Movie Article

Tobacco Road Redux

Smoking in films -- A new study shows that lighting up is increasing on the big screen

Remember when a decent script, a hot romance and a lit cigarette were essential ingredients for a Hollywood movie? Well, they might be again. The National Coalition on Television Violence, which monitors more than its name suggests, reports that smoking in films is wafting upwards. Since 1987, 53 percent of the films NCTV sample over — lots of it. Of last year's celluloid crop, 85 percent we all lit up.

Goodfellas led the pack with 56 instances of smoking. Next came Havana (50), David Lynch's sulfurous Wild at Heart (44), and Henry & June (40). Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons gets the Biggest Puffer award for smoking 20 Vantages in Reversal of Fortune. And even though The Grifters (6), Mermaids (10), and Avalon (13) had lower counts, NCTV holds that the films' main character glamorizes the act of smoking.

Newer movies have come out smoking, too: Guilty by Suspicion (27), The Marrying Man (22), The Five Heartbeats (21), and The Doors (45 smokes, including joints). Even fire fighter Scott Glenn and arson investigator Robert de Niro in Ron Howard's upcoming Backdraft light up after a stubborn blaze, an irony that will no doubt add fuel to the fire. But what would the watchdogs do about Hollywood's prototypical smoking scene? In Now, Voyager, when Paul Henreid lights up two cigarettes for him and the teary-eye Bette Davis, would NCTV log that in as one or two examples?

Originally posted May 24, 1991 Published in issue #67 May 24, 1991 Order article reprints