It wasn't so very long ago that smoking was a hot-button issue in the movie world. There was fear of a modern populace who wouldn't understand the cinematic subtext of smoking, brands pulling their cigarettes out of feature films, studies showing that white teens are influenced by R-rated smokers, cigs affecting movie ratings, and fights to completely eradicate those stress-relieving puffs of smoke from the screen altogether.

While they're not quite there yet with smokeless cinema, a new report shows that the numbers are down -- way down -- in high-grossing Hollywood films.
According to The New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that "scenes of smoking in high-grossing films fell to 1,935 'incidents' last year, down 49 percent from a recent peak of 3,967 in 2005." An "incident" is defined as any "use or implied use of a tobacco product by an actor, with a new incident occurring each time a tobacco product went off-screen then came back, or a different actor was shown with tobacco."

On the negative side for the no-smoking brigade, it was found that more than half of all PG-13 films were still showing characters smoking. Due to his dreamboat cred, Robert Pattinson's Remember Me was singled out, since Tyler smokes throughout the film. (No comment was made on that being a time-relevant habit, since it was set before a lot of the smoking bans went into affect.) Not to be alone in the pile, however, Sigourney Weaver's Avatar character was also named.

What's really interesting is that the study noted when smoking incidents rose and fell on the screen. Of course, much of that can be attributed to natural highs and lows depending on the films being made, but there was a peak in incidents in 2005 -- a backlash against the smoke-free changes gaining prominence, perhaps?

Nevertheless, researchers still see "unacceptably high rates" of smoking amongst youths, so they want more cuts to be made.

What impresses me most is not the lower "incidents" on film, but how different it feels to see them now. What used to be a habit overflowing in films -- dig into a few classics where most characters are rarely without a smoke -- now feels a little foreign. It's not like scratching an arm or stretching -- it's a prop that now immediately draws attention to itself.

I imagine researchers won't have to fear for long. If incidents can be halved in 5 years and begin to feel foreign so quickly, I'm sure the numbers will continue to decline. The question remains, though: Does it really matter?
categories Movies, Cinematical