Smoking on the Tube: A Tale of Authenticity

Any Mad Men fans out there?  C’mon, it’s okay to admit it, we’ve all got our guilty pleasures.  Besides noticing how awesome Jon Hamm and Christina Hendricks are, does anyone also notice the amount of copious smoking that takes place during the AMC show?  I can only speak for myself, but since working in the field of tobacco control, my tobacco radar is gone through the roof!  Which is why while watching ABC’s new fall show Pan Am, I was drawn to the…lack of smoking. 

Despite the fact that both shows take place during the 60s when smoking was very commonplace everywhere, there is a conspicuous lack of active puffing on Pan Am.  After doing a bit of research, I discovered that the Disney Company owns and operates ABC (American Broadcasting Company), and they put the kaput on any of the main stars smoking or even holding a cigarette on screen on Pam Am.  Any scenes with smoking/cigarettes are very minimal and delegated to the background.  There is some debate on this, as critics claim this lessens the authenticity of the show, while others such as myself feel that removing or decreasing the portrayal one unhealthy element of our past does not ruin our enjoyment of such programs nor does it take away anything from the storylines.

So for shows that seek to maintain a “higher” level of authenticity, how do producers deal with the way smoking is portrayed?  Due to smoke-free workplace laws, cigarettes with nicotine are not allowed on production sets.  Instead on shows such as Mad Men, the stars puff away on herbal cigarettes.  And this just goes to prove how addicting any type of smoking behavior is- January Jones who plays Betty Draper reported that she and her co-stars had taken up the habit again due to smoking many herbal cigarettes while shooting episodes for Man Men. 

So where do you draw the line when it comes to authenticity for period TV shows or movies?

–Jeannie Jung

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