Guest Column

A recent conference call brought together many of the most militant anti-smoking advocates across America. I was startled to hear that one area of discussion was the picketing and boycott of movies featuring movie stars who have a history of smoking onscreen.

“There is a growing feeling that it’s time to take the gloves off,” a participant in the conference call said to me afterwards. “Women’s cancer rates, for example, are skyrocketing, as are the rates of new women smokers. Yet we’ve got two of the biggest women stars in the world smoking in one movie after another.”

Why do movie stars smoke onscreen when they know that five thousand kids under the age of 18 try their first cigarette each day?

Why do they do it when they know that 10,000 people die tobacco-related deaths each day?

Why do they do it when they know that the tobacco companies view them as their best form of advertising?

Why do they do it even while claiming to be sensitive, compassionate humanitarians imbued with social conscience?

Some people believe that movie stars smoke onscreen because they are paid off by the tobacco companies. I don’t believe that. Others think they smoke onscreen because actors will grab any prop – even a lethal one – to aid a performance. I don’t believe that, either.

As a recovering smoker who has learned all too painfully what the experts have said all along – that nicotine is more addictive than heroin – I believe stars smoke onscreen because they are so addicted that they can’t stop smoking – not even for the brief spurts which it takes to shoot a scene.

I believe they are so desperate to feed their own addiction that they block themselves from thinking about the lives they are harming.

I know from working with them that movie stars aren’t moral monsters. They don’t mean to poison, maim or kill anyone. They are guilty of lethal hubris and homicidal narcissism.

But while they are killing themselves with every puff they take, they are also killing millions of others who are bedazzled and seduced into addiction by watching them in movie theatres.

They escalate the concept of second-hand smoke to horrifying genocidal levels.

I have written a lot of words through the years for a lot of movie stars, but I hope those of them who smoke onscreen take these words to heart:

Since my recent announcement of my own smoking-related cancer, I have been made aware that a great many hard-eyed, unforgiving people hold you responsible for their loved ones’ addictions, illnesses or deaths. They form an underground network of the grieving and the vengeful. Some of them are moved less by social conscience than by vigilante fervor.

If you smoke onscreen, your livelihood may ultimately be threatened. Your addiction to cigarettes may first tarnish your public image, then cut into your personal income.

Even the best Hollywood PR people may have difficulty sheltering you from a nationally coordinated series of pickets and boycotts.

Please understand as well that in a litigious age, it may only be a matter of time until you are personally sued for contributing to the addiction/injury/death of a cancer victim who began watching you onscreen. You may wind up on the nightly news sitting in a courtroom surrounded by your alleged victim’s grieving family.

In an increasingly star-driven Hollywood, no one can tell a movie star what to do. I know that no director or studio head has the power to tell you not to smoke in a movie if you insist on doing so. But I’ll tell you this:

You’ll be a hero in real life, not just in a movie, if you stop spreading your uniquely deadly kind of second-hand smoke.

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