Today is the 36th Great American Smokeout. To those who have kicked the smoking habit, and to those who are trying, congratulations and continued success! We know that throughout its history, television has not made it easy for you. There have been frequent phases when images of cigarette-smoking were common on the little screen, not just in commercials but in shots of smoking being done by characters within episodes. Smoking on television has been portrayed in various lights, from making a character seem cool, to humorous, to villainous. Sometimes an actor would step out of character to pitch a particular brand of ciggy, and sometimes even the character him- or herself would enter full product-pitching mode.
Here are some memorable TV smokers of those different types who could have used a little Great American Smokeout intervention.
The Cigarette-Smoking Man (a.k.a. The Smoking Man) — The X-Files (pictured above). As portrayed by William B. Davis, Smoking Man became an epitome of the evil smoker, rarely seen not puffing away at a cig as he worked his sinister role in a large government conspiracy.
Patty & Selma Bouvier — The Simpsons. Much fun is had at the expense of these two spinster sisters of Marge Simpson, including frequent jokes about their ridiculous smoking habits. In one episode, it is revealed that while Selma is actually a blond, and Patty a redhead, their hair is tinged blue-grey because of cigarette smoke and ash.
Rod Serling — The Twilight Zone. Not a fictional TV character, Serling was himself as host of The Twilight Zone, although he did come across as a character of sorts — an all-knowing narrator who held the key to that mysterious title realm, introducing and closing each story in his trademark suit, and often holding a cigarette as he did so. Sadly, the longtime chain smoker ended up dying at the young age of 50 due to heart conditions.
Lucy & Desi — I Love Lucy. Truly showing how differently smoking was viewed in earlier generations, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz not only smoked in character on their classic sitcom, but also stepped out of character to do ads for their cigarette sponsor.
The Flintstones — I know, I know. The Flintstones didn’t smoke during their episodes (although if they did, I bet it would have been prehistorically punny brands like “Winstone” or “Marblebro”). But check out this hilarious product-pitching post-episode clip, similar to the Lucy and Desi one, which shows the cartoon characters unwinding after a tough day on the shoot with a few puffs.
Smoking Man: © FOX
Patty & Selma: ™ & © 1996 FOX BROADCASTING ™ & © 1996 THE SIMPSONS and TTCFFC ALL RIGHTS RESERVED