vaping on film looks less glamorous than old Hollywood smoking
Another dead end is the murder investigation. Tired and frustrated, the detective leaves the station. She looks halfway down, forcefully sucking on a vaporizer and blowing out puffs of smoke. Actress Kate Winslett has smoked onscreen before, but not like this.
The tobacco and entertainment industries have long and tangled histories – including product placement in films, TV sponsorships, and promotional relationships with glamorous Hollywood stars. In 2012, the US Surgeon General’s report found “a causal relationship between depictions of smoking in movies and smoking initiation among young people.”
Today, new forms of nicotine consumption are reflected in popular culture. Is vaping in movies and TV just a case of repeating history or something else?
Read more: Making it harder to import electronic cigarettes is good news for our health, especially that of young people
Smoking leaves the stage on the left
From Humphrey Bogart’s tough detective roles in the 1940s to rebellious teens like James Dean and Olivia Newton-John in Grease to Sharon Stone’s femme fatale in the 1990s, smoking was a constant sight for moviegoers until recently. Then attitudes and policies started to change in line with health warnings and government regulations.
While some large tobacco companies say they no longer pay for or allow their tobacco brands to appear onscreen, depictions of smoking remain relatively common, including in content from global streaming services with a large number of young viewers.
Likewise, creators of entertainment content, such as Disney, have said they will no longer include depictions of smoking in content aimed at children. But the exceptions to the policy mean that the depictions of smoking on screens continue.
Now vaping is also featured in movies and on television.
Researched since the 1930s but first marketed in 2003, electronic cigarettes were designed to look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes, pens, or USB drives. As reported in The Vaping Fix podcast, battery-powered products like Juul have been suggested as a safer form of smoking. They appear to be far from harmless. In Australia, it is illegal to sell electronic cigarettes that contain nicotine.
Read more: Lung diseases linked to vaping now have a name – and a probable cause. 5 things to know about EVALI
Vaping is on the rise
The growing popularity of electronic cigarettes, vaping devices, and heated tobacco have seen these products appear in popular movies and TV shows.
One of the earliest on-screen examples of electronic cigarette use comes from the 2010 film, The Tourist, which features Johnny Depp’s character using an electronic cigarette on a train.
The character of Kevin Spacey vapes in a luxurious room in the second season of House of Cards.
In 2014, a Canadian e-cigarette company reportedly paid for its product to be used by the female lead role, played by Milla Jovovich, in the film adaptation of Cymbeline.
At first glance, it looks like the vaping industry is just repeating the very successful tobacco marketing strategies of the past.
Since those early examples of on-screen e-cigarette use, the global tobacco industry has invested heavily in vaping products and their promotion. Exposure to the representations and images of vaping on social media platforms is widespread and includes paying high profile users to promote e-cigarettes and tobacco products.
On June 29, 2021, electronic cigarette maker Juul, in which tobacco giant Altria (parent company of Philip Morris USA) has a 35% stake, agreed to pay $ 40 million to the US state of North Carolina for alleged marketing to adolescents.
Read more: Vaping and e-cigarettes are glamorized on social media, putting young people at risk
From glamor to gritty
Unlike the first cinematic cigarettes, vaping in the popular and critically acclaimed television series Mare of Easttown is described as less than glamorous.
Kate Winslet is the main character. Mare is a small town detective who is haunted by a family tragedy and is part of a community affected by drug use, violence, limited health and social services, and poverty. She vapes in scenes of high stress and to escape conflicting situations.
Although Mare is a very likeable character, her vaping is described as an addiction, not a lofty activity. (Insiders say the vape was just an accessory and did not contain nicotine or tobacco.)
Mare also smokes a cigarette in the series, which is a realistic portrayal, as nearly 40% of US adult e-cigarette users also smoke. Its smoking is not described as desirable or fashionable, and the series’ themes make it a decidedly grown-up viewing.
This is in striking comparison to Winslet’s previous roles. In the 1997 film Titanic, her character Rose smokes using a thin cigarette holder as she wears the elegant dress and entourage of the luxury cruise liner.
Other recent high profile portrayals of on-screen vaping include Rosamund Pike’s character Marla in the movie I Care a Lot. His character once ran a failed vape business.
There is no evidence or suggestion that vaping at Mare of Easttown or I Care a Lot is directly sponsored by the vaping or tobacco industry. These particular representations can accurately reflect the reality of vaping and its growing popularity.
Can we regulate it?
Given Australia’s strict vaping product regulations, including advertising restrictions and a ban on the retail sale of any device that contains nicotine, no paid vaping product placement would be allowed in the content produced in Australia. However, much of the multimedia and entertainment content viewed in Australia is not produced here.
Likewise, although the paid placement of tobacco products or the sponsorship of media content produced in Australia would violate the Tobacco Advertising Ban Act 1992, this does not preclude the distribution of produced content. abroad, which may contain paid promotions, to be distributed here.
Tobacco representations, even those that glorify or encourage smoking, are permitted provided they are not endorsed or paid for by the tobacco industry. However, tobacco use may be taken into account by the Australian Classification Board when awarding a classification score.
Several policy solutions have been proposed to reduce the depictions of smoking on screens and these could also apply to the depictions of vaping. They include adult reviews on content that describes usage, certifying that no payment has been received for vaping performances, and not making vaping brands identifiable on screen.
With the changing tobacco and media landscape, it is essential that Australia keep pace with the advertising ban and promotion of all tobacco and vaping products.