Nicotine consumption on the big screen is, nowadays, a bit of a controversial matter – even if you’re Dot Cotton! Campaigners believe it sends out the wrong message to viewers. Gangster TV programmes such as Peaky Blinders, Narcos and Boardwalk Empire all have characters frequently smoking cigarettes. But are we on the cusp of a worldwide shift? Is the traditional method of smoking dissipating away from the big screen?
In recent years, we have seen an increase of vaping on TV programmes and films, leading to people believing this is the direct result of nicotine marketing. There is, however, a social influence behind the shift. If there is a trend or a craze which dominates society at any given time, isn’t it smart to incorporate that into the consumption of TV, radio and film? Nicotine marketing at its best.
Vaping on TV
Through the means of advertising and scripted programming, vaping is becoming a popular presence. In 2014, the first advert which depicts vaping as a form of smoking was commissioned with mixed responses. There have been adverts beforehand, but showing the device was banned until a change in advertising laws that were brought into effect. The law, which previously banned all aspects of smoking advertisement, came into force in 1965.
With vaping becoming an unstoppable movement, the Committee of Advertising Practice stepped in and provided a set of regulations should a vaping ad commission. They state that any vaping adverts must not:
- Encourage non-smokers to start using vaporisers
- State any claim that e-cigarettes are safer than tobacco smoking
- Make any claims without the confirmation of the MHPRA (Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency)
- Be likely to appeal to underage (under 18) consumers or encourage underage smoking
The adverts that were being commissioned were criticised for several reasons. The biggest criticism was that vaping still had a lot of unanswered questions surrounding its validity yet they were still being allowed to advertise the product.
Do Smokers Deserve To Feel Persecuted?
We see advertisements in the form of television, radio and even bus shelters which depict vaping. However, advertisement of tobacco smoking is still very much non-existent. Instead, tobacco smokers have seen a change in the way their cigarettes/tobacco is packaged, depicting horrid images that are designed to put smokers off. It has to be asked whether it is fair how vaping can be advertised the way it does, yet tobacco smoking is advertised in a polar opposite way.
Examples of On-Screen Vaping
What nobody expected is exactly how common on-screen vaping is becoming. Recent examples include a character on the BBC soap opera Casualty where he is sat on a car, vaping whilst waiting for a phone call. This particular example brought some level of criticism as the character the actor was depicting was underage.
Speaking of soap operas, we mentioned Eastenders legend June Brown earlier, who plays Dot Cotton. She has recently switched to a ‘cig-a-like’ e-cigarette whilst enjoying a stiff drink in the Queen Vic. The particular episode was back in 2013 for the New Year’s Eve special, way ahead of the anticipated craze!
However, there is one example which resonates within us all, for a variety of reasons. This particular programme has been in our hearts since the late 1980’s and is still going strong, even today. Who remembers coming home from school, rushing your tea just so you can curl up on the settee just so you can tune in and watch…The Simpsons!
Vaping on The Simpsons
You read that right. The longest running cartoon TV programme jumped on the vaping bandwagon in 2015 during the episode titled Let’s Go Fly a Coot. In the episode, Bart, Marge, Homer and even Maggie tried some cloud-chasing to hilarious effects.
However, even though the programme is famous for leaving us in stitches, this particular episode didn’t go down very well because of Bart and Maggie taking part in e-cigarette smoking. But, if you think about it, the programme started in 1989 and the episode aired in 2015, Maggie in theory should be 26. This makes her old enough to smoke, even in the US!
If it is getting to the point that vaping is making its way into our beloved cartoons, it is no longer something we can turn our eyes away from! Once The Simpsons has done an episode on you or your thing – you’re officially famous!
Prepare for More
Without a doubt, traditional tobacco smoking is still very much a dominant aspect of TV and Film. However, as the examples above show, we are in the midst of a shift. Before we know it, we will witness vaping in most TV programmes and films, to the point that it could become the norm. Aforementioned earlier, advertisements of vaping were criticised due to unanswered questions and fears over its safety and validity.
Are we at the stage where we can safely advertise vaping through the means of TV and Film? Have those questions been answered? Cancer Research UK came out in support of vaping, saying that in their opinion it causes less harm than traditional smoking. Whether the opinion of an enormous research charity counts as a solid answer remains to be seen.
What is prominent though is that directors in TV and Film have a choice to make if they are dealing with smoking characters. What isn’t clear in their minds is whether they are making the choice based upon tradition or based upon the anticipated shift. Do they stick with tobacco smoking on screen, or do they bow to social influence and switch to e-cigarettes?
Keep an eye on the big screen, as the shift in smoking is only going to get bigger.