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. 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.

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