Smoking in Movies: How It Burned Out Cigarettes In Real Life | Other | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Smoking in Movies: How It Burned Out Cigarettes In Real Life

Once upon a time, smoking and the cinema went hand in hand. Whether that was a depiction on the screen of stars lighting up or the smoky rooms in which films were watched, it was hard not to be influenced by cinema in the sixties and seventies.

Since then, smoking prevalence in cinema has faltered somewhat. Cigarettes and tobacco products are still visible on screen, but certainly nowhere near as much as they used to be. The Truth Initiative reports that between 2018 and 2020, instances of tobacco being on screen in new releases dropped by 61%. There are still issues – PG and PG-13-rated movies still had some tobacco use, 6% for the former and 32% for the latter. Whilst strides are being made to reduce the screen time tobacco products get, there’s still a way to go.

The same can be said for societal attitudes to smoking. You can’t wander into a movie theatre and light up these days, as the different smoking bans have put an end to that. Whilst that has been seen as a hindrance for some, regulations are achieving their goals – smoking prevalence in the United States has decreased among most age groups, with 18-24-year-olds seeing a drop from 19.2% in 2011 to just 4.9% in 2022. Even amongst those over 65, the group most likely to have been influenced by tobacco on-screen during Hollywood’s heyday, rates have fallen from 21.2% to 15.2%.

How Has Hollywood Affected the Change?

A 2014 study led by Patrick E. Jamieson concluded there was a viable link between smoking on and off-screen, which led to anti-tobacco organizations lobbying Hollywood. “We found a significant relationship that when there is more smoking on TV, there’s more smoking in the population, and when there’s less smoking on TV, there’s less in the population,” said Jamieson. That led to a direct reduction in the amount of smoking seen on-screen and, thus, in society. It isn’t just a reduction of smoking on screen that has forced change, though – some regulations have helped.

Smoking indoors at movie theaters was banned in 1997 in the US, which certainly had an impact on smoking rates, albeit not directly linked to Hollywood. A year later, the US Master Settlement Agreement moved to strictly prohibit tobacco companies from marketing their brands in media using paid product placement. In 1994, it was reported that Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation spent $500,000 to place products in several movies, including Godfather III, Rambo, and Rocky IV. Today, paid product placement is still rife in movies, as demonstrated by 2023’s blockbuster Barbie. Chevrolet, Chanel, and Birkenstock all had products featured. It’s notable you did not see Barbie smoking Brown & Williamson products, and thanks to the 1998 agreement, you won’t see any major tobacco brands in movies in the future.

How can you be influenced by movies and drop cigarettes?

Theaters are no-go areas for smoking; there’s less of it on screen; where does that leave you as a smoker? The answer is in the minority, and it may lead you to a certain life choice. Quitting for good. Luckily, just as Hollywood has been helpful in reducing smoking numbers, there are methods you can use to help you quit. A number of Hollywood’s biggest stars have quit smoking, and you can follow their lead, just as the industry wants you to. You don’t have to go cold turkey either – there are some good nicotine alternatives on the market that will help you go smoke-free.

Products such as VELO pouches from British Tobacco have proven to be hugely popular in the United States. Sales of their ‘new category’ products rose 16% in 2023, underlining the growth of the product. Pouches, which have yet to be seen on screen in a blockbuster movie, are small and discreet, sitting under the lip and on the gum. They deliver a hit of nicotine, usually over a 30-minute spell. VELO nicotine pouches come in a range of flavors, such as citrus and wintergreen, as well as differing strengths, from 4mg to 7mg, to make the cessation journey bespoke. They’re one way to replace the nicotine from tobacco combustion, designed to wean you off cigarettes long-term.

Another product people can use is nicotine patches, and these have been seen in movies. They’re something that sticks to the upper arm usually and delivers a hit of nicotine, usually over a period of 12-24 hours. Nicotine patches appeared in Thank You For Not Smoking, a 2005 film starring Aaron Eckhardt, which poked fun at the smoking industry. They have a place in pop culture, and have often been used to comedic effect in movies. That replication in pop culture is something that other products may seek to emulate over the coming years.


Hollywood has played a major role in reducing smoking rates, both by banishing product placement and seeking to depict fewer characters lighting up. Where once Hollywood led the way in influencing people to smoke, it is now clear it is heading the other way, and with many options available to smokers, further decline seems inevitable in the future.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.

Damaged City Festival 2019 | Photos | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

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