Can You Smoke On Screen?

Can You Smoke On Screen?

Image – Source: Pixabay.

Films made today differ from those made in the past for many reasons. While technology obviously means things can be done faster, sleeker, and better, there are some things that remain untouched since the inception of cinema. One of those is smoking on-screen.

Forward-thinking Netflix made a vow to cut down the depictions of smoking on-screen in its productions after reports indicated that Stranger Things (set in the 1980s) had a high amount of tobacco-related content on-screen. Smoking is still a contentious topic, and while advertisements and packaging have been curbed, there is an interesting discussion to be had: should actors be seen to smoke on-screen?

What if the Character Smokes?

Some argue that certain films require actors to be seen to be smoking. Indeed, when playing certain characters who smoke or who are based on real people who smoke, it would ruin the illusion if the actor never lit up. For instance, Joaquin Phoenix won the Best Actor Oscar for his role as the Joker in 2019. The actor smoked so many times as the character, that there is a two-minute compilation video of all the times the character puffed on a cigarette. Smoking was integral enough to the role, and clearly it impressed some people and added to the character as he won the gong.

James Bond, yet another example, was seen to smoke in many of his films – including in Sean Connery’s initial ‘Bond, James Bond’ introduction. In fact, lighting the cigarette and putting the lighter away is integral to the delivery of the line. Rules came into force from 1995’s Goldeneye onwards meaning that Bond would never be seen smoking cigarettes. Partly due to Pierce Brosnan’s own aversion to cigarettes, and partly because the cigarette product placement was coming to an end and the producers didn’t want Bond to lead to impressionable people taking up the habit.

Do Non-Smoking Actors Have to Smoke for Roles?

Indeed, there is a slew of actors who have had to smoke for roles despite being non-smokers in real life. Emma Watson’s role in The Bling Ring (2013) was based on a smoker, so she had to light up for it. Despite refusing to smoke for his role in Rounders (1998), Edward Norton lit up for Fight Club (1999) opposite Brad Pitt.

On the small screen, rumours spiralled that the cast of Mad Men smoked for their characters, despite many not smoking in real life. The smoking certainly added to the atmosphere of Madison Avenue going into the 1960s, but should this compromise the health of the actors? Many did smoke herbal cigarettes, which are a nicotine-free alternative.

What Could Actors Do Instead of Smoking?

Could we see some onscreen alternatives to smoking? Snus, for example, is a high-nicotine alternative to tobacco that is placed under the lip and not smoked. When looking for character-specific habits, this could be one that gave a new dimension to a character or gave an actor something to focus on during scenes.

This could also reflect the rise in the availability of snus itself and could help popularise the tobacco alternative. Indeed, those looking for one of the highest-nicotine level types of snus, the Siberia variety, found them here. The tobacco-free nicotine product boasts a similar flavour level to the weaker varieties and maintains a texture that isn’t too wet or too dry.

Smoking on screen does add a certain element to the film, but is it a harmful depiction? While it does provide a background to characters and add to the mise-en-scene, it may also be sending out a message that doesn’t resonate with modern audiences as well as it used to.

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