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British Columbia history that informs readers while entertaining them.

No smoking in movies? Cowboys without their tobacco pouch or chaw?

The latest in the war against tobacco is a movement by some American public health officials to discourage smoking in the movies (I mean on screen) by giving them an R-rating.

It sets a bad example for young people, they say. The restricted rating is meant to spare millions of kids a year from being exposed to the filthy weed. And, no doubt, by reducing the potential audience, impact on the movie’s profits thereby encouraging studios to comply.

They’re targeting actors who deliberately light up on screen, not as part of their character or role but as a subliminal advertisement. Just like when your favourite star reaches for a clearly labelled Coke. It could be anything, even water, but, no, it’s made very clear with a close-up for the world to see that he’s/she’s drinking a Coke even if it takes a close-up in slow motion.

The war on smoking is spreading
It’s a wide net anti-tobacconists are casting—all tobacco products used or even implied!—including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, hookah, smokeless tobacco products such as chewing tobacco, and electronic cigarettes.

Now, if you think I’m wandering far from my usual historical beat, hang on a moment. I, and I’m sure many of you, grew up when smoking in the movies was so incessant in some scenes (particularly in the days of black and white) that it sometimes seemed the camera was shooting through a haze.

But what I’m really out to say is that, as a dedicated fan of westerns, I wouldn’t think a film to be authentic without at least one leading character rolling a one-handed cigarette from a pocket pouch of Bull Durham.

Or, this usually performed by a secondary character, like Walter Brennan or Jack Elam, gnawing off a ‘chaw’ from a plug of tobacco then scoring a loud bull’s-eye in an aptly-named spittoon.

I was a sucker for a pipe
And professional folk—doctors, lawyers, authors(!)—smoked a pipe. It was the stereotypical writer sucking on a pipe that hooked me, not cigarettes. And make no misake, I loved my pipe for 10 years. So did some women who invited me to light up in their homes, something I’d never have done otherwise.

They, like I, found pipe smoke to be pleasant—unlike that of fags and, horrors, cigars. (Speaking of the latter, I learned years ago that only those cigars on sale in Canadian and American stores, even the more expensive ones, stink. Real Havanas are all but odourless.)

I only gave up my pipe (and I’m sure glad I did) when it began to crack my teeth. (Smoke from the stem of a pipe is much, much hotter than from a cigarette filter.)

But back to Hollywood and smoking in the movies
This is as authentic as costumes and dialogue are meant to be; it’s true to the script and to the time that the movie portrays. To remove a cigarette or a chaw from between a cowboy’s lips would be like removing his sidearm or his cowboy hat or his horse.

And can you even picture in your mind, Bette Davis or Bogie without a cigarette?

No smoking in the movies just ain’t the real thing. Instead, how about movies posting a disclaimer? Something like, “Smoking, as depicted in this film, may be hazardous to your health.”

Hardly had I written this
than a letter to the editor was published in the Victoria Times-Colonist. Interestingly, it’s written by a 10-year-old boy who disagrees with the R-rating because it will deprive young people of movies they, like he, want to view.

Better, he thinks, that parents have a chat with their children and explain that smoking is addictive—and expensive.

He’s right in that a retroactive R-rating will restrict even some Disney movies and classics like Indiana Jones and The Great Escape.

The bottom line: Smoking in the movies, when it’s done as part of the atmosphere and is true to a character’s portrayal is simply mirroring real life.

And isn’t that what many movies, like books, are supposed to be about?


One Comment

  1. I can understand the fact that smoking is bad for society in general and it would be best if we didn’t all light up, but where does it stop. I am going to say booze will be hit very hard once the do gooders are done with the dirty side affects of smoke. Our morals seemed to have gone sideways. Smoking pot is cool, setting up tents in any part of the city is just fine, disrespect for the law….no problem. I could go on and on about how we are moving forward into a place I do not wish to see, but it is out of our hands it seems. The past wasnt always the best, but the future looks even scarier at times. lol

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