Smoke R

I'll always remember my mother's keen sense of smell. If I just stepped into the foyer of one of my neighborhood friend's house, one whose parents smoked and who had a dog, she would know the second I set foot back in our house. Her asthma made her especially sensitive to such things, though she wasn't born with it. Her two older brothers teased her when they were kids, throwing a blanket over her and blowing smoke into it. As their teenage years fell behind them, they outgrew both smoking and teasing their kid sister. My mom only had asthma ahead of her, some seriously scary attacks. I remember being 8 or 9 years old and being picked up from religion class by the police because my mom was in the emergency room and my dad was still at work. I remember how hard pneumonia would hit her, and her long stays in the hospital. Over the years, asthma medication has greatly improved, and I couldn't say for sure when her last attack was. I definitely wasn't going to grow up to be a smoker, even if I wanted to. My first job once had an office party at which the boss handed out cigars, my first and last time voluntarily putting crap into my lungs. It was not for me. I remember going to clubs in college when people could smoke anywhere, coming home with my dry eyes tearing up and my clothes saturated with a smell that took two washings to remove.

There's some debate over at Newsarama about a proposal to give an R rating to any films depicting smoking. The columnist himself admits to that trait of human nature we all share, the desire to do the opposite when someone tells us not to do something. I found it interesting how many people agreed that smoking was unhealthy, but defended film's ability to depict it. It's not as though a ban is being proposed, and honestly, an R rating has never stopped kids from seeing much worse. If anything, I'd expect ticket sales to increase. Imagine the disappointed teenager expecting to see nudity, only to see a scene or two with a cigarette? I think that's hilarious.

Joe Quesada, Marvel's current editor-in-chief, made a decision a few years back that there would be no more smoking shown in their comics. Some fans were outraged that Wolverine, Thing, and Nick Fury would no longer be shown chomping down on their iconic cigars. Personally, I applaud that decision. I understand the addictive qualities of nicotine, and why it's so hard for people to quit. I recognize smoking as a method for coping with stress. I tend to turn to snacks, and not healthy ones either. But it always puzzled me as to what got people on their first cigarette before they had to have them constantly, no matter how expensive they got. These comic book characters were given their cigars as a way of showing that they were tough or cool, much the way heroes of Westerns, film noir, and other genres were shown. So the real question is, were these characters cool because they were smoking, or did smoking become cool because cigarettes were hanging out of the mouths of the Clint Eastwoods of the world? There's no question that smoking has been glamorized over the years, to the delight and profit of the tobacco industry. There was a time when doctors endorsed smoking.

The fact is, responsibility does lie with the parents, but the rating system can only help parents be more informed in deciding what they allow their children to see. Some see it as an infringement on our freedom, that it should be our decision if we do things that might harm ourselves. My friend Bill the trumpet player is an 83-year-old chain smoker with a raspy voice who defied the odds, as genetics do play a factor. Even if it hasn't killed him, it's certainly done some damage, and I'm sure the secondhand smoke wasn't good for those around him. He has respected my wishes not to smoke in the car when we drive him to various gigs, though we'll sometimes have to wait for him to either finish a cigarette, or extinguish it with his fingertips to save for later. I'm reminded of the effect the one Ring had on Gollum.

Cigarette smoking isn't going to become illegal any sooner than alcohol, and banning cigarettes would probably have the same effect as Prohibition. At the end of the day, it still comes down to an individual's decision whether or not he or she will start, and when to quit after crossing that first line. I don't have a problem with an R rating or at the very least a viewer discretion warning at the beginning of a movie. Smoking was depicted positively for so many decades, that the population isn't truly free to make an informed decision without all the facts, such as those provided by the outstanding and often terrifying Truth campaign. We all do things that are unhealthy, and though knowing what we're doing is bad for us doesn't always stop us, it's an important first step to at least think about it. I know I could use a vending machine with a mirror, or a scale that wouldn't let me buy anything if I exceeded a certain weight. That will never be invented, because the purpose of a vending machine is to sell snacks. Cigarettes are sold when characters are depicted smoking or their logos appear on racecars. Someone is always trying to sell us something; I'd just prefer to know up front what that something is...


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