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What Do Actors Really Smoke on Screen?

Smoking on screen is a fairly contentious issue; while most people are in agreement that smoking is bad for you, on-screen depictions have caused a split in opinion when it comes to characters enjoying tobacco, leading to a decrease in smoking characters. But while Sherlock may have traded in tobacco for nicotine patches and Disney has banned smoking in all future films, there are still a number of smokers on screen, particularly in period pieces. Yet, with more and more film studios banning smoking on sets to protect actors and crew members who do not smoke, we take a look at what the actors are smoking and some of the alternatives used.

Do actors actually smoke in the movies?

This is one of those yes and no answers, in that, some actors do smoke real tobacco, whereas others use similar looking alternatives. Until recent years, actors tended to smoke real tobacco on screen, as attitudes about smoking were a little more positive about the habit.

Throughout the 20th century, most depictions of smoking in film and television are real, as many of the actors were themselves smokers. With tobacco companies looking for new ways to market their products, especially in a world turning against smoking, props departments would regularly be sent cases of smoking goods for free to be smoked by the characters on screen. However, this practice ended in 1998, when cigarette product placement was prohibited, in an attempt to end the ‘cool’ image then associated with smoking.

However, even actors who do smoke in their personal lives often look for alternatives when filming. With multiple takes needed for each scene, with a new cigarette or cigar needed each time for accurate continuity, this can rack up to an unhealthy amount of nicotine and smoke inhalation.

Nowadays, smoking, in general, tends to be banned for films targeted to those under 18, unless it is about a historical figure who was renowned for smoking, such as Winston Churchill.

Alternatives to Cigarettes

One of the main alternatives to cigarettes is the herbal cigarette, which looks much the same as a standard cigarette, only it does not contain any tobacco or nicotine. The plants and herbs used instead are all non-addictive, meaning that they are a far safer alternative for all. Typically, the ingredients include things like lavender, rose petals and marshmallow leaf. Brands such as Ecstacy Cigarettes and Honeyrose Cigarettes, which are both herbal, are often used. The former brand was chosen for Mad Men, a show notorious for its smoking, with a total of 942 cigarettes smoked on screen. However, with the amount of takes needed for each scene, the actual number needed for filming is far higher. Lead actor Jon Hamm stated that he smoked 74 in the pilot alone, so you can only imagine how many were needed to finish all the takes for those almost 1000 cigarettes! Every time a cigarette is seen on screen, it’s a pretty safe bet that there have been between five and ten before it.

Former smokers also find smoking scenes difficult, having to opt for alternatives to keep from falling back into old habits. Liam Neeson, for instance, smoked hand-rolled cigarettes filled with chamomile tea in the film Non-Stop.

Cigars on Screen

Cigars have long been used in movies to signify status, power and wealth, and as such, some of the most iconic characters from films have been seen with a stogie in hand. Cigars are less easy to fake than cigarettes, as the larger sticks of a cigar are fairly hard to create a non-tobacco alternative for. While electronic cigars have recently become available, offering up a slightly healthier alternative for non-smokers playing a cigar-loving role, many actors seen smoking cigars on-screen are cigar aficionados in real life. Renowned lover of all things cigars, Arnold Schwarzenegger, for example, is seen puffing away in Predator.

Likewise, Hugh Jackman, famed for playing the cigar-smoking Wolverine, is himself a fan of stogies. The same goes for Al Pacino, playing the cigar smoking Tony Montana in Scarface. Other famous depictions of cigar smoking on-screen, such as Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name in the Dollars Trilogy, occurred at a time when people were less concerned with the risks of smoking, and so the real deal would have been used regardless of whether or not the actor was a smoker in their personal life.

One of the most recent films to feature cigar smoking was Darkest Hour, featuring Gary Oldman in his Academy Award-winning performance as Winston Churchill. While many films have been cracking down on their tobacco usage on screen, the former Prime Minister was oft spotted with a cigar in hand, so a portrayal of this character would not be complete without a cigar or two! Over the course of filming, Oldman was said to have smoked around 12 cigars each day of the three-month filming schedule, totaling 400 cigars, which cost a whopping £30,000! It is not surprising that he was left with nicotine poisoning, as most cigar smokers only enjoy one or two each day that they smoke!

What do you think about smoking on-screen? Let us know!

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