Cigarettes on Screen: Do Actors Really Smoke in Movies

October 29, 2019
While smoking is a terribly unhealthy habit, there’s something about it that automatically makes a person feel cool.  Especially when a character is supposed to be rebellious, famous, or just super cool. That’s why it is common to find someone playing a character description like that in the movies taking out a cigarette. The question is: Are these cigarettes smoked on movie sets actually real?

The history of smoking onset

When tobacco and cigarettes started making an appearance, one of the best ways to advertise for them was by portraying an actor or character that people would like smoking them. Typically, for this, directors would choose a talented scriptwriter for hire to skilfully depict it. That way, the viewers would automatically feel the need to copy the actor or get a sense of their coolness and would resort to buying cigarettes. It was a great way for product placement to the extent that whenever a movie set needed cigarettes for their movies, they’d simply give a cigarette company a call, and they’d be sent an entire box. During this time, when you’d see an actor smoking in a movie, it meant that they were using an actual cigarette that had been sent to them.

However, the laws started to change in 1988 after a settlement agreement between cigarette companies and particular state governments. This resulted in the ban of not only the appearance of real cigarettes on screens, but also of the idea behind product placement when advertising for cigarettes. That meant that when a character needed to bring out a cigarette, it would be a fake one.

At the same time, health advocates had started to realise how unhealthy cigarettes were and started to influence more and more movies, going not only smoke-free, but also preventing the appearance of any cigarettes on screen, especially if they were rated G, PG or PG-13 to avoid the risk of the younger generation associating cigarettes with coolness and wanting to copy their idols.

What do actors smoke on the set?


There are many alternatives to cigarettes that look pretty much the same, but do a lot less damage when it comes to health. Highlighted to be an excellent alternative on OZ Vapour is no other than the e-cigarettes. These are great because they not only look like cigarettes and, therefore, also have the psychological factor of smoking embedded into the brain, but consist of little or no nicotine at all. They also have no tar which is one of the reasons some people are trying to avoid cigarettes altogether.

One of the best things about E-cigarettes besides having little or no nicotine is that they come in many different flavours and are an absolute, great substitute for cigarettes not only on set, but for anyone trying to quit smoking. That is because they look and feel the same way and so the habit of smoking doesn’t need to be changed, and the brain is deceived into thinking it is getting what it thinks it needs. However, while the effects of e-cigarettes are still under surveillance, it seems that it is a lot less harmful than actually smoking, making it a great transition for anyone trying to quit.

When acting, this alternative is not only great as it gives the overall impression that someone is still smoking, but also helps reduce the amount of smoke being inhaled on set when the acts have to be repeated, take after take after take. That alone used to cause so much damage to an actor’s lungs as they would literally be smoking all day just to finish a specific scene.

Herbal Cigarettes

Another alternative that is very popular when filming movies or TV shows on set, are herbal cigarettes. The best thing about them is that they are more or less an exact copy of a cigarette when it comes to appearance. However, the content is purely herbal and does not cause damage to anyone inhaling it, even if it’s for long periods of time. That means that they are not only nicotine-free, but also do not have any traces of tobacco.

Within the movie industry, herbal cigarettes have become popular on set and even come in different flavours with different components. You can choose to get a strawberry, honey, vanilla, or mint-flavored herbal cigarette. They became very useful as these herbal cigarette companies would even start making custom herbal cigarettes for any actor who had a certain allergy or was uncomfortable with a specific component found in the herbal cigarettes. There were even times that the herbal cigarettes were created with chamomile paper and tea giving the chance for actors to be smoking tea on set.


In some cases, a cigarette would just be used as a prop, herbal, or tobacco-based. You’d find an actor holding it in their hand, but sometimes not even smoking it. This used to be especially true for children who played rebellious roles.

In the movie Leon aka The Professional, actor Natalie Portman was only 12 at the time, and in order to prevent her from smoking onset, her character was only seen holding a cigarette and never inhaling it. Her parents struck a deal to ensure that Portman didn’t have to harm her health and it was decided that not only would she be seen holding a cigarette only 5 times during the course of the movie, without ever inhaling it, but also that her character would quit smoking sometime during the movie.

This was not only to prevent Portman from harming her health, but also to ensure that a positive message was being sent to children of that age who could very easily idolise Portman and follow in her footsteps. To make it seem real, a cigarette would be cut in the size necessary during different parts of the movie.

There are many times where having a cigarette in hand comes in quite handy, and especially in movies; sometimes it is essential to portray a certain image or send a specific message. That’s why it is necessary to ensure that actors who need to smoke on a regular basis on set are finding the best alternatives to prevent damaging their health.



