What Do Actors Actually Smoke In Movies and Television Shows?

Watch any movie from the 1940s or 1950s and you’ll notice that almost everyone smoked. Lighting up in a restaurant, a hospital waiting room, or even in a movie theater was commonplace. Smoking is often used in acting to flesh out a character or setting, particularly to signify a sense of sophistication, historical authenticity, or rebelliousness. Throughout Hollywood cinematic history, actors smoked real tobacco products on set because most of them smoked in real life. Humphrey Bogart, Rita Hayworth, Bette Davis, James Dean, and Marlene Dietrich are just some of the big-name stars known to have performed with a real cigarette in hand. The ban on broadcast advertising of smoking and tobacco products in the 1970s caused an immediate, notable decrease in onscreen smoking, but it didn’t prevent the studios and networks from having actors smoke. What it did change was what they were smoking. Today, actors usually approximate smoking onscreen with prop movie cigarettes, or cigarettes that don’t contain tobacco or nicotine. These herbal cigarettes usually contain marshmallow root, passion flower, cloves, or jasmine. Actors who have never smoked before have to use their acting chops to make their herbal cigarette smoking look like they’re old hands at puffing. They also have to learn to hide their grimace. Following his extensive use of prop cigarettes while filming the AMC drama Mad Men, actor Jon Hamm said that the burning herbal concoction tastes like "a mix of pot and soap.” Because they lack nicotine, prop cigarettes are thought to be less addictive than real cigarettes, but their external appearance is nearly identical to the real thing.