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What should I say to my kids about smoking in old movies and on old TV shows?
If you love old movies and classic TV shows, you know what fun it is to introduce them to your kids. But there's no getting around early Hollywood's glamorization of cigarette smoking.
This was no accident. Starting in the late 1920s, tobacco companies paid stars such as Bette Davis, John Wayne, and Humphrey Bogart to smoke their brands in movies. In the 1940s and '50s, tobacco companies were some of the biggest advertisers on television. Smoking became popular as fans and young stars emulated their idols. But after the surgeon general's 1964 warning about the dangers of smoking, Congress banned cigarette advertising on TV and radio, and eventually the Motion Picture Association of America added smoking to its ratings criteria. Since then, many movie studios have adopted anti-tobacco policies.
Here are some ideas for talking about smoking in old movies and on old TV shows:
Make it simple. Explain to younger kids that doctors discovered smoking was bad for you after those shows were made. At around age 8, kids can understand historical context and that "things were different then."
Trace the progress. Talk about it as you would anything else that's now been deemed dangerous (characters riding in cars without seatbelts), inappropriate (male bosses leering at their female secretaries), or wrong (racial stereotypes).
Talk about famous actors who succumbed to cancer. Bette Davis, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, and many more famous smokers all died of cancer.