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Daryl Hannah Wants the Movies to Quit Smoking

She once lived half on land and half in water—now she's attempting something possibly even more difficult. Daryl Hannah has jumped on board the fight to make movies "socially responsible" by challenging budding filmmakers to reconsider portraying smoking on screen—just in time for the Oscars. (Celebrity endorsements for causes seems to be a theme this week.) The actress perhaps best known for the movie Splash and for her, um, enthusiastic approach to activism, helped produce a short film that educates other filmmakers about the societal impact of smoking in the movies. The film, Redefining Cool, was launched by Legacy, which is the same organization that produced the groundbreaking, comprehensive "truth" campaign, a multimedia anti-smoking effort targeted at youth.

"I have a real understanding of the insidious and addictve nature of tobacco as well as the powerful influence of the ubiquitous images we are inundated by in the media. I have many friends who have battled with tobacco addiction. I have even struggled with it myself when I started smoking for a role that required me to smoke and it was really difficult to break the habit after 5 months of smoking regularly," Hannah tells Fast Company.

"I even tried going to a hypnotist to help me quit. That wasn’t the answer for me. I ended up getting acupuncture, which gave me a kick-start and then I white knuckled it." 

Banning smoking in movies is hot these days—even China is on a quest to abolish smoking from the silver screen. In the United States a number of efforts have been made in the public health community—proponents even went so far as to propose a rating system for smoking scenes, the same way movies are rated for sex or violence.

But Legacy's approach goes straight to the heart of the matter. Including smoking scenes is often decided by the filmmakers themselves, so Legacy is targeting film students, the very people who will include or not such scenes in the future. At one point Redefining Cool depicts a screenwriter at work and we see the writer type "Jake nervously lights a cigarette," and then delete and re-type: "Jake nervously drums with hands." It's a slight tweak, but it could have a big impact.

"The entertainment industry plays an enormous role in encouraging teens to start smoking by showing 'cool' actors smoke on screen. And it’s important that young filmmakers know the  power and influence their descisions can wield," says Hannah.

"For decades, cigarettes have been an easy but deadly prop to convey drama, rebellion, mystery. Filmmakers can convey all those things and more by using their creative skills and save thousands of teens from becoming lifelong smokers and from possibly dying from it."

Every year 180,000 teens start smoking because of exposure to smoking in the movies. And of those young smokers, 60,000 will ultimately die prematurely from tobacco-related complications.

With that in mind, Redefining Cool highlights the history of smoking in films: 54% of the top-grossing movies in 2009, for example, contained smoking scenes. Among young smokers, 44% pick up the habit because of their exposure to smoking scenes in the movies.

"The Film industry is loaded with visionaries and trend-setters.  I think making conscience choices like not glamorizing smoking is a simple but wildly impactful way we can help change social norms and save lives," says Hannah. "There is so much magic and influence in filmmaking.  Audiences can be spellbound, horrified, moved to laughter and tears.  This next generation of filmmakers should know they not only have the power to do all that but they also have the power to influence behavior long after people walk out of the theatre."

Read more of our 2011 Academy Awards coverage

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[Image: Flickr user John Antoni Griffiths]

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  • Don Jarrell

    Interesting interpersonal conflict here. I hate to see young people start smoking, who have no idea why/when they'll decide it's a bad idea or how difficult it is to quit. And, I *wish* smoking were not portrayed as an enticing thing in movies. However, at what may be a more robust fundamental level, I believe and support that:
    - a convenient attack on one factor in a problem, while ignoring others, is intellectually unsound (like voice calls on cell phones as "distraction while driving")
    - governments and industries should not mandate such things
    - arguments, even the ones where I share the intended outcome, should not be propagated on unsubstantiated blather like the statistics here

    So, I say ignore Ms. Hannah, evn if she is lovely to look at and a celebrity.

  • Keith Kelly III

    It's unfortunate that Daryl Hannah hasn't managed to get Daryl Hannah banned from movies.

    I grew up with smoking everywhere. Everyone in my immediate family smoked, it was on TV, it was in movies, etc. Media never made me want to pick up a cigarette. Family never made me want to pick up a cigarette. I started smoking at the tender age of 23, for two reasons:

    1. It gave me something to do with my hands besides constantly fidget (which was a relief)
    2. It was a far simpler social lubricant than alcohol (again, a relief; I used to suffer from a severe lack of social skill)

    I smoked Reds (for those of the smoking parlance) and the nicotine was a nice kick at the bar at 2 AM or lagging at 8:30 AM when work started. At most I smoked 2 to 4 cigarettes a day, so this wasn't a constant thing.

    I genuinely enjoyed the act of smoking. Not the nicotine or whatever else is in cigarettes; I liked the physical act of having my hands occupied. It's weird, I'm sure.

    I quit, however, about three years later. Why? Because I moved to a smoker-hostile city on the west coast and started dating someone with asthma. It was an easy and simple choice. I do occasionally wish I still smoked, typically when I start to fidget or can't clear the haze of sleep from my head in the morning.

    Smoking is something people do. That's why it's in movies. I highly doubt removing it from movies will cause a drop in the number of people who pick up the habit annually. Perhaps instead of spending millions on advertising to get smoking removed from our culture, that money could be spent trying to make cigarettes less habit forming or "better" for people in general.

  • XSportSeeker

    Banning it makes no sense. A rating system or recommendation not to use it if could be replace by something else, ok.
    Censorship and unawareness (read ignorance) leads to nothing.
    I dunno what's the thing these days that people want to impose censorship to everything.
    Perhaps some people need to live under dictatorships to understand the true meaning of freedom.
    We have movies with murder, drugs, random sex scenes and all sorts of deviant behaviour.
    Also, like it or not, smoking is a part of history.
    Finally, I can think of tons of other bad examples set by characters on movies that are far more harmful than smoking.
    What kid needs these days is proper education. And for that, they need to know the society they are going to be living in.

  • Rob Turner

    I'm really anti smoking and even I think this is dumb. I want movies to be realistic, people smoke in real life. There are plenty of dangerous things in movies, should we ban shooting, violence and fighting from movies?

  • Todd Singleton

    I remember Hannah smoking in both Wall St. and The Pope of Greenwich Village. If smoking is part of the characters role it should not be eliminated. Instead of a bunch of ex-cons sitting in a bar smoking, drinking and planning a heist they can all be sharing cream puffs while they plot to get rid of a body.

  • Chris Reich

    The purge is on! Why not redact smoking from all books as well? Burning said books would create second hand smoke which would kill exactly 2,321,926 people. Can't prove that but I needed a shocking statistic.

    I do know for a fact that the number of teens who start smoking as a direct result of seeing someone smoke in a movie is exactly 181,368 in 2010.

    What about all the other long term damage Hollywood does to our highly impressionable youth? Sexualizing kids by glorifying quick and thoughtless sex puts a lot of young women in the category of "single mom" who are at the very bottom of the economic ladder. I'll bet that has life expectancy consequences as well. Ever notice how many of those you, single moms smoke?

    Chris Reich


  • Dan Sloan

    wasnt Ms Hannah smoking in Kill Bill?
    and didnt she tell Bill to smoke a joint or something?

    guess she only wants to ban smoking in movies when she isnt making any money from it

  • Richard Presley

    How do we know that movies cause 180,000 teens to start smoking? How does this compare with teens who start smoking but don't attend movies. And what of the teens who attend movies and don't smoke? Seems pretty irresponsible to blame movies for a complex social phenomenon. And if 180,000 teens start smoking because of movies, does that mean we will see 180,000 fewer new smokers when the ban goes into effect? Let's just say I'm not holding my breath.