all get it. We just don’t care.

    Take some of that money and use it to figure out WHAT ELSE IS KILLING US, that we don’t know about. What toxic chemicals are in my water? What ELSE is in the air, besides cigarette smoke? Does anyone care? Is anyone curious about anything? Nope.

    My dad died at 61 from pancreatic cancer. Sure wish I had someone to blame for that one. Or better yet sue.

  • Gordie Lachance

    Or better yet browbeat with some kind of self-righteous “Don’t infringe on my right to health” nonsense.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    “Once you start legislating other people’s behavior, there’s no turning back”

    I’ve got news for you…it is government’s role to legislate other people’s behavior and always has been. Hey — I don’t like stopping for red lights, hey — I like raping women and killing men! Why can’t I do these things? Aw, shucks, there’s no turning back now! Don’t give me this slippery-slope horseshit, life is full of compromises, give-and-take. We would absolutely not survive as a society without certain fail-safes to protect us from ourselves.

    “There are millions of dollars spent every week in this country on those “truth” ads, and the ones with that guy with the hole in his neck, telling us what we already know. Smoking is bad. We all get it. We just don’t care.”

    No, apparently we don’t all get it because I care…but hey — thanks for speaking for us all!

    “Take some of that money and use it to figure out WHAT ELSE IS KILLING US, that we don’t know about. What toxic chemicals are in my water? What ELSE is in the air, besides cigarette smoke?”

    I think we will get there, slowly but surely. The problem, of course, is money. It’s much more profitable to have it cycled through a high turnover monetary industry like technology than it is scientific research and development. But we will figure out these things eventually. We’ll have to. Or else we’ll become extinct on this planet.

    I do think we have a long, long way to go…but in the meantime, what sense does it make to say, “okay, we know smoking is bad…but let’s let people continue to publicly smoke around non-smokers until we have figured out everything that is bad for us?” Anyway, there are a lot of laws against doing things in public that make a lot less sense: what about nudity, for example?

    “Does anyone care? Is anyone curious about anything? Nope.”

    Jesus Christ, and I thought I was pessimistic! Nobody is curious about anything! Ludicrous…what do they put in this nicotine?

  • DeeZee

    Kane: I never smoked in my life, and I still got bronchial issues from our crappy air. The “green” Terminator didn’t think asking ships in the pier to get rid of their emissions was feasible, but he’ll do his damnedest to insure that kids don’t play violent video games, since the violent movies he’s been in are much more safe to watch.

  • CitizenKanedforChewingGum

    Well, I don’t live in a smog-pit in Southern CA like you, DeeNotZee, so I’m happy to report we have very little in common.

  • Gordon27

    “What started under Teddy Roosevelt as a good thing”

    Do you really think that “legislating people’s behavior” started under Teddy Roosevelt?

    I mean, if you’re going to be that US-centric, you should know more about US history. I’m sure you’re referring to something specific but, fortunately (or not), legislating people’s behavior has been the foray of the government since the invention of the government. You could interpret that broadly and then say it covers a large portion of what the government *should* do.

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  • Partizannka

    “You smoke as many cigarettes as you want so long as I get to throw away as much glass as I want without worrying about being fined, or I get to install as many 150 watt bulbs as I have light sockets cause, hey, I like it bright. I’ll never worry about the tremendous social cost (or stench) of your smoking if you agree to never worry about the environmental cost of my un-green behavior. Deal? ”

    yes, this is very true, but sometimes smokers are too annoying and it is the health of the nation finally…

    msr 575/2

  • http://www.ovenelements4u.co.uk oven element

    I am amazed how socitey has changed its mind set over smoking in the last 30 years, when i was a kid nearly every adult smoked but now in the year 2011 i bet the percentage is no more the 35%.

  • http://www.candmdomesticappliances.co.uk oven element

    i think smoking is a disgusting habit and actrors and actresses should be ashamed to be seen smoking in public. dishwasher spares

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