Depiction Suggestions


Try to reflect the reality that the majority of people don’t smoke. Avoid reinforcing the false image that smoking is a normal daily activity.

Attempt to realistically reflect smoking as an addictive behavior rather than a positive social activity. (Smokers are influenced by marketing and peer pressure. They are addicted to a legal substance.)

Try, where possible, to portray the health and social consequences of smoking.

  • Contrary to popular belief, cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes, nor is chewing tobacco. Both have been linked to high rates of oral cancer (throat, tongue, gums, cheeks, and lips).
  • Herbal cigarettes (so-called “natural cigarettes”) are governed by the same laws as regular cigarettes and contain three times as much nicotine. They can be just as addictive and lethal.
  • Bidis (pronounced “beedees”) contain less tobacco but more tar and nicotine than cigarettes.
  • People who smoke tend to have more problems with high blood pressure, asthma, shortness of breath, chronic coughing, emphysema, respiratory infections, blood clots, chronic mucus secretion, bronchitis, hardened or clogged arteries, cardiovascular disease, and various cancers (lung, stomach, throat, bladder, uterus, cervix, pancreas, and kidney).
  • Quitting at any point will greatly reduce one’s chances of experiencing such health problems.

Where possible, avoid portraying pregnant women smoking or others smoking around pregnant women, unless your intent is to show the prenatal consequences or someone’s objection to such prenatal exposure to tobacco smoke.

Consider situations where the prenatal effects of exposure to tobacco might be shown, including the increased prevalence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), mental retardation, difficulties in school, and physical birth defects. The emotional impact on family members and on the smoker may be ripe for dramatic exploration.

Consider reflecting the reality that most smokers want to quit and usually make several attempts before quitting successfully.

Unless a character’s tobacco use truly reveals something important about the character, consider other unique behaviors that might convey the same information. Avoid using smoking as an icon or to stereotype an individual.

If smoking is being used as a prop to keep action moving or to give the actors something to do, consider other alternatives.

Smoking in a scene often presents continuity problems during shooting and editing.

Product liability is a major issue for the tobacco industry. There are numerous dramatic, true-life stories about court cases involving those addicted to tobacco versus the tobacco industry.

Actors asked to smoke for a role may want to consider this:

  • He or she may become addicted.
  • Smoking causes premature physical aging (wrinkling and graying of the skin), especially in women, and these changes are irreversible.
  • Hot ashes burn skin and clothing.
  • Cigarette smoke stains teeth and fingers.
  • Smoking makes skin, breath, and clothing smell.
  • Difficulty in breathing, chronic cough and mucus, and increased blood pressure can have an impact on an actor’s athletic ability and physical prowess.
  • None of this is sexy.
  • If a character is going to smoke, consider including some of these inevitable realities.

Occasional lines of dialogue regarding tobacco use norms can contribute to a more accurate public perception about tobacco that deglamorizes such use. Visuals can also convey this, such as having smokers huddled outside the entrance to a building in inclement weather.

Antitobacco billboards are displayed throughout California and can be used as an existing location set piece.

The appearance of tobacco outdoor or transit ads, point-of-purchase displays, ashtrays, and identifiable brands of tobacco in a production are a form of product placement that assists the tobacco industry in selling addiction by selling a false image of the appeal and desirability of smoking.

For the sake of realism, when outdoor tobacco ads may appear, keep in mind that many states now have laws restricting where tobacco advertising and vending machines are permissible. For example, billboards are increasingly disallowed in public sporting venues and near schools.

The use of educational posters or nonsmoking area signs in scenes can send a subtle antismoking message in such places as police stations, hospitals, schools, restaurants, bars, work places, airplanes, airports, public agency buildings, and many other public settings where exposure to second-hand smoke is often restricted in some way (see Resource List, Chapter 29).


Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS), more commonly known as second-hand smoke, has become a hotly contested environmental issue. Consider addressing this theme when appropriate.

Nonsmoking environments and nonsmokers standing up for their right to breathe clean air are increasingly becoming the norm. In fact, the majority of smokers agree that all work sites should be smoke-free. Consider reflecting this reality by empowering characters to express a preference or having them ask others to extinguish tobacco products in nonsmoking or public areas.

Is background smoking necessary to the scene or is it merely a way to achieve a photographic look that might be achieved in some other manner?


When making creative decisions about the behavior of a character, bear in mind that young people view smoking in entertainment as a kind of role modeling. Will others, especially young people, want to emulate the behavior of your character?

The norm that smoking is no longer a desirable behavior can be reinforced when non-smoking characters, particularly teens, ask peers to smoke outside or are turned off by a potential date or refuse an offered cigarette, or cigar, or chew of tobacco.

Tobacco industry market research indicates that youth find smoking more attractive if it is presented as a rite of passage into the adult world. Where possible, try to avoid presenting cigarette and cigar use in a socially desirable, sexually attractive, athletic, or successful way that helps sell that false image to young people.

For today’s youth, rebellion is a positive trait to be emulated. Constructive rebellion can be shown by young characters rejecting the manipulative marketing tactics of the tobacco industry, when appropriate.

Bear in mind that bubble gum cigarettes, cigars, and chew pouches are sometimes manufactured and marketed by subsidiaries of tobacco companies with the goal of imposing a positive lifestyle image of tobacco use on young children; therefore, they aspire to be smokers as they enter adolescence. Avoid on-screen use of these bubble-gums where possible.

When appropriate, show the bitter reality of first time inhalation: choking, burning cough, watering eyes. It’s not as glamorous as the tobacco industry has made it look.

When young people in a scene watch an old movie containing smoking, consider modeling parental media literacy skills by having adults comment on the use of tobacco before people knew it was dangerous.

Cigars are increasingly coming into use by characters, sometimes as a result of efforts by product placement agencies to provide free cigars to performers, prop people, production managers, and others in exchange for their use on screen. By refraining from accepting such gifts, you can show the tobacco industry that you refuse to be a shill for marketing cigar use to kids.

Likewise, an increasing number of celebrities are being offered opportunities to appear on talk shows, in magazine photo spreads, and on magazine covers using tobacco products, particularly cigars. Is it possible that the very public appearance with these products is helping to perpetuate or reinforce the myth of coolness, success, glamour, sexiness, or machismo of smoking in the eyes of children who might page through or happen past these publications or tune in to these shows?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.