2.3 - Tobacco on Screen



Movies are notorious for encouraging the use of cigarettes whether it be as a part of the plot , the scenery or the character. For example, Sigourney Weaver won a Scene Smoking Thumbsdown Award for her portrayal of an environmental biologist who was perpetually smoking in the movie Avatar. This activity asks participants to screen a movie geared towards youth and identify tobacco product placement in it. It asks participants to reflect on the reasons why the character was smoking and the potential messages this could be sending.


1. Review the content of the websites:

2. Based on these readings, the instructor should initiate a discussion of the role of tobacco within movies.
3. In view of this discussion, screen a film for the class. Try to choose a recent film or T.V. show that is geared towards youth.
Optional : As an interesting supplementary exercise, ask the participants to think of older films or films from a variety of cultures. Ask the participants to construct a list of different movies and then choose one with the class. Watch this movie and compare the rate of smoking with the rate of smoking seen in the first movie. Film examples could include American classics like Casablanca or The Godfather. Movies from different industries and languages like Bollywood movies, animé movies, Nigerian movies or any other place or time could be included. Encourage creativity!

4. Count the number of times a character is shown smoking, or where there is prominent tobacco product placement. You can choose to do this throughout the movie or in a small section of the movie.

5. Ask the participants to critique why they feel the director had the actor smoke (character, storyline, blatant promo, etc). Discuss if the message would still be the same without the use of tobacco.
Optional: Ask the participants to rewrite a scene from the movie and either; a) change a non-smoking character to a smoking character or b) change a smoking character to a non-smoking character. How does this affect the perception of the character? How does this affect the story? Use this as a springboard to further explore the social perceptions of smoking.

6. Ask the participants to post their responses in the Student Writing Section of the virtual classroom.
Optional: As an interesting supplementary follow-up, rent a copy of the 2005 movie Thank You for Smoking, directed by Jason Reitman. (However, ensure that the movies rating is acceptable at your establishment.) Ask the class to think about how the satire within this movie examines and criticizes various aspects of the tobacco industry. What aspects of the industry did this movie address that were not already discussed?

Learning Objectives

  • Understand how product placement of cigarettes in Hollywood is used to promote smoking.
  • Understand the socially constructed associations that are made between smoking and certain attitudes and characteristics.
  • Use analytical, critical and creative skills to construct and explore hypotheses.