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Goodbye Cigarette: The Lingering Fume of Smoke in the Media

Goodbye Cigarette: The Lingering Fume of Smoke in the Media

There it was. Something truly unexpected, shocking, maybe even offensive on the screen while I was watching The Muppets Take Manhattan with my three year old child. Now I wasn’t exactly offended, but I was a bit shocked, and then as a result of being shocked, I was shocked that I was shocked. Let me explain:

The Muppets Take Manhattan released in 1984 is not quite a high point for the whole Muppet franchise, but that is of little consequence. I made it through about 15 minutes of the flick when I came upon a scene involving about a dozen Muppets and the actor Dabney Coleman playing a duplicitous Broadway producer. The shocking thing about this scene was that Coleman’s character was sitting in his office, accompanied by a gaggle of outrageously cute puppets, and chain smoking like he was at an AA meeting (he was not at an AA meeting, he was in a children’s film). Now, I have a vague recollection of seeing this film before as a child (or at least films like it) and I don’t think the cigarette smoking bothered me a bit. But now, in an age where cigarettes are banished from virtually all forms of media, and especially children’s programming, it is almost startling to see someone casually puffing away in the context of a children’s film.

Not that I have a problem with it necessarily. When I was a boy I had no more than three feet to travel to witness someone smoking on a “lung dart” (as I like to call cigarettes). My father would, if I were being especially well behaved, let me light the cigarette for him and even put it out in the ashtray when he was finished. They were part of my life, part of what I watched, and obviously, part of what I breathed every day.

Things have evidently changed for the better in respect to cigarette smoking. Sure, people still smoke but in far fewer numbers than thirty years ago, and for the most part cigarettes are seen only as a means to electively banish yourself from the fabric of functioning society (my favorite vista points for this banishment are the glass enclosed smoking lounges that can be found in about every airport terminal in the country. The smokers appear like a sullen breed of fire-eaters on display). But cigarettes do occasionally pop up in movies as character props. Most notably was Sigourney Weaver’s, tough as nails, with cigarette in hand, doctor in the recent blockbuster Avatar. Seeing this character in a futuristic epic film like Avatar (admittedly not really a children’s film) casually smoking in a lab made me wonder, “In the technologically evolved future, isn’t there something better to dangle from your lips than a cigarette?”

While I take some comfort in having cigarettes relegated to rarity, or at least novelty, in most films and television (aimed at children at least), I realize there are far worse things for children to witness than someone puffing on a lung dart: Namely gratuitous violence, torture, cruelty, sexual assault, and the glorification of human suffering. These elements and themes are truly shocking and abhorrent, and to overstate the obvious, have no place in children’s entertainment (but you would be surprised). So what is a little puff-puff here and there? For a child that has little or no context for what it means to smoke, is it actually an influence? Are we entitled to be shocked when we see our beloved Muppets associating with smokers? Or are smokers (forgive the pun) a dying breed, along the lines of the electric typewriter, the pager, and Blockbuster Video?

Read more: Children, Family, General Health, Parenting at the Crossroads, , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

127 comments

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5:16PM PDT on Oct 12, 2012

Cigarette smoking here is not allowed almost anywhere.!! I grew up during the 40's and 50's when it was in vogue, advertising everywhere, cloudy movie theatres where you were watching the actors puffing away, smokie restaurants, of course bars (which were segregated with no females allowed), which brings up the subject of bars.....drinking and driving kill!!! and yet nothing seems to stop this....raise the price of booze as high a percentage as cigarettes have been here in Canada, maybe that would help.

11:23AM PDT on Jun 24, 2011

When I was young there were women on screen who used cig. holders and to me that was so romantic. Now I know better.

2:29PM PDT on Jun 22, 2011

Smoking in movies, films, etc. has gone the way of the dinosaur. Certain trends just don't seem to hold up as well as others. Maybe it's all for the best.

