Big-screen rebels sans cigarettes just seem bogus

The Baltimore Sun

Let's play a little mental-imagery game, OK?

Picture Humphrey Bogart as private eye Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, only instead of a cigarette dangling from his mouth, he's popping Tic Tacs.

Or imagine Sharon Stone as novelist Catherine Tramell in the famous interrogation scene in Basic Instinct, but instead of seductively inhaling a Benson & Hedges, she's chewing gum like Sam Perlozzo during a 2-2 tie in the ninth inning.

Or think of Jack Nicholson as Irish mob boss Frank Costello in The Departed, and every time he goes off on one of his wild-eyed rants, instead of waving a Marlboro in the air, he's waving a Dove chocolate bar.

Do any of these scenes work for you?

Me, neither.

But the next crop of big-screen rebels could be reduced to this sort of thing after the recent announcement that the Motion Picture Association of America is on another crusade to pretend people in this country don't smoke.

Now, the MPAA says the amount of smoking in a movie will help determine its rating - just like the amount of sex, violence and adult language does.

If the movie glamorizes smoking, or if there's a lot of smoking outside of a "historic" or "mitigating" context, it could get a more restrictive rating, the MPAA said.


So in the next James Bond movie, when 007 pulls a small silver case from the breast pocket of his tuxedo in a glamorous casino in Monte Carlo, it'll contain nothing worse for his lungs than Certs?

Apparently, the idea behind the MPAA's decision is to keep kids from seeing movies that make smoking look cool.

Never mind movies that glorify criminals, beating up cops, promiscuity and the drug culture.

Nope, we're getting rid of the smoking, says the MPAA.

A San Francisco advocacy group called Smoke Free Movies has been hammering the industry for years, claiming movies are the reason hundreds of thousands of kids start smoking.

Me, I always thought kids started smoking because their friends and peers were smoking, not because Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were lighting up in Titanic.

(As a personal aside, if I were on a passenger ship in iceberg-choked waters and found out there wouldn't be enough lifeboats to go around if we started to sink, I'd light up, too.)

(Are you kidding? I'd be up to two packs a day the minute we left port.)

But the MPAA caved to the anti-smoking forces.

And it decided the best way to deter youth smoking is this: Slap an R rating on any movie where the characters are puffing away, so fewer kids can see it.

Which to me seems like a total overreaction - not to mention a move that won't do much good.

Look, I'm all for discouraging kids from smoking, OK?

Unless you're on the payroll of Philip Morris or one of the other Big Tobacco companies, who isn't for discouraging kids from smoking?

It's a terrible habit, dangerous to your health, dirty, smelly, etc.

We all know that. And, sure, we want our kids to know that, too.

But hasn't that message been drummed into their pointy little heads for years and years now?

Haven't they been bombarded with anti-smoking messages at home, in school, in church, on TV, in youth sports programs and everywhere else?

In fact, today's kids have been brought up to think cigarettes are right up there with heroin on the bad-for-you list.

But a lot of people in this country still smoke.

Actually, some 46 million Americans over the age of 18 smoke, if you want the cold, hard statistics.

So pretending they don't smoke in a movie is simply air-brushing real life on the big screen.

And kids can usually see through that kind of phoniness pretty quickly.

Besides, how do you make a movie about bad guys - and isn't almost every box office smash about bad guys these days? - and not show them smoking?

Because the fact is, a lot of bad guys smoke.

Check out your friendly prison exercise yard, if you don't believe me. Or ask a cop. Or a probation officer.

When bad guys are sitting around planning a heist or a drug deal or to whack somebody, they're usually not sucking on little butterscotch candies.

If we take cigarettes away from the bad guys in the movies, what are we going to do next?

Take away their guns?

OK, I just pictured that classic scene in The Godfather where all the Corleone family rivals get whacked on the day of the baptism.

Only the way I pictured it, instead of all of them getting shot, they get bopped with dodgeballs and have to sit down for the rest of the movie.

It didn't seem quite as effective.

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