How Fiction Romanticises Cigarettes

Tommy Shelby, arguably the coolest character form the two time British Academy Film Award winning Tv series, ‘Peaky blinders’, has more to his character than being stoic and carrying a brooding demeanour that makes him so iconic and that is his epic way of smoking cigarettes. Smoking was a big part of Cillian Murphy’s character, ‘Tommy Shelby’, as he is rarely seen without a cigarette in the entirety of the series. Which begs the question, would male teenagers be compelled to emulate Tommy Shelby’s swagger by smoking? If yes, then why do so many movies and tv shows contain tobacco imagery, even though it might not add much to the bigger picture itself. So where does the solution lie? Removing all tobacco imagery from films and tv series or restricting the viewership of impressionable teenagers?

Smoking and entertainment media

It’s no secret that smoking cigarettes is harmful and why you shouldn’t do it, but even with the government and other health organisations persistently working towards spreading awareness of the harmful effects of smoking, there seems to be no end in sight. In fact, everyday, more and more new people indulge in smoking cigarettes and a majority of them become habitual of this easily available product.

It’s astonishing that even though advertising of cigarettes is banned by the government, we see cigarettes everywhere. We see them in movies, in TV shows and even in animation. A major reason for this ceaseless exposure to cigarettes and other tobacco products are the tobacco companies. They spend millions on marketing and surrogate advertising through the use of entertainment media. They place tobacco imagery into movies, TV series and other media to indirectly promote the use of cigarettes and glamorise its addiction. Films and TV shows portray cigarettes in a manner which associates them with themes like wealth, power, success, rebellion and glamour. There are also instances of tobacco imagery that are neither positive nor negative and which have no relevance to the plot. Does this incessant exposure to the glamorised portrayal of cigarettes, contribute to people’s  addiction or willingness to experiment?

Many tobacco control organisations have recognised the severe impact of tobacco exposure on teenage boys through the use of entertainment media and have been advocating the elimination of tobacco imagery from films, TV series and other media that may be viewed by impressionable to young audiences.

Iconic characters that may influence young men to smoke

Characters in movies, TV shows and cartoons that smoke-regardless of whether they are the antagonist or the protagonist-can influence impressionable younger audiences to try smoking. Entertainment media is not only glamorising tobacco use instead of depicting its harms, but also portraying it as something the characters turn to when under stress. It is a common misconception that cigarettes are a stress reliever, when in reality they can worsen anxiety symptoms and amplify feelings of depression and even palpitation. Let’s take a look at some of the characters that make smoking look so cool and desirable.

Tommy shelby (Cillian Murphy)

Tommy shelby (Cillian Murphy)

The lead protagonist from the hit show ‘Peaky blinders’ could rarely be seen without a cigarette in hand. A lot of detail went into the smoking aspect of this character, like rubbing the cigarette butt across his lower lip to prevent it from sticking and holding the cigarette between his thumb and index finger instead of just two fingers. Smoking cigarettes was such a big part of this character’s personality that it’s hard to imagine Tommy Shelby without them. But what’s concerning is how the show related his characters personality traits like being ambitious, charismatic and confident to smoking cigarettes while making it look so cool and edgy.

John Constantine (Keanu reeves)

John Constantine (Keanu reeves)


John Constantine from 2005’s ‘Constantine’, was a badass, occult detective who’s out to save the world from the supernatural. Apart from being the coolest exorcist around and making deals with the devil, a big part of John’s character is his chronic smoking which had inevitably given him terminal lung cancer. Even though the movie highlights the biggest risk of smoking, John keeps smoking throughout the movie and disregards the medical opinions of his doctor and miraculously avoids dying by the end of the movie. When a character avoids the worst possible outcome of a deadly habit while looking like a badass, it might just influence people in the wrong way.

Mia Wallace (Uma thurman)

Mia Wallace (Uma thurman)


It’s not just the male characters who are used for the glamorisation of cigarettes. Tarantino’s cult classic ’Pulp Fiction’, is a perfect example of how cigarettes are even used to give more depth to a female character. Mia Wallace, a character in ‘Pulp Fiction’ can be seen smoking in almost every scene she is in. Cigarettes were even used to make the character appear more seductive, especially in the iconic scene where she lays on the bed and beckons towards vincent vega (another character). So regardless of the gender, cigarettes are often used as a shortcut to convey the situation and personality of the character.

Sanji

sanji


A fictional character from the most famous Manga and Anime ‘One Piece’, Sanji is portrayed as a chronic smoker. The only thing more iconic than his cooking and twirly eyebrows, is his smoking habit which he picks up from his mentor and father figure. Which is honestly a portrayal of reality and how people can be influenced enough by people they admire. Ironically, Sanji does not show any harmful effects of smoking, in fact he is one of the fastest characters in the series, who’s also a great swimmer, and performs feats which would be impossible to achieve in reality. As the majority of people who watch anime are young people, they can easily be tempted to try smoking in an attempt to emulate such a character.

Protecting the young men from on-screen smoking imagery

Increased tobacco imagery in entertainment, media, and pop culture points to an overall problem with the renormalisation and glamorization of smoking. On-screen tobacco use and imagery directly contribute to the youth trying out cigarettes, especially young boys. Most people who use tobacco started during adolescence, and those who begin at a younger age are more likely to develop nicotine dependence and have trouble quitting. Researchers have found that light and intermittent smoking among adolescents is associated with the same level of difficulty quitting as daily smoking. Any exposure to nicotine among youth is a concern. The adolescent brain is still developing, and nicotine has effects on the brain’s reward system and brain regions involved in emotional and cognitive functions. 

No matter what age a person is, smoking is dangerous to health and can be hard to give up. Nicotine addiction is very powerful and happens quickly. It’s easier to avoid starting to use tobacco in the first place than it is to quit later on. Therefore, the entertainment industry should not be complicit with the tobacco industry to aid the addition of a new generation of young people to nicotine. Parents should also take initiative and talk to their kids about reasons to avoid tobacco use, and to protect their children from secondhand smoke exposure.

If you’re someone looking to quit smoking, then you should definitely take our help and imbibe these tips to prevent this habit.

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