Rated ‘R’ for Smoking

Published November 26, 2002

Bond lit a cigar. The ace secret agent was, after all, in Havana, and it was almost as natural to smoke a Cuban cigar in that city as it was in the capital, Miami. Pausing to exhale appreciatively, Bond prepared to resume his conversation with the gentleman next to him, a mobster whom he would surely have to kill eventually. There would be time enough for that later, however. For now, it was time to talk tobacco.

But Bond’s pleasant train of thought was suddenly interrupted by a shrill and hysterical scream. “Put that out! Put it out right now!” Bond turned his head slowly, an eyebrow arching. What he saw was a San Francisco academic looming over him and wagging his finger furiously. “Didn’t you hear me?” squeaked the professor. “You can’t smoke in this movie! Or in any other movie! If you do, you get an ‘R’ rating!”

“Shall I keel heem, Meester Bond?” asked Bond’s mobster friend. He’d already pulled a gun and was prepared to blow the professor’s brains out where they stood.

A smile flickered across Bond’s face. “Not yet.” Bond sized up the professor, who was still wagging his finger. “Just who are you?” asked the agent.

“I work with Stanton Glantz, head of Smoke Free Movies, an organization of scolds based at the UC San Francisco School of Medicine. Glantz is now demanding that any movie that shows characters smoking be rated R, unless those characters become ill as a result. If you insist on smoking cigars in this scene, I’m going to have to ask you to turn green and vomit.”

Bond and the mobster exchanged glances. They started giggling.

The professor was unperturbed. “Go ahead and laugh. You don’t get it, because you grew up in a world where men like me were dismissed as crackpots. But it’s our world now, a world where cigarettes are airbrushed out of postage stamps, where bar owners have to telephone each other to warn that the smoke police are in the neighborhood, where you can get fined for smoking on the sidewalk. Giggle all you want, but the World Health Organization has endorsed Glantz’s movie demands.”

Bond and the mobster had been trying to restrain themselves, but at the mention of WHO, they collapsed to the floor with laughter.

“WHO?” sputtered a nearly helpless Bond. “The outfit that spent seven years studying second-hand smoke in seven different countries, but refused to release the study?”

The professor shrugged. “The study you should be worrying about comes from Massachusetts. Did you know that smoking in PG-13 movies rose 50 percent in 1999-2000 over smoking levels in 1996-1997? That in the 50 biggest films between April, 2000 and March 2001, two out of three tobacco scenes were in G-rated, PG-rated, and PG-13-rated movies?”

Bond, face down on the floor, tried to catch his breath. “How do they know? Have people been spending their days timing smoking scenes with stopwatches?”

“So it seems.”

“And to think,” said Bond gasping for air, “that anyone should regard them as crackpots!”

“Never mind,” said the professor, smoothing his brown suit. “Rob Reiner supports us. All his movies will be smoke-free from now on.”

At the mention of Reiner’s name, Bond and the mobster, no longer able to speak, began waving their arms frantically, begging the professor to stop.

Just then a supremely cerebral, transcendentally imperturbable gentleman approached. He removed a pipe from his mouth and asked, in a charming French accent, “Is there a problem?”

Bond looked up and tried to talk. “Inspector Maigret! Just in the nick of time! This man is telling us we can’t smoke in a James Bond film. But the new Bond film is the first movie in 13 years to feature Bond smoking, and yet it far more successful than any of the non-smoking 007 films. In short, inspector, his demands are irrationally founded. That’s against the law in France, isn’t it?”

Oui,” agreed the inspector. “As a Parisian commissaire, I take Cartesian misbehavior quite seriously. Come along.”

“I will indeed come along,” answered the finger-wagging prof. “We’re going to have to do something about that pipe of yours.”

Bond and the mobster helped each other to their feet. As they relit their cigars, the mobster slapped Bond on the back. “Let me tell you a secret about Stanton Glantz,” the mobster said. “I quite like heem.”

“Like him?” asked a surprised Bond. “Why is that?”

“Because before he’s finished,” came the answer, “everyone will be buying their tobacco from me.”

Charles Paul Freund is a Reason senior editor.