Throughout the 20th century, you could easily identify the “cool character” in any movie or television show just by spotting one specific accessory: a cigarette.

photo: Giphy

Think John Travolta as Danny Zuko in “Grease.”

Essentially a “character” all its own, cigarettes projected a sense of confidence and ease — no words necessary.

photo: Giphy

From Clint Eastwood as Blondie in the 1966 film “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” to Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke in 1998’s “Fear and Loathing,” any character marketed as "cool" smoked cigarettes.

But in the late 1990s, that changed.

In 1998, the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was implemented by 46 states to prevent tobacco companies from sponsoring TV shows, which immediately led to a decrease in cigarettes’ screen time.

The Screen Actors Guild also adopted very strict guidelines about smoking on-set, and by 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America began taking the presence of smoking into account when issuing film ratings.

Cigarettes suddenly became less frequent in films and on television.

Putting out a cigarette

And the cigarettes that *happened* to make it on-screen were actually fake.

For its entertainment series “Faking It,”Refinery 29 spoke to various executive producers who revealed actors and actresses often use tobacco-free “herbal cigarettes” instead of the real deal to get around those strict SAG guidelines. 

(However, these “fake cigs” still come with health risks. The herbal cigarettes still emit smoke, which affects the on-set air and atmosphere. As Refinery 29 pointed out, very little research has been done on herbal cigarettes' effect on a person's body. In the end, smoking herbs is still smoking.)

Any time actual cigarettes appeared on-air, they were used to remind viewers how bad smoking is on the body.

photo: Giphy

Because tobacco companies were prohibited from sponsoring entertainment projects, only the "bad side" of cigarettes got airtime. 

Rather than promote cigarettes, more and more advertisements aimed to shock and dissuade impressionable viewers from picking up a pack.

However, there’s been a sudden uptick in “cool boys” smoking cigarettes.

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Recently, there has been an increase in cigarette smoking in Hollywood — and rather than make smoking seem unhealthy, these smokers are making cigarettes look "cool" again.

Actors like Cole Sprouse, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Allen White, and Bill Skarsgård are seldom seen without their cigarettes.

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Hamm once admitted he had to smoke 74 cigarettes just filming the pilot of “Mad Men" alone. 

Some fans can't even recognize characters without their cigarettes.

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Cigarettes and White's "Shameless" character Lip Gallagher go hand-in-hand. 

Even worse: This trend is also gaining popularity within the music industry.

Ed Sheeran smoking a cigarette
photo: Twitter

Some artists think cigarettes add to their image.

(Peep Ed Sheeran's cigarette above.)

Whether it's unintentional or not, these actors make cigarettes look appealing, even though they themselves are not actually smoking.

photo: Giphy

Thanks to the entertainment industry’s strict on-set smoking rules, these actors can't smoke real cigarettes in scenes — even when their characters are smokers. 

So essentially, these actors are presenting cigarettes to viewers as a token of coolness, *without* actually subjecting themselves to the full health risks.

(However, as evidenced by his Instagram, Cole Sprouse definitely still smokes cigarettes off-set.)

But the revival of cigarettes is a harmful blast from the past.

Over the past decade, cigarette smoking has been on the decline. 

But unfortunately, thousands of young people start smoking cigarettes every day, and while these actors are not physically handing viewers the lighter (or even lighting up themselves), using cigarettes to make a character look cool only adds to smoking's appeal. 

However, smoking is a deadly habit, and there's nothing "cool" about that.