Smoking in Films - Censorship blown out of proportion?

Remember when Hollywood thought smoking was smoking hot. Now it seems to be left in a pile of ashes, why is that?

Ross Bennett
15th March 2022
Credit: IMDb
On the 3rd of March 2022, The Batman came rollicking into cinemas nationwide. But do you know what didn’t come with this iteration of the Caped Crusader? Colin Farrell’s nicotine habit.

It has been revealed that Colin Farrell pushed for his character – The Penguin – to puff on a cigar throughout the film. However, he was refused this by the studio; Warner Brothers.

Colin Farrell's Penguin may be brilliant, but is cigar absent... Credit: IMDb

“Big studios make big decisions around such things as the presence of cigarettes in films,” Farrell said. “I fought valiantly for a cigar. I even at one stage said, ‘I can have it unlit, just let me have it unlit.' They were like, 'No.' Like a bunch of 12-year-olds are going to start smoking Cuban cigars because of [The Penguin]”.

Smoking in films has come under scrutiny in recent years, with the American Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggesting a link between smoking in films and young people picking up the habit. But has this censorship gone too far?

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has defended the use of smoking in films, saying that it falls under free speech and that any legal restriction of smoking on screen violates the first amendment.

Can you authentically set a movie in the 60s or 70s and not have characters smoking?

The CDC has drawn a link between smoking in PG-13 (Usually a 12A in the UK) and rates of smoking in young people, with the suggestion that ‘smoking films’ (films where smoking is prominent) could be given a higher age rating – such as an R Rating (18 in the UK) – in order to reduce the number of young people that see it and potentially are influenced by the actions they see on screen.

Helena Bonham Carter's iconic smoking in Fight Club, Credit: IMDb

However, the argument against censorship rises again; take period movies for instance – can you authentically set a movie in the 60s or ’70s and have zero characters smoking? And what about when it comes to franchises where smoking is a character staple? Will James Bond have to start vaping?

Frankly, this is just another iteration of the age-old debate between what should and should not be censored. For years Hollywood was subject to the Hay’s Code which determined what could or could not be shown on screen. Now we again encounter this pitfall in a new guise. Is it really worth censoring smoking? Or should it be preserved under the guise of free speech? Who knows? That’s for the movie makers to decide.

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