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What Do Actors Actually Smoke in Movies?

While smoking is a dangerous habit, there is something about it that instantly makes a person feel cool. This is especially true when the character is supposed to be rebellious, famous, or just super cool. That’s why it’s common in movies to see someone playing a character with that description smoking a cigarette. The question is, are the cigarettes smoked on film sets real?

When you see actors smoking cigarettes in movies, they usually smoke something called Herbal Cigarettes, which contain herbs rather than tobacco, such as lettuce or tea leaves.

How Did Actors Smoke in Films?

When tobacco and cigarettes first appeared, one of the most effective ways to promote them was to portray an actor or character who would enjoy smoking them. Viewers will feel compelled to emulate the actor or their coolness, leading them to purchase cigarettes. It was such an effective method of product placement that whenever a film crew needed cigarettes for a scene, they’d call a cigarette company and request an entire box. When you saw an actor smoking in a movie during this period, it meant that they were using an actual cigarette that had been sent to them.

However, after a settlement agreement between cigarette companies and specific state governments in 1988, the laws began to change. This resulted in the prohibition of not only the appearance of real cigarettes on screens but also the concept of product placement in cigarette advertisements. That meant that whenever a character needed to get a cigarette, it would be a phony one.

At the same time, health advocates began to recognize how unhealthy cigarettes were and began to influence more and more movies, not only going smoke-free but also preventing the appearance of any cigarettes on screen, particularly if they were rated G, PG, or PG-13, to avoid the risk of the younger generation associating cigarettes with coolness and wanting to emulate their idols. (Source: Film Ink)

Are Cigarettes Sometimes Just a Prop in Movies and Shows? 

In some cases, a cigarette would be used as a prop, whether herbal or tobacco-based. You’d see an actor holding it in their hand, but not always smoking it. This was especially true for children who took on rebellious roles.

Natalie Portman was only 12 years old when she starred in the film Leon aka The Professional, and to prevent her from developing a smoking habit; her character was only seen holding a cigarette and never inhaling it. To ensure that Portman’s health was not jeopardized, her parents agreed that she would not only be seen holding a cigarette only five times during the film, without ever inhaling it but that her character would also quit smoking at some point during the film.

This was done to protect Portman’s health and send a positive message to children of that age, who could easily idolize Portman and follow in her footsteps. To make it appear realistic, a cigarette would be cut to the size required at various points throughout

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