The Role of Chemistry in History

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Tobacco and the Cinema

April 20th, 2008 · No Comments ·

A Scene to Die For: The Endless Love Affair of Smoking and Film

         At the beginning of the 1900’s the powerful hold that the cinema and movie stars have always held over the American public was put to lucrative use in the promotion of cigarettes.  This was such an important marketing strategy for cigarette companies because of the integral part the cinema plays in not just American culture, but around the world.  The combination of the general public’s obsession with the cinema and their admiration for movie stars has resulted in a force that has had and will continue to have far-reaching and immeasurable effects on society. 

People want to be like the movie stars they idolize so much – these incredibly attractive and glamorous people that most average people can only hope to be.  Cigarette companies preyed on these dreams of the common people who, when searching for any means to be like these stars, finally came on the attainable method of smoking.  It was through these loved stars of Hollywood and the movies they starred in that cigarettes became a central part of American culture and have refused to let go.  When these two joined forces, neither cigarettes nor the cinema would ever be the same.


Among early movie stars, cigarette smoking was pervasive.  Although many cigarette companies have never confessed to directly funding movies – in return, of course, for some cigarette air time – some, such as Phillip Morris have attested to this fact.  However, even without this confession, it is clear from the prominence of cigarettes in movies that if other companies are not directly funding movies for these purposes, their products are finding indirect ways to make it to the big screen.  Movie heroes and heroines did not just succeed in their epic movie struggles; they succeeded in winning over the public in their habit of cigarette smoking.


For men, cigarettes symbolized strength; they were the epitome of masculinity.  James Dean was the first teen idol, a fact that proved quite useful to cigarette companies.  To teenage boys nation-wide, Dean was rebellious and stylish – and so were the cigarettes he was always smoking in the eyes of his adoring fans.  But Dean was far from alone in his distinguishing use of cigarettes.  For countless other Hollywood men, the image they gave off of toughness, sophistication, and even sexiness was soon associated with the cigarettes they all smoked.  Cigarettes for women, on the other hand, were sexy and glamorous.  Audrey Hepburn, among many others, helped to demonstrate that cigarettes are not just for men.


            The use of cigarettes actually proved to be quite useful in movies.  Smoking in movies helped to set the atmosphere and develop the personalities of characters.  In the present day, cigarettes can be an effective means to transport the audience back in time to a period when smoking was a more socially-desirable behavior.  And although it may have taken on new meanings as cigarettes started to be viewed less favorably by the public – perhaps now seen as “hedonistic” and “self-destructive” – it is these qualities as well as those traditional ones that people long to see in on the big screen.


            Promoting cigarettes through movies was such an effective strategy in part because people were not even aware that anything was even being advertised – instead they received the promotion of cigarettes through their desire to be just like their favorite movie stars.  Although the use of cigarettes in film greatly declined as awareness increased about their deadly health implications, they were never completely stubbed out.  In fact, in the present day, cigarettes have just as much of a presence as they did in the 50’s.  With what has shown to be such a compatible relationship, it is doubtful that cigarettes and the cinema will be parting ways any time soon.


Introduction to Nicotine | A Brief History of Tobacco | Chemical Properties | Addiction | Toxicity | Tobacco and America | Tobacco and the Cinema | References

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