From a poster on IMDb's "The Man Who Wasn't There"
In the 1940's the vast majority of adult Americans smoked. My mother was in her teens and twenties during that decade and was a stubborn exception. She was something of a curiosity and was constantly asked why she didn't smoke. She gave all the (now familiar) reasons that to her seemed obvious: health, expense, smell, fire hazard, etc.. A typical response from other women was, "but what do you do with your hands?" The typical response from men was something along the lines of "what a tedious killjoy you are".
Smoking was seen as healthful, an affirmation of maturity, and above all "stylish", the '40's notion of anything today termed "cool". Many social expressions were involved in the intricacies of the physical act of smoking. A whole culture of expression existed around the acts of retrieving a cigarette, preparing it for lighting, lighting it, inhaling the first puff, exhaling the smoke, holding the cigarette, tapping ash, repeated puffs, and finally stubbing, crushing, dropping, stamping out the butt. By the 1940's cigarette smoking was not only a personal act but also a social and cultural act.
Cigarettes of the 1940's were nearly all unfiltered so the smoker "dry-lipped" the end of the cigarette while smoking it. Slightly exaggerating the dry lipping made the person look tough, sort of like Humphrey Bogart's contentious and slightly contemptuous demeanor. Often a flake of tobacco would stick to the lip that would have to be plucked off and flicked away. This, too, was considered stylish among males, but not so much among females.
Along these lines, one of the reasons for developing filtered cigarettes was so that women could purse out their lips instead of tucking them in as the cigarette was held between the lips. Women preferred to look pouty with full lips rather than thin-lipped tough. Another reason women adopted filtered cigarettes was due to their "sensitive throats". With smoking, women's voices became gravelly and deepened from soprano to alto, from alto to tenor and even to baritone. So partly for these reasons filtered cigarettes were considered effeminate until the 1950's issue of the first US Surgeon General's report about the ill-effects of tobacco smoking. Only then did tobacco companies begin generalized marketing of filters as a health feature of their products.
It's not hard to imagine a time in the future when social anthropologists will be explaining in historical documentaries the phenomenon of smoking during the 20th century. Won't it be a hoot when people turn to one another after seeing such a documentary and say, "wow... I wonder how crazy a society has to be to have something as weird as THAT get so fully implanted in it!?" Based simply on the fact that the thread op posted the question about so much smoking, I'd say that day may be closer than we think. And that's a good thing.
And we may be closer than we think to the elimination of smoking in movies, or perhaps a mandatory minimum rating of "R" for any movie that depicts smoking.
It would be interesting to think about whether the Dollars films would have been less popular if TMWNN had not had his toscano. (I'm sure we all know the story of how Eastwood hated smoking it, and after FOD, when he agreed to sign on for FAFDM, he asked Leone if he could please not smoke the cigar in that movie; to which Leone responded, "the cigar is playing the lead!") Ditto for cigarettes and Bogie's movies, and other films noir.
In those movies, you never see anyone ask a smoker to put out a cigarette (in very rare cases, you see someone say "may I smoke?" But the answer was invariably "yes.") I wonder whether that was the case in real life as well, or whether in real life anyone actually asked someone not to smoke around them? I know people pretty much smoked anywhere they wanted to (and that was not just in the 40's, but probably well into 80's; I recall Shelley Duvall smoking right next to the little boy in The Shining
, from 1980).
But what I cannot understand is, even though they were not (fully) aware of how dangerous smoking was, were some people not physically irritated
by someone blowing smoke in their faces? Did ANYONE ever ask someone to put out a cigarette in real life, or was it like the movies where people were not physically irritated by smoke? Though today we are far more aware of the dangers to health, people today aren't physically different than they were 70 years ago, so I imagine that if people today are physically irritated by smoke, people 70 years ago should have been as well.
Or, perhaps a big part of the reason that people today are often physically irritated by smoke is because they are aware of the health risk, but if they were unaware of a health risk, the possibility of physical irritation would never cross their minds?