Monkey see, monkey do – movie stars smoking makes you want to smoke

monkey_smoking_1a I can understand why seeing a movie “villain” kill the bad guy and light up a cigarette while dragging away the hot chick for some post-bloodshed action could be considered “alpha”. Mostly because it is. Just think of how suave and cool Sean Connery is playing James Bond and how you want to be that guy – martini, cigarette, smart suit and chicks dropping at his feet.

The fact is, “normal” people like you and I look up to celebrities on the big screen and most of us tend to base our lives, opinions and actions on these people. While this could technically open a huge debate, I could give a few examples; does hip-hop and rap glorify guns? Does WWE make some kids wrestle in their backyards? Does viewing actors smoking on screen influence people to smoke? (The answer in my opinion is yes to all by the way.) There have been quite a few studies regarding the latter, including new research from the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research which takes a slight twist on the matter – does viewing smoking on film give smokers the urge to smoke? The answer given in the study is essentially yes (the word “may” is used a few times though), but I am writing this to point out a couple of issues I have with this study (and as an excuse to write a little bit of science about nicotine for more article variety) and because I like the sound of my own writing. Or voice, or something.

My first issue is that it seems a bit obvious that being a smoker and seeing a smoker would give the urge to smoke. In the same vein, I am an eater (need to be in order to live) and when I see a commercial for a Big Mac™ I tend to think of eating a Big Mac™. Companies have known about this association for years, which is why they spend millions upon millions on advertising each year. Cigarette companies knew about this too, and would advertise heavily until they were outlawed from doing so. While on this subject, some of the old cigarette advertisements would never fly in today’s world even if companies were allowed to advertise. The use of sex, sexism, racism, Santa, sports stars, physicians, babies and even the US President literally have to be seen to be believed.

Next up is another fairly obvious connection. Smokers are addicts, and by definition our good friends at Wikipedia state that addiction is “an obsession, compulsion, or excessive psychological dependence.” i.e. something you do with frequent regularity. The average running time of a movie has increased appreciably since the 1910’s from 79 minutes to 129 minutes, as worked out by someone with either a keen interest or too much time on their hands. Since smoking is not allowed in movie theaters, that seems that a typical amount of time between cigarettes for smokers. I base this on info that the average number of cigarettes smoked per day in 2004 in the US is 16.8. Even if the figure for 2008 has declined to ten cigarettes per day, based on a sixteen-hour waking day the average smoker is lighting up every hour and a half. So basically what I am saying is that these people would have gone for a smoke anyway.

Finally, something less obvious and not completely applicable to all movies, is that generally speaking smokers seem to react to stress and boredom by jonesing for a cigarette, much like binge-eaters do with food. I imagine that if the movie was terrible (see: Catwoman) even I’d need a quick cigarette to recover, and I don’t even smoke!

I was going to go into the biochemical effects of nicotine on the brain but I think I have pretty much exhausted this particular subject for the time being. For anyone curious I was not aiming to write an article of caliber, it just happened that way. And I also do not condone smoking – can’t stand it in fact. But that James Bond is certainly a badass.

Source: James D. Sargent, Matthis Morgenstern, Barbara Isensee and Reiner Hanewinkel. Movie smoking and urge to smoke among adult smokers. Nicotine & Tobacco Research 2009 11(9):1042-1046.

About the Author

Matt Cahill has worked extensively in the nutritional supplement field, and is the former CEO of Designer Supplements. During his time in the field has researched and developed prohormones, testosterone boosters, and other related compounds, both for his own company and others.