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  • Writer's pictureJustin McConnell

Thank You For Smoking.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cigarette smoking among adult Americans has declined from 20.9% in 2005 to 15.5% in 2016. However, you wouldn't know that if you watch most Hollywood films.

I recently watched the 2017 movie Atomic Blonde. In the film, the main character Lorraine, played by Charlize Theron, is seen smoking in nearly every scene she is in. Whenever she isn't shooting people or engaged in an action scene, Theron is either enjoying a cigarette or supporting actor James McAvoy is... sometimes both of them.

Seriously, I began to find these scenes to be somewhat comical. I get it, the movie takes place during the end of the Cold War when smoking was a more acceptable habit. But people did other things besides have sex, fight, shoot guns, get in car chases, and smoke cigarettes in sexy/cool ways.

Generally, I can accept smoking in movies which were made in the past or set in a period when it was more prevalent.

Also, I really don't care if people smoke. That's your decision. If you want to increase your chances of a horrific and traumatic death, that's your prerogative. Have at it.

Just sayin'...

My issue is when smoking is added to a movie like Atomic Blonde, or nearly anything Quentin Tarantino has produced, in order to make a character seem "cool". I can't be the only person who has noticed this. Whenever a filmmaker wants to give a character an "edge", they have them light up a cigarette.

For most of my life, I have been told that cigarettes were bad and to stay away from them. The surgeon general and ads have been warning us about the dangers of tobacco since I could make the decision to buy or avoid it on my own.

So why did I decide to start smoking at 19? Well, according to the CDC, The Surgeon General concluded that exposure to onscreen smoking in movies can cause young people to start smoking. Is it possible that I bought into Hollywood's trend of making smoking look cool?

The CDC states that in the last 15 years, 45% of the top-grossing movies in the United States were rated PG-13. Of those films, 57% showed smoking or other tobacco use. So right around the age a person can begin going to see a PG-13 movie on their own, begin driving, and are about to turn 18, they are bombarded with images of characters smoking.

In fact, outside of movies, I really can't even think of another source of influence which regularly says that smoking is "cool". Perhaps some adult oriented TV shows depict characters smoking, but for the most part, movies are the only time I even notice it. I certainly don't see ads for cigarettes in print, online, or even on the radio.

Yabba-Dabba *cough* *cough*

Now that I think about it, in my daily life, it is nearly a rarity to see someone smoking. Admittedly, I have been known to enjoy the occasional cigar or cigarette socially while drinking. But for the most part, it isn't really something I am exposed to a lot of the time. According to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), among adults who have ever smoked cigarettes, the percentage who have quit increased from nearly 51% in 2005 to 59% in 2016.

So what is the deal? Why would Hollywood continue to glorify a habit that most people know is unhealthy? Do writers or directors often include smoking characters in their movies out of organic creative character building or do tobacco lobbyists have that much pull in Hollywood?

Thank You For Smoking examines some of these issues in greater detail

Whatever the source may be for all the smoking we see in films, here are my CDC sources on smoking in movies and declining smoking rates.


Also, check out the Next Level Nerd Movie Podcast where you can hear more about... well... movies.




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