Smoking In the 80's
The world has changed in a big way over the last 30 years. Aside from the fact that cell phones are smaller and so are the hairstyles, there has been a major shift in the way we view what is acceptable behavior in the world at large. One major change is the general attitude regarding smoking cigarettes in public.
Is it just me, or does it seem like smokers are few and far between these days? Even 3rd graders know the dangers of second hand smoke, which makes busting out your pack of “cancer sticks” in public a frowned upon activity. Hopefully this means people are making healthier choices for themselves, but do you remember when smokers were such a majority that they actually commanded their own sections in restaurants? It was just part of the experience to have the hostess ask your parents, “Did you want smoking or non-smoking?” Nowadays there is no choice, it’s just, “You want a cigarette? Take it outside!”
As crazy as it is to think about now, smokers used to be catered to in most public places. Just think about how many ashtrays you saw as a kid. In every restaurant, concave metal or plastic discs were set out next to your salt and pepper shakers as a part of the décor. I always liked the dark amber colored style that seemed like it could do some damage if hurled at someone. It was also common to see these stone pillars or tops of trash cans with grey sand in them for people to discard their used butts.
When you went to the bathroom there were cigarette dispensing machines just outside the door with tobacco industry icon Joe Camel staring at you while decked out in his Don Johnson from Miami Vice outfit. These machines were a source of fascination to my young mind. The lit glass was like a pinball machine, then you had all these levers to pull and get your “prize”. I didn’t know what tobacco was, but these little wrapped presents with animals on them sure looked enticing.
Speaking of which, you couldn’t pick up an issue of People magazine in the 80s without being bombarded with 2 to 3 cigarette ads filled with colorful characters, which is ironic because I usually found myself flipping through those glossy pages at the Doctor’s office. It always seemed to me like these ads could have been for anything from soda to destination vacations, but they just shoved a cigarette in people’s hands as if to say, “It’s the most essential part of the fun”. Away from magazine racks, billboards on the highways touted the pleasures of tobacco fueled fun and so did auto manufacturers.
Do you recall when a standard part of the family car was metal ash tray with a flip-up lid and often even incorporated as part of the backseat door design. Today kids would just think of them as holders to set your Smart phone in and even the “cigarette lighter” is actually just a place to plug in your charger nowadays. But do you remember when you could actually push the knob in and 30 seconds later pull out a mini branding iron? Seriously, giving convenience to smokers was such an essential part of the sales process, that no thought was given to the fact that kids could get a hold of the thing and start marking people for life with circular burn scars.
Even our favorite movies were filled with cigarette smoking characters. Just think about the original Ghostbusters and that scene where Ray is hunting Slimer with that cigarette hanging from his lips. Then there’s Venkman and Winston (he was even named after a brand of cigarettes) who were found puffing away in several scenes as well. Think of your favorite action movie stars like Bruce Willis and how often their characters could be found feeding their nicotine craving while busting bad guys. Arnold was always chomping on a cigar in his films and he was still made the Chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness!
Even kids in movies were smoking and not in the Public Service Announcement, “smoking is bad” kind of way. In The Monster Squad, cool guy Rudy’s establishing shot is him striking a match on the bottom of his shoe and lighting a cigarette. Even when it was being presented as something messed up kids do, it still put that image in our minds. I mean, who can forget the memorable scene in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie where Sam Rockwell offered us "Regular or Menthol?" The Foot Clan kids seemed to be gaining emphysema along with Ninja prowess.
I remember the news reports in the mid 90’s when it was announced that smoking in restaurants was going to be declared illegal. I recall thinking, “You can do that?” It wasn’t long before the waft of smoke I used to inhale from the safety of the “non-smoking” section of Bob’s Big Boy was nothing but a faint odor of years gone by. Soon the only place I saw cigarettes were behind the counter at the drug store, carefully locked away behind plexi-glass.
I should mention that I only have one relative I know of that smokes and I grew up in California, which is probably one of the most health conscious states out in the USA, so I know my views are skewed. But tell me, what have you noticed about the rise or decline of smoking in popular culture?