This I Believe

Billy - Benton, Pennsylvania
Entered on April 22, 2009

The Media’s Portrayal of Tobacco

Tobacco is becoming more widely used over the past few decades and things are not slowing down yet. Doctors, nurses, parents, and adults always stress to younger children that tobacco of any kind are terrible for the human body and can cause many kinds of cancer. With this information at hand, why do movies and television shows portray people smoking cigarettes or cigars? Tobacco plays a role in many people’s lives on television and off, and I feel there is a correct time and an incorrect time to portray tobacco use on television, in movies, or in any kind of entertainment the media produces.

Parents stress the importance of not using tobacco and, five minutes later children will turn on the television and see Roger Clemens (NY Yankees pitcher) playing baseball with a mouth full of chewing tobacco in his mouth. I personally know when I was growing up around age ten or eleven, professional athletes were my idols. Some of them still are. If I were a parent, I might be worried by the fact that my child’s hero happens to be a baseball player who chews tobacco. I don’t think the media takes this idea into any consideration at all. If they were watching out for the younger children of this era, they wouldn’t zoom in on these baseball players who have huge wads or chewing tobacco stuffed in there lower lip. Why not say something to the camera staff, who are responsible for everything seen at these events, and ask them not to get close up images of the “chewers” for the children’s sake? Parents need to keep children away from tobacco products as long as possible and lead them to believe that their heroes are actually picture perfect and have no flaws. That is how a hero should be portrayed, not using a substance that could possibly harm him. I strongly believe this is something that should be looked at carefully by the media and possibly be changed with some sort of regulations about close ups on professional athletes participating with tobacco products of any kind.

The people that this kind of example affects the most are obviously children. Children ten to twelve are on the brink of making their own decisions based on what they know, what values they have learned, and examples of people they know. When I was twelve years old, all I could think about was being able to hunt with my dad. Twelve years old is the age that kids can get their first hunting license in most states. I was interested in all the hunting and fishing apparel around this age and was always trying to get my parents to agree to buy me things out of hunting magazines. My father actually subscribed to a Field and Stream magazine for me so I could get helpful tips and look at all the pictures of big game. Inside this magazine I would also find pictures of men with huge bucks, and underneath the picture, it would show an ad about “Grizzly” chewing tobacco. Being a young boy, that picture appealed to me and caught my attention with the big buck in the picture. I feel that putting these ads in magazines is really unnecessary. I know that my brother started reading these magazines when he was ten or eleven and he had questions about such ads.

No one in my immediate family has ever chewed tobacco so he really didn’t know what to think. When he asked me, I told him the truth. These types of pictures in magazines appeal to younger children and should not be put in such magazines for just this reason.

When I was younger, smoking looked cool and very inviting when the tobacco industry uses attractive women and cute labels and mascots such as Joe the Camel. They banned such mascots because they were being held accountable for the increasing smoking rate of younger children. Since they cannot use such mascots, or “lures” as Joe anymore, the industries could only continue to associate their product with popular television shows, attractive people in ads, and movies. Children warm up to the thought that these prestigious, important people they see and read about actually smoke and they may want to try it too.

I am against most of the acts of tobacco use in the media, yet there are some times in movies that actors or actresses need to prove a point somehow. At times, smoking a cigarette or cigar is the best way. You see this happen mostly in movies. For example, in a movie such as 2 Fast 2 Furious, the villain in the story lights up a cigar towards the end of his day. What can you gather from this piece of information? The villain is having a casual smoke, and it’s towards the end of the day, so he is probably relaxing. Without my saying anything, you can almost picture what he should look like. He has “important” written all over him, wearing his black suit and shiny shoes, smoking a huge cigar that barely fits in his mouth. At this time in the movie, a cigar somewhat adds to how slick, yet bold and conceited this man really is. This is one of those times when a tobacco product may actually be needed to get an idea across about a certain character.

Another example is of the Parent Trap, a movie about twins who were separated at birth then brought back together when they were about thirteen years old. They had a plan to bring their parents back together without telling their mother. When their mother found out, she went ballistic. Because she was so stressed, she lit up a cigarette and began to smoke. At this point in the movie, I feel that the screenwriter was trying to help us see how stressed and upset she was and that a cigarette might calm her nerves. Although there are better ways to calm yourself down, in the movies, a cigarette is the cheapest, easiest type of depressant to come by.

Everyone knows that tobacco products are harmful. The cartons you buy cigarettes in even say they could possibly cause cancer. Every can, carton, or box of cigarettes has a warning label on it; they are required to. I simply feel that tobacco can be harmful but I am not saying it should be wiped out of the media completely. I feel that it isn’t very necessary at athletic events or in ads. It has its enough effect on children just being around people who do it, and they don’t need any more influence on anything that will harm them. In certain cases, I feel that in some situations, cigars and/or cigarettes may be needed to make a point, such as in the movies I mentioned. Tobacco may play certain roles in people’s lives on television and off, but I feel there is a correct time and an incorrect time to portray tobacco use on television, in movies, or in any kind of media the press produces.