The superspy has kicked the habit, but the same can’t be said of the people around him.
By Tom Jacobs
Australian actor George Lazenby, who plays James Bond on On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, offers co-star Helena Ronee a light. (Photo: Larry Ellis/Express/Getty Images)
The name is Bond. (Cough) James Bond. (Cough, cough)
The enduring 007 spy-movie franchise isn’t known for its rigorous realism. But if it was, that’s probably the way the legendary secret agent would introduce himself today.
After all, when he was younger, the guy smoked like a chimney.
In an article just published in the BMJ journal Tobacco Control, New Zealand-based researchers Nick Wilson and Anne Tucker analyze tobacco-related behavior in all 24 James Bond films, from 1962’s Dr. No to 2015’s Spectre.
They find the films reflect their respective eras’ views of cigarette smoking, with the amount of such activity decreasing over the decades. Nevertheless, they report only one Bond movie — 2006’s Casino Royale — has “no smoking-related imagery at all,” and conclude that the series’ “persisting smoking content remains problematic from a public-health perspective.”
Not surprisingly, the debonair spy smoked most frequently in the 1960s, puffing away in 82 percent of the films released during the decade (including in bed, while driving, and “even while flying a hang glider”). He lit up early and often, enjoying his first cigarette 18 or 19 minutes into the film, on average.
Bond gradually kicked the habit in subsequent decades, however, and hasn’t smoked at all on screen since 2002’s Die Another Day. While his smokin’ (in a metaphorical sense) sexual partners also became less interested in cigarettes over the years, at least one of his lovers was still inhaling as late as 2012’s Skyfall.
“Such smoking would have meant high levels of secondhand smoke exposure for Bond, especially with post-coital smoking,” the researchers note. Fortunately for him, they add, his exposure was limited by “the typically brief nature of his relationships.”
But smoking hasn’t always been portrayed as sexy in these films. In 1967’s You Only Live Twice, “a villain using a covert x-ray to look for hidden weapons on Bond’s person proffered the advice: ‘You should give up smoking. Cigarettes are very bad for your chest.’”
Anti-tobacco messages can also be found in several subsequent films, including a scene in 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies in which Bond calls smoking “a filthy habit.”
“Bond’s smoking behavior seemed at odds with his need for physical fitness,” the researchers note. “But it does fit with a possible perception of a low life expectancy, given a cumulative total of thousands of bullets being fired at him, and … a very high intake of martinis.”
The most recent film in the series, Spectre, contains “no smoking by major associates of Bond,” they add. “But there was still smoking by others, including indoors.”
Wilson and Tucker find that troubling; they find a “need to continue to advocate for reducing smoking in movies, including R classifications on movies with smoking content.” As they point out, a 2016 meta-study found adolescents who were exposed to more movie images of smoking had a 46 percent higher risk of taking up the habit than their peers.
That’s a statistic that should leave us shaken, if not stirred.