9:59AM PST on Mar 2, 2011

I remember a couple scripture in the bible commanding Christians to share the same viewpoint as the true christian writers. It said Let him (HER) that is taking advantage of the world, not take advantage of the world to the full, and also on the last page this point was made," Let the filthy one be made Filthy still", so my points are, this government taking advantage fully of peoples habits to make a killing $$$ is a contradiction as well as a breaking of the Christian law not to take advantage of the world to the full, and if people want to be filthy by having a filthy habit the only responsibility a christian has is to have the same respect for what people want to do, why because Christians are commanded to let them do what they want to do. Remember that you pray for gods kingdom to come down here on earth, because it is his Kingdom that will clean out the filthy ones, 1st Cor 9:- says the filthy will not inherit gods kingdom, but it also says that's those that don't obey the good news, which means if you infringe on peoples rights to be filthy, you are not obeying the good news, and if your backing up the increased taxes on Cigarette smokers you really are taking advantage of the world to the full. Did Jesus argue with the tax collectors to raise the taxes on the sinners, no he didn't so obey the last chapter of the bibles commandments and let the filthy one remain filthy and stop interfering in things that don't concern you, so go say your prayers and stop judging the sm

11:15AM PDT on Jul 3, 2010

I along w/ many are Sick of Society being held more responsible for influencing kids, than actual parental guidance. Whether it is to keep kids from eating too much fast food, to joining a gang, to teen pregnancy, to smoking, etc. Why is society always having to change instead of parenting skills?

Focus the blame on the tobacco industry for ADDING Addictive Ingredients to cigarettes, & stop persecuting, taxing & banning smokers.

Yes, selfish, irresponsible smokers make me sick; dumping filthy ash trays in parking lots, littering beaches, parks & such. But there are selfish, filthy, littering people everywhere, who Don't smoke. Maybe stricker laws / fines should be in place to All of those that LITTER.

I just wish society wasn't responsible for all the horrible habits that kids pick up. If parents would instill good healthy habits, proper moral values, & enrich common sense, kids & the rest of society would be much better off.

What happened to parents teaching their kids that "Just because someone else does something, doesn't make it right, for them OR You"? & just plain Discipline w/ strict consequences?

Nah, that's too much effort & expecting too much from Parents. Why go through all that trouble when it's easier to BLAME & screw tax payers for programs, sensor the food & entertainment industry, while scrutinizing people for the trouble "kids" might get in to. If you can't control what your kids get into, DON'T have the

3:05PM PDT on Jul 1, 2010

i have no problem with the muppets smoking

9:47AM PDT on Jul 1, 2010

I cannot support smoking at all. It took the life of my very best friend (at age 59). She was the sister I never had. If she could only have kicked the addiction, she would still be part of my life, and I would not have to cry every time I think about such a loss to her children, her mother, and to me.

9:24AM PDT on Jun 7, 2010

TY Marge M., we think alike, your comment echoes my beliefs and the debate I will gladly have with any who persecute me but not the alcoholics who are an absolute danger to all.
"Please stop bashing smokers. It's my bad habit, but I am not a monster.
Why isn't more said about drinking.
I can smoke a whole pack and still be safe behind the wheel.
Unless, thats when I have my heart attack
I feel the risks of drinking, both to the drinker and others"

5:37PM PDT on Jun 6, 2010

My main problem with smoking is cigarette butt litter. Butts are everywhere and are a major menace to wildlife. Smokers don't seem to realise how insidious the damage can be. At the pub down the road from me, they have built three very nice smoking rooms; however, smokers still go outside and throw their butts into the street. The cleaner hoses down the sidewalk in the morning straight into the drain which is about 100 metres from the one of the most beautiful lakes in NSW. That is why I get annoyed with smokers.

8:46PM PST on Mar 13, 2010

Considering that smoking isn't even a necessary part of using tobacco, I can't think of any excuse for encouraging the habit in the young.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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