Smokin’ TV watch: is it necessary?

Here’s a question to which I’d love to know the answer.

Now that you won’t find a UK ad for cigarettes in the press, on tv, at the cinema or by the roadside, have the tobacco companies started pouring money into tv drama production? Or is it just that the progs I like are all set in the heyday of the ciggie?

I can’t seem to tune in without getting smoke blown in my face at sometime during the evening. OK, I don’t get brand names stuffed down my throat and the cancerous effect on my lungs is less than negligible, yet I can’t escape the implication that I’d be a more interesting character if I got into the habit of burning dried leaves in my mouth.

Personally, I’m not vulnerable to any sort of advertising or marketing suggestion, subliminal or overt. I do realise that I’m in a minority of one in that respect. It’s the rest of you susceptible lot that I’m worried about. Because there does seem to be an unnecessarily thick tobacco haze around some of the major tv offerings.

Frank shamelessly sets the tone

I’m a relatively heavy tv inhaler. About three to four programmes most nights, mainly drama brand. Call me over-protective, but I’ve got into the habit of rating my favourite series on their likely ciggie content in case someone more vulnerable turns up to watch one of them with me and I have to give them a health warning.

This would be especially necessary if my companions were lapsed smokers. According to the Journal of Neuroscience simply watching movie and tv stars take a drag is enough to spark a pattern of activity in smokers’ brains which mirrors the act of lighting up. This response to seeing smoking on screen is thought to make cravings more intense for those who are trying to quit a habit that kills 5 million people worldwide each year.

While ‘The Borgias’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ tempt me into all sorts of undesirable practices, they are refreshingly free of smoke rings. Any programme set pre-nineteenth century tends to fall in that category, though I suspect that ‘The Tudors’ could have made more play with Walter’s weed than they did. In contrast, a number of the more modern shows revel in creating a smoky atmosphere.

It’s the actors I feel sorry for and I don’t usually sympathise with the breed.

Watching as much tv as I do, I come to the conclusion that an actor would be permanently ‘resting’ if they were a committed non-smoker. Happy to take any actor’s comment on that assertion. I don’t know whether it’s driven by the script writers, the directors, the producers or the actors themselves but the general consensus seems to be that the cigarette is dramatic shorthand for depth of character. If I was cynical, I might imagine that the tobacco corporations are encouraging them to think that way. God forbid, they may even be inducing them!

If I’m right, the promotion of smoking has become  a lot more insidious than it used to be. I was an avid consumer of tobacco ads. The ‘Hamlet’ tv ads were hilarious. The ‘B&H’ double page spreads were beautiful, even though their psychological underpinnings were strangely dark. ‘Silk Cut’ posters were almost pornographically attractive and I’ve always wanted to go to ‘Marlboro’ country. They never persuaded me to buy a packet because, as I said, I’m the one man immune to marketing.

This singularity might mean that I’m overreacting to the puff content of current tv drama. It’s likely that my drama tastes incline me towards programmes set in times when heavy smoking was the norm. Of course tobacco companies wouldn’t be so underhand as to try to influence characterisation in tv drama, would they? Equally, of course, tv producers are known to be incorruptible, aren’t they? And actors never smoke off set, do they?

I’m worried that I’m getting a late-life Mary Whitehouse complex and that I shouldn’t object to being given a virtual smoking habit. However, in case I’m not alone with my misgivings, I’ve published my ciggie ratings for the programmes I watch on my Egopendium website.

It’s a small percentage of tv drama output so I’d welcome other people rating their own viewing habits by the fag factor. If you see some smokin’ tv with a bit too much smoking in it, tell me. Just use the Comment box at the bottom of the page to give a 0-5 score for a programme and I’ll add it to the ratings.

Otherwise ignore me. You definitely won’t be in a minority if you do.

Note: First published in Egopendium

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