Daryl Hannah Wants the Movies to Quit Smoking

Public health advocates have tried for years, but now celebs are taking matters into their own hands. As the Oscars approach, the Splash star is backing an anti-cigarette flick that shows screenwriters how to break the habit.


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

Follow Fast Company on Twitter.


[Image: Flickr user John Antoni Griffiths]


About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.