I like the way a fresh firm pack feels in my hand. I like peeling away that little piece of cellophane and seeing it twinkle in the light. I like coaxing that first sweet cylinder out of its hiding place and bringing it slowly up to my lips. Striking a match, watching it burst into a perfect little flame and knowing that soon that flame will be inside me. I love the first puff, pulling it into my lungs. Little fingers of smoke fill me, caressing me, feeling that warmth penetrate deeper and deeper, until I think I'm going to burst! Then – whoosh! – watching it flow out of me in a lovely, sinuous cloud, no two ever quite the same.
Remember how passionately Bebe Glazer (Harriet Sansom Harris) was explaining to Dr Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) what she loves about cigarettes in an episode of the popular sitcom "Frasier"? Remember how everyone present in that room had a sudden craving for a smoke?
There is no beating around the bush. Cigarettes on the silver screen look glamourous, so glamorous that it has become a major headache for anti-tobacco campaigns across the world in fighting tobacco promotion.
The influence of Hollywood
The biggest media – as Noam Chomsky termed Hollywood – has long been a smoky place, at least since 1942's 'Now, Voyager', in which Bette Davis and Paul Henreid showed how to make and seal a romantic deal over a pair of cigarettes that were as smouldering as the stars.
Then you have the great Humphrey Bogart. He never seemed to be without a cigarette on the big screen, and a generation of men in the 40s as well as the 50s learned that "coolness" would never come without having a cigarette dangling from the lips.
Incidentally, cigarettes are more common on-screen these days than at any other time since the mid-century: 75 percent of all Hollywood films – including 36 percent of those rated G or PG – show tobacco use, according to a survey by the University of California, San Francisco.
Audiences, especially kids, are taking notice. Two studies published in Lancet and Pediatrics have found that among children as young as 10, those exposed to the most on-screen smoking are up to 2.7 times as likely as others to pick up the habit.
Worse, it's the ones from non-smoking homes who are hit the hardest, perhaps because they are spared the dirty ashtrays and musty drapes that make real-world smoking a lot less appealing than the sanitised cinematic version.
A study published by the Harvard School of Public Health said that getting cigarettes out of movies could have as powerful an effect, but it wouldn't be easy. Cigarette-makers had a history of striking product-placement deals with Hollywood, and while the 1998 tobacco settlement prevents that, nothing stops directors from incorporating smoking into scenes on their own.
Reference studies available on the internet say that in 1999, Harvard began holding one-on-one meetings with studio execs trying to change that, and in 2006, the Motion Picture Association of America flung the door open, inviting Bloomberg Foundation, the biggest anti-tobacco donor in the world, to make a presentation to all the studios. Harvard's advice was direct: "Get the butts entirely out, or at least make smoking unappealing."
After those presentations, a few films have provided a glimpse of what a no-smoking – or low-smoking – Hollywood would be like. Producer Lindsay Doran, who once helped persuade director John Hughes to keep Ferris Bueller's Day Off smoke-free in the 1980s hit, wanted to do the same for the leads of her 2006 movie Stranger than Fiction, reported Time Magazine.
The magazine reported that when a writer convinced Lidsay Doran that the character played by Emma Thompson had to smoke, Doran relented. But from the way Thompson hacks her way through the film and snuffs out her cigarettes in a palmful of spit, it's clear the glamour's gone.
How Bollywood and Dhalywood films play their parts
Movies produced in Hollywood, however, are not only the biggest influence of tobacco smoking on the silver screen, at least not for the people of Bangladesh. Rather it's the tinsel town of our neighbouring country – Bollywood.
When some of the Bollywood films like Heroine and Fashion come across our minds, Kareena Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra holding the tobacco stick are some of the potent images that are remembered. The characters they portrayed belonged to the glamour industry. They learned to smoke, because they believed that smoking would help them in times of depression and failure.
A similar portrayal was done in The Dirty Picture. It was said that Vidya Balan had smoked 10 cigarettes for the film. Bollywood personalities choose to smoke to make their characters appear more realistic on-screen, when they do not smoke in reality.
Award-winning Kahaani showed officer Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) smoking in front of pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan), sending the wrong message to society. Though such a minor thing, the impact is quite harmful. No Smoking starring John Abraham was not received well at the box office. However, it sent an important message about smoking to society. His character, a heavy chain-smoker, had decided to quit smoking for his loved ones.
The Indian government has banned smoking in films and has made it compulsory to issue a statutory warning in the opening credits. But that actually does very little for the cause.
Incidentally, the amended Tobacco Control Act of 2013 Bangladesh has a similar warning. But the films produced in "Dhalywood," because of the loopholes in the sensor board, barely use that statutory warning.
There is however no denying the fact that over the years anti-smoking campaigns and awareness programmes have stopped the Dhalywood hero from flaunting the white stick from his lips. But it is still the villains who resort to smoking cigarettes as a mean to show their machismo in most of Dhalywood films till today.
Almost in every typical Dhalywood movie, the villain is shown smoking cigarettes, which prompts a lot, especially the working-class people, to try out cigarettes. Villains like Dipjol or Rajib naturally picked up the cigarette as an extension of their male pride and threw vulgar yet popular dialogues which influenced people across generations to take a puff.
Does smoking on a silver screen really matter?
Not all tobacco-control researchers, however, agree that the link made between exposure to smoking in movies and smoking uptake is a reliable one.
Simon Chapman, an emeritus professor at the school of public health at the University of Sydney in Australia, whose expertise is in tobacco control and policy intervention, says such claims are "crudely reductionist" in the way they ignore the widespread exposure of young people to smoking in other situations.
Chapman says that while there should be more awareness about how gratuitous depictions of smoking can serve to normalise it, it is extremely difficult to prove that seeing smoking in movies directly causes young people to start smoking. He's also not convinced that adult classification is an effective way of preventing youth from watching such content.
"I'm not a fan of public health wading into film, literature, theatre or music and censoring what people are allowed to depict," he told DW, expressing his concern that public health censorship of the arts was a slippery slope.