A new study of younger teenagers showed that 52 percent of those who started smoking did so entirely because they saw movie stars smoking on screen.
That's not good. But before the inevitable calls for regulation go up, let us propose that moviemakers do something to keep youngsters away from tobacco without sacrificing character, plot or accuracy — or whatever other reason they feel the actors must smoke:
They could portray cigarette smoking accurately.
Hollywood tends to show smoking as problem-free and even glamorous, when any smoker who has ever set fire to a waste basket can tell you it is not.
For example, smokers in movies never cough. But all heavy smokers develop chronic coughs and eventually cough constantly and so automatically that they rarely cover their mouths. Movie makers shouldn't make a big deal of this, just work it into the scene naturally — like having a smoker unconsciously cough all over the breakfast table, as happens in real life.
Other authentic smoking touches might include:
The characters the script calls on to smoke at the workplace are forced to do so outside, in the rain, badgered by panhandlers and nervously glancing at their watches.
The costumes and sets — furniture, carpets, etc. — should have realistic cigarette burns. At least once during the movie a child actor should complain about the smell.
The actress runs out of cigarettes late at night and paws through her ashtrays for relightable butts.
The bad guys are caught after a car chase of only a couple of blocks because a carelessly flicked butt has set fire to the back seat of their car.
The younger actors whose characters smoke must stop halfway up any flight of stairs to catch their breath while the older actors whose characters smoke must haul around portable oxygen tanks.
The directors needn't dwell on these smoking-related hassles by making them separate bits or shtick; just include them as part of everyday life, as they are for real smokers. The kids will catch on.