  1. E Cigarettes, props, herbal cigarettes. That’s funny. Actors that smoke in real life smoke real cigarettes on screen despite what’s printed here. One reason is the majority of actors smoke cigarettes in real life which is sad. I did some research and out of 50 of the most popular actors/actresses 46 of them smoke tobacco in one form or the other in real life. They may not get kickbacks from tobacco companies that is known but I guarantee you that some of them and others involved in the filmmaking process get money under the table. Most actors smoke for several reasons. Like one of the reasons among non-actors is they start in their very young teens(13-17) and and a few years later they are hooked. Another one is the most stupid comment I’ve ever heard. Non-actors and actors use the same line, “You’ve got to die from something, it might as well be cigarettes.” Actors and non-actors are alike that they think, “I’m young and healthy and nothing can hurt me, besides I can quit anytime.” A lot of actors just like others have a childhood where they can get away with a lot because they make a lot of money. Their parents do want to mess up the gravy train so they look the other way. They still stick to one of the reasons I heard when I was young that they think it makes them look mature and it’s cool. They don’t want to be a non-smoker because their friends all do it and they fit in better. My parents both smoked and my dead had prostate and colon cancer. My mom died at 60 from a massive stroke. My brother who smoked for most of his life then stopped and started using chewing tobacco died at 43. I even tried it for a few weeks when I was 21. After looking at types of surgery that can happen from cancer such as having the tongue removed and half the lower face, getting your voice box removed and getting a permanent hole in the base of your neck to breath through, seeing black lungs from an autopsy patient who smoked, people who can’t even walk a few feet without being out of breath and can’t lay down to sleep because they can’t breath was why I stopped. I’m not talking about people in their 40’s to 70’s. I’ve seen this in people in their 20’s and 30’s. It’s not worth it to take a chance that this won’t happen to you.

    1. Cool story. Those people that say that are usually the ones in denial about having 100 reasons to quit. Others, have this criteria of “if I smoke it’s because I am hooked. And if I wanted to quit I would. But I will be damned if someone tries telling me what I should/shouldn’t do with my body.” And that is correct. Their body, their life. Even if it’s your kid. You have no say over them when they’re 18. Frankly, all these god damn dreadful religious families are suffocating their kids with archaic lifestyles. Let your kid enjoy what they enjoy. Like who they like. All this tone policing and micromanaging 24/7 is how you lose your kid. But what am I to know? I am only a person who has had some pretty smart parents. Though they lacked intelligence in other things they had it where it needed to count the most. *Tips hat* good day. Do what you want. It’s your life your body. You are your own creator and own end.

      1. You know when people die, fall ill or be in one mess or the other, they’re not there alone. Friends and family hurt too. Why it’s easy to advocate for individual freedom, “do what you like”, “it’s your body” blah..blah…blah… let’s remember that when the individual hurts, he doesn’t hurt alone. family hurts, society hurts too. So, it makes sense for others to show some level of concern over our choices. We must balance freedom with selfless love for how our individual actions affect others.

          1. Then don’t provide state funded healthcare for smokers. They assume the risk, we don’t. They can go private. And keep on taxing them to pay for second hand smoking diseases. Simple as that.

      2. It may be my body but I didn’t create it!! Apparently you don’t believe in God as the creator of all things. He breathed into man the breath of life. We are commanded to take care of our bodies.

      1. Long comment to judge someone else’s comment.
        Let people feel the way they need/want to. Don’t read it. Don’t comment yourself. Take care of you. All we can do.

    2. Herbal cigarettes are totally harmless? Smoking any burning plant material isn’t, it contains tar and the same toxic chemicals that cigarettes do. This article is just lying

      1. It isn’t lying as much as poorly researched and written. As a vaper, I can tell you it is plain silly to say ‘e-cigarettes have little or no nicotine’–in fact they can have as little or as much nicotine as is in the juice that is heated and inhaled.

        The other thing is, while a few movies have had characters vaping eg. Michael Shannon in 99 Homes and John Cusack’s creepy Dr Phil like character in Maps to the Star Maps. Shannon’s device was probably quite advanced for it’s time and looked like a cigarette but no curret e-cigarettes look like an analog cigarette any more, not since the end of Blu, the Jool era, the ETD, lithium batteries and pods. I guess you could get the props dept to knock up a cigalike, provided you didn’t mind putting the equivalent of a live stick of dynamite in your mouth. I know I wouldn’t trust Hollywood lithium technology that close to my face.

