Vaping poses fewer health risks than cigarettes, but is it also less iconic? Over the last 100 or so years, we’ve been bombarded with unforgettable scenes on the big screen featuring tobacco smoke. Think of all those film noir flicks with white plumes rising under streetlamps, or the cigar clenched between Clint Eastwood’s teeth in The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Would an e-cig have the same effect?
Vaping in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?
Smoking means different things in different movies. For some, it’s a way to escape. For others, it’s about being present in the moment. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas somehow combines the two. The main characters use every substance under the sun to heighten their experience of the world, often going through the looking glass in the process.
Removing the ungodly amount of drugs in this cult classic would probably kill its message, but also save the protagonist from a few headaches. Swapping out hallucinogens for e-cigs would have calmed those high-powered mutants down — not to mention the bundles of cash they’d save, buying e-juice instead of mescaline.
Alongside substance abuse, addictions, and flat-out illegal business ventures, smoking tobacco is one of the less dangerous vices in this indulgent capitalist paradise. But if Jordan Belfort was to turn his back on drugs and start vaping instead, he might have been a completely different person. In a parallel vaping universe, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character apologizes to his wife, gives all his money to charity, and lives happily ever after.
It’s a well-known fact that Leo is an e-cig user. If the character he was playing had done the same, he would have experienced less anxiety and maybe, just maybe, he would’ve become the benevolent billionaire we’ve all been waiting for.
Vaping in Breakfast at Tiffany’s?
The image of Audrey Hepburn with a cigarette in a holder is a cinematic icon, with feminist ideals at its core. But the link between female empowerment and smoking has a chequered history. Edward Bernays, the father of PR, used feminism to get women smoking, so the cigarette was both a tool for freedom and a win for big business. So while we admire Hepburn’s character for reclaiming the cigarette, it’s hard to view it as a truly defiant act.
Vaping, on the other hand, is defiant by its very nature. For smokers trying to quit, it’s a middle finger to big tobacco. For hobbyists, it flies in the face of the mainstream media, who are keen to peddle bogus claims that it’s as dangerous as smoking. So, if Holly Golightly was reimagined today, it’s not hard to picture that slender hand holding a vape pen, instead of a cigarette.
The poster for this classic Quentin Tarantino film is one of the most iconic in cinema history: Uma Thurman, lying on her front, smoking a cigarette. Simple, yet memorable. But if it had been a vape pen in her hand, it could have been even better. A vape pen with a high voltage would have generated a more impressive plume of vapor, making the image a whole lot moodier.
Pulp Fiction looks at some of the extremes of existence, so it’s natural that the characters within would be somewhat self-destructive. I just can’t help but think that poor Marvin wouldn’t have been shot in the face if Vincent vaped instead of smoked. That’s not to say vapers are naturally better people, but showing a little concern for his own body might have made him more empathetic to others.
Smoking in Every Film Noir in History
“Everybody in film noir is always smoking”, so says film critic Robert Ebert. There’s something about the pessimism of the genre that suits smoking perfectly. We’ve all got a clichéd image in our heads of a detective standing under a streetlight with a cigarette in hand. It just seems to fit, right?
Vaping, too, provides a contrast that film noir thrives on. It can also dictate the tone and tension of a film. If we are confronted with a character that vapes, it immediately suggests depth. Did they previously smoke? If so, what made them stop? Or are they vaping for another reason?
Choosing vaping over cigarettes creates a backstory that directors can exploit to great ends. Picture the scene: a beautiful young man and woman sit down for dinner at a jazz bar. One pulls out a cigarette. The other reveals a vape pen. Straight away, we’ve created tension between the characters that can go any place the director chooses.
Simple stuff like that can change a way we interpret films. The next few decades will surely throw up more characters that choose e-cigs over tobacco. We’ve taken a look through old movies that could have been different, so let’s sit tight and see where the world of cinematic vaping takes us.