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Hollywood's love affair with smoking still going strong

Critics say young viewers paying the price

August 26, 1997
Web posted at: 5:33 a.m. EDT (0933 GMT)

From Correspondent Sherri Sylvester

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LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- It's a habit that even Hollywood can't kick. Almost every actor and actress has been seen lighting up in the movies.

Worried about the continued popularity of smoking, the American Lung Association recently asked a group of teens to tally up the numbers by watching some 133 recent features. The results were astounding.

"Of 133 movies, they saw tobacco in some way in 77 percent of the movies," says Andrew Weisser of the ALA.

Washington believes that's sending the wrong signals to young viewers. Even Hillary Clinton has been critical of tobacco use in one of the summer's hottest hits, "My Best Friend's Wedding."

Actress Julia Roberts is not alone in her penchant for chain smoking. The aliens of "Men In Black" pack Marlboros and the character Hades in "Hercules" smokes, as do actors in "G.I. Jane," "Cop Land" and "Face/Off."

"They really should be ashamed of themselves. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Julia Roberts, Jeff Goldblum, Will Smith, making smoking look really cool. Teens look at our movie stars and they model themselves after them," says anti- smoking activist Patrick Reynolds.

Responsible for actions?

Some actors refuse to take the heat.

"I can't take moral responsibility when it comes to the character," says Matt Dillon. "If the character would, I would."

"If individuals are so gullible that if they see a celebrity smoking that they think that's cool, that's a problem with the individual. That's a problem with the way society reveres celebrities and puts them on an unwanted pedestal," adds Glenn Kenny, senior editor of Premiere magazine.

Not to be left out, Alicia Silverstone puffs on camera in her new movie, "Excess Baggage." Her director says art is imitating life, not the other way around.

"There's a lot of anger and a lot of frustration and anxiety towards authority, towards parents, towards relationships, and part of her is self-destructive, so her smoking and drinking are just natural ways of expressing herself," director Marco Bramilla says of Silverstone's angst-ridden character.

Cigarettes also seem the prop of choice for John Travolta, who's seen smoking on screen in several films.

"We need to tell our young people, 'Hey, smoking kills.' It is as addicting as heroin, and movie actors who smoke are being irresponsible," Reynolds argues.

'A bad example'

There are movie stars who agree.

"Unfortunately, it's becoming romantic in films again," says Brooke Shields.

"It gives you cancer; it kills you," adds Isabella Rossellini.

"I have played characters who smoke, and I don't want to consciously do it again," says actor Gabriel Byrne. "It's a bad example."

Movie studios insist they don't accept product placement money for cigarettes. But the Clinton administration is concerned about the proliferation of the product. Al Gore meets with movie-makers on the issue next month.

Meanwhile, 3,000 kids a day are lighting up for the first time.

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