There is many a psychological need for a cigarette in the movies. The bashful hero lights a cigarette, the better to gain a hold of himself in this trying interview with his future father-in-law. The villain smokes hasty puffs to hide his nervousness or to ease his conscience. (Brandt 86)
Tobacco companies used three basic methods to embed cigarettes in movies, television, and the celebrity culture around them: they paid actors to use their brands, they paid movies to place their products in films, and they supplied free cigarettes to talk shows and movie sets (Mekemson 81). In 1989, Congressional hearings brought pressure on cigarette manufacturers to stop these practices. They agreed
No payment shall be made by any cigarette manufacturer or any agent thereof for the placement of any cigarettes, ...as a prop in any movie produced for viewing by the general pubic. (Mekenson, Glantz i87)
They did continue to provide cigarettes for free, as expressed in a memo from an advertiser to the RJR tobacco company:
Today the presence of cigarettes an smoking situations are considered a vital part of our program. Subliminal reminders are still used. ..We have also developed a strong sampling program, which now provides 1888 industry leaders and stars with their favorite brands each month. This group provides support to the intention of the program to continue smoking within the industry and within the productions the influence. ((Mekemson, Glantz i87)
Cigarettes became linked in the public mind with the films, TV shows and celebrities they watched and sometimes admired. Research has shown that viewing smoking in movies is related to higher rates of smoking, especially among adolescents (Dalton 281).
Recently researchers have reported an increase of smoking in popular streaming content. The report While You Were Streaming, found that 79% of the highest rated shows for people aged 15-24 contained incidents of smoking, sometimes in prominent characters.