Why Constantine Can’t Smoke Shouldn’t be a Surprise

BREAKING! NBC’s chain-smoking protagonist, Constantine, isn’t actually going to be a chain smoker.

I’m a little concerned about the shock value this particular “news” is generating across the internet. Sure, this is pretty much the first time we’re hearing that our favorite mage can’t chain smoke like his comic book counterpart, officially. Unofficially, we all should have known this as soon as we heard NBC picked up the series. Let’s all take a stroll down memory lane on the portrayal of smoking on network television, shall we?

In 1964, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act was proposed Luther Leonidas Terry, the Surgeon General at the time. It required a health warning on cigarette packages, saying “Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined that Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health”. As a result, the Smoking Act also banned cigarette adverts on radio and television in the US. The bill was signed into law by President Nixon in 1970.

One of the major proponents of the Smoking Act was the Federal Communications Commission. Before the Smoking Act was signed, smoking in the media was already becoming a touchy subject as more and more people became cognizant of its adverse effects on people’s health. Their argument was that cigarette ads did not give equal air time to those with opposing views to lighting up. After the Smoking Act was signed into law, it took about a year to impose a cigarette ad ban in the media. The very last recorded cigarette ad aired January 1, 1971.

joe camel cassette tape coverFast forward to 1981, a simple warning on cigarette packages proved to have little effect, so the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act signed in 1984. This included detailed health risks, giving people more of a reason to avoid smoking, if they can help it. Sometime after that cigarette companies changed their advertising tactics to draw in fresh young customers. If you were a kid growing up in the late 80s to early 90s, then you’ll remember Joe Camel. Joe Camel in particular could be seen everywhere, from gas station t-shirts and trucker hats to cassette tape covers (I’m pretty sure I still have one of these covers in a box somewhere); he became as recognizable to youngsters as Mickey Mouse.

Furthermore, even though cigarette ads had already been banned from the media, smoking on television shows remained widespread. In 1991, studies saw a rise in smoking adolescents because of smoking on television and movies was still glorified among their favorite characters. In fact, we didn’t see the declining of smoking on network television and movies until the early 2000s.

Concerns about the possible influence of media portrayals of smoking on young people culminated in the declaration by the Motion Picture Association of America in May of last year stating that “all depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of an historic or other mitigating context may receive a higher rating.” — Christopher Gildemeister, “TV Stubs Out Smoking” (2008)

The MPAA, according to Gildemeister, further notes that “from July 2004 to July 2006, the percentage of films that included even a fleeting glimpse of smoking dropped from 60 percent to 52 percent” and fewer non-R-rated films showed any smoking at all. Network and cable television soon followed this trend of dropping the cigarettes almost completely.

There are still people smoking on television today; however, it’s very rare outside certain television shows on AMC based in the 60s. The exceptions usually involve unsympathetic or disreputable characters — cigarettes are the new black hats.

the smoking man
“Go ahead. Make my day.”

That’s the long and short of it all, why you don’t really see as much smoking today compared to some old movies or every other X-Files episode featuring the Smoking Man. While smoking or drinking alcohol (excessively on TV) isn’t illegal, they are usually frowned upon with about as much severity as your favorite grandma saying she’s disappointed in you and then withholds her homemade lemon bars. Yup, soul-crushing. So this shouldn’t come as a surprise that we won’t see Constantine down a pack of cigarettes a day. Saying this might be a little over-dramatic and unlikely, but allowing him to chain smoke could undo years of creating a stigma out of the act of smoking.

Consider this for a moment: Constantine has been outed to the public as a comic book character to the general, non-reading public. So naturally, those people are going to think it’s for the youths, right? Regardless of the fact that it’s not, we should nevertheless keep in mind that adolescents will watch Constantine, and they will think smoking is cool if he were allowed to continue this bad habit. Plus, is it really so bad that he’s not smoking on TV, anyway? We’re still dealing with having to hear about glorified violence on TV, movies, and video games. PLUS, we’re just now starting an argument about where e-cigarettes are appropriate. I don’t think we need another dumb headache like this, do you?

What does interest us is how the writers are going to deal with Constantine’s inability to smoke. They said they’re “working around that,” but what they mean isn’t entirely clear. Hmmmm…

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The Author

Christina Janke

Christina Janke

Host of Intro to Geek on Shauncastic.com. Her love of all things Mass Effect knows no bounds. She also carries an obsession with comic books, video games, and quirky television shows. Her heroes are Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Gail Simone, and hopes to be just like them when she grows up.