Dig out an old movie or watch the re-run of a classic TV show and one of the first things that strikes you is the smoking. Pubs, police stations, workplaces of all kinds – it’s startling to realise now how normal it was not so long ago for them to be routinely full of smoke and smokers.
Didn’t we all know how bad it was for our health? Well yes, we did, sort of – and yet.
Now think Sean Connery’s James Bond, Olivia Newton-John in Grease, Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. The symbolism’s scarcely hidden, and the message is clear.
Yes, a cigar is sometimes just a cigar. Sometimes. But where would Bogart and Bacall have been without the chemistry involved in providing and lighting each other’s cigarettes?
It didn’t necessarily translate that well to real life, but on the screen, smoking was sexy. And sex sells. Big Tobacco loved the movies.
Fast forward to this era when pubs and staff canteens are no longer smoke-filled and lighting up on-screen is no longer normal or natural. Does vaping have the same glamour?
‘Addiction without the consequences’
There are of course a few instances of e-cigarettes turning up in TV and movies, but it’s not yet found its Connery or its Dietrich. It’s hard at present to imagine it ever doing so.
In series two of the US version of House of Cards, first shown in 2014, Kevin Spacey – then not yet besmirched by allegations of sexual misconduct – is shown vaping, justifying it as “addiction without the consequences”. A testimonial of sorts, but hardly glamorising.
That same year, in the movie Cymbeline, Milla Jovovich was seen using an e-cigarette – arguably a prop as incongruous in a Shakespeare adaptation as the sub-machinegun toted by her co-star Ed Harris. In that instance, it was a handy bit of product-placement (the e-cig, not the gun) by the Canadian SmokeStik brand, whose CEO Bill Marangos told journalists: “I don’t see a problem glamorising something that saves lives.”
Even if you think that description is stretching it (and some would), it certainly seems a lot less contentious than glamorising the use of automatic firearms, a tedious and deadly normality in the tooled-up world of Hollywood.
Hardly world-changing, though. Jovovich doesn’t even feature in the “celebrities” gallery on the SmokeStik website, in which only one named (not exactly A-list) celebrity appears.
Now we have Kate Winslet portraying a vaping detective in the HBO crime drama Mare of Easttown. A cop – in the hands of an actress who has developed with depth and dignity from the glamour of younger roles – about as far from Clint Eastwood as you can get. A troubled grandmother whose e-cig is not a sex symbol but a prop revealing a more complex aspect of character.
Including the grown-up implication that she’s a former smoker trying to move on. One who remembers, perhaps, that however cool he was, Humphrey Bogart was only 57 when he died of throat cancer.
– Aidan Semmens ECigIntelligence staff