        And like you say Beverly Glen, there is a complete misunderstanding about the difference between ingesting herbs from a warmed pot and rolling them in paper and setting them on fire and inhaling the smoke. Come on! I’d heard about actors using herbal cigarettes but if they are mouth or direct to lung inhaling they won’t be as bad as a commercial fag but can’t be harmless. It’s like saying because green tea has healthy antioxidants it should be quite safe, even healthy, to inject it intravenously.

      2. You tell em Bev. I can see someone trying to tell actor Stephen Dorff a two pack a day smoker he can’t smoke real cigarettes on screen or Kurt Russell a long time smoker he can’t. He says he quit but recent photo’s show him smoking. What’s even sadder is actresses who say they stopped smoking because they got pregnant and lied about it like Kim Kardashian, or women who are supposed to be role models for younger women like the Kardashians(when I heard they are role models I laughed) Kim, Khloe and both the Jenner girls smoke. Why spend all that money on plastic surgery, personal trainers, and nutritionist when they are poisoning their insides. They all have weak minds and let others influence them. I’m rich and can do anything without negative consequences is what a lot of celebrities say. All the money in the world won’t help them when they can’t walk a few feet without oxygen or get inoperable mouth, throat or lung cancer and die in so great pain no narcotic or narcotic pain medicine cocktail helps. SAD.

  2. What’s =really= funny is the author’s comments about e-cigarettes, or “vapes” as they’re known these days. She apparently knows nothing about them, because all her information is incorrect. They are chock full of nicotine (at least as much as cigarettes, often more) or no one would bother with them, and Juul, one of the main manufacturers, has recently stopped producing all the fruity and licorice (etc.) flavors because otherwise non-smoking teenagers were beginning their foolish smoking careers with vapes. Another big problem is there are many, easily-obtained, black market vape “pods” around, and many of them are quickly causing permanent lung damage because of certain thickening agents added to the liquid. Remember, folks: if something feels great or “cool”, there’s usually a heavy price to be paid later on.

    1. That’s just nonsensical for anywhere other than the US (because strangely unlike anywhere else there’s a blackmarket of nasty and unsafe vape juices), vaping products outside the US with nicotine have tight restrictions and many choose to vape without nicotine once they’ve kicked the craving all together for it. Nicotine alone isn’t responsible for most smoking health problems (alone it’s not considered vastly different to caffience), vapes represent a tiny fraction of risk compared with smoking, unless you’re hugely misinformed and buying the US anti-vaping propaganda (any guesses who owns most of big tobacco?).

        1. ‘Vaping is highly dangerous and it will kill you. It is full of nicotine, anti-freeze, etc.”

          Please cite a credible source that it contains anti-freeze.

        2. This bogusness was the equivalent of pointing to yourself and yelling “Hey I’m stupid too” a decade ago, I can’t believe people are still spouting this crap in 2020. You didn’t mention the old “popcorn lung” furphy. I gotta classic old movie for you that will speak your language, it’s called Reefer Madness.

  3. It’s the nicotine that I am addicted to, so why would a want an e-cigarette with little or no nicotine? If I could go without nicotine I would not bother with anything that even looked like a cigarette! Regarding nicotine vs caffeine, caffeine withdrawal is nothing, child’s play compared to nicotine withdrawal.

    1. Actually nicotine withdrawal is as easy as or easier than caffeine withdrawal. Cigarette withdrawal (the combination of nicotine and that super fast brain hit you get from inhaling smouldering tobacco) is the one that drives people nuts. Once the dependence is a nicotine patch or a vaporiser, it is a non issue just like caffeine is, particularly withdrawal as a slow taper. I’ve done it, so have many of my ex smoker friends–I am of the generation that remembers when you could smoke in buses, planes, the cinema, all restaurants of course, at work, in the damn doctor’s waiting room . I remember when it was common for kindergarten age children to smoke a pack a day (alright I made that up). Although if you cold turkey either drug expect to be a little irritable, I don’t know what all the fuss is about nicotine, it is as easy to buy nicotine replacement as it is to buy a liter of milk, because it relatively harmless as a patch or gum. Its cigarettes, nicotine is the hook that keeps you doing them, but it is tar of burning vegetation and various accelerants that does the harm. Mmmm combustible accelerants, mild, yet satisfying.

      1. I am in the movie industrie. I know a lot of people who are you talking about Robbie? Also, THIS IS BULL!!! This article is just a huge lie none of it is true! I agree with Joe!

  4. This stuff is crap don’t listen to it the bottom line is this:

    Tobacco, tar, and everything in a cig is bad so don’t do it the same with a vape. I don’t care if you do or do not I can’t control you and nobody else can.

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