Think about some of the comic books you’ve read over the years. Do you recall how many times you saw someone smoking a cigarette? How about a cigar? Or a pipe? Did it seem to fit the character so naturally that you didn’t even notice? 

Smoking hasn’t necessarily played a huge role in comic book history, but it’s interesting to see how the idea surrounding smoking has changed, especially when you consider the audience. When you think about who reads comic books, kids probably come to mind first. 

In reality, the average comic book reader is in their mid-to-late 30s. That isn’t to say children don’t read comic books, but if the target audience is old enough to choose whether or not to smoke, why has there been a sudden shift in comic book culture when it comes to showing cigarettes?

Most of it has to do with promoting a healthy lifestyle. In 2001, Marvel Comics’ Editor in Chief suggested that only villains could still smoke in Marvel comic books because “villains are stupid.” With that in mind, it’s pretty obvious where comic book creators stand on promoting health and wellness and showing off their heroes in a positive light. 

So, do characters in comic books still smoke? How has that crossed over into the ever-popular comic book movies? Let’s find out. 

What’s the Problem With Smoking? 

When you think about superheroes, most of the time the image comes to mind of someone fit, strong, healthy, and clean. It’s understandable that comic book creators don’t want their heroes to have a cigarette dangling from their lips while they’re saving the world. But what’s the big problem with smoking and why is it such a dangerous thing to promote?

Smoking increases your risk for a variety of serious health conditions. It boosts your chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. It can also damage your blood vessels, veins, and arteries.

Smoking decreases blood flow throughout your body, which can lead to issues like erectile dysfunction or other circulatory problems. 

Of course, most people think the biggest risk associated with smoking is lung cancer, and there’s a lot of truth to that. The risk of developing lung cancer for a man who smokes heavily is 24.4%. A non-smoker’s risk is 0.2%. 

Alternatives like vaping aren’t much better when it comes to health risks, so it’s unlikely you’ll see an e-cigarette in a comic book any time soon. Vape pens have been known to cause a rapid increase in heart rate, and some studies have shown that the chemicals used in e-cigarettes can create severe lung issues. 

The History of Smoking in Comic Books

So, have the risks of smoking been adequately depicted in comic books over the years? Yes and no. Smoking has been featured in comic books for many years, even back in the 1930s. As recent as 1982, a Superman comic depicted cigar smoking as something that could give you “powers.” Of course, they were “special cigars,” but the message was still clear. 

For the most part, smoking in American comics has been done by darker, grittier characters with a few exceptions. Professor Charles Xavier of the X-Men, an extremely intelligent and intellectual man, has been seen lighting up a pipe on more than one occasion. 

Speaking of the X-Men, there’s perhaps no better association with smoking than with the group’s ever-popular Wolverine character. Wolverine is known for smoking cigars throughout his comic book history. Wolverine is often viewed as a loner and a “rough around the edges” kind of mutant, but he’s also one of the series’ most popular and beloved characters. Even in the X-Men movies starring Hugh Jackman, he is frequently seen puffing smoke from a cigar. 

Of course, smoking isn’t always glorified in comic books. Commissioner Gordon, a popular character in DC’s Batman comics, has been a frequent smoker throughout his history in the story. In 1993, he had a heart attack due to his smoking habit. He also developed lung cancer. DC Comics seems keen to depict the dangers of smoking, as one of their other characters, John Constantine, developed lung cancer due to smoking in 1991. The title of the comic itself was even called “Dangerous Habits.” 

Marvel, Movies, and the Future of Comics and Cigarettes

In 2001, that same Editor-in-Chief at Marvel (Joe Quesada) who said “dumb villains” could still smoke issued a smoking ban in all of the major Marvel comic books. That ban carried over into Marvel movies, though not immediately. X-Men movies made after the ban still often showed Wolverine with his trademark cigar. 

Quesada made the push for Marvel to ban smoking mostly because of personal reasons. He lost his own grandfather, a heavy smoker, to emphysema. Additionally, his father suffered from a collapsed lung due to smoking. He saw the negative effects of smoking first-hand and had the ability to take the glamour out of it when it came to comics and movies in his control.

When Marvel was purchased by the Disney corporation in 2009, Disney took the smoking ban to new heights. Disney already had a no-smoking policy in place for their movies, so that immediately carried over into the Marvel universe. The only exception in Disney/Marvel films when it comes to smoking is to show it to represent some kind of historical accuracy of an individual. Anything directed toward a youth audience will not feature any type of smoking or drug use. 

Disney and Marvel aren’t the only ones shutting down smoking from their features. Netflix has recently jumped on the bandwagon, too. Netflix has become the home for some popular comics-turned-TV shows, including Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Daredevil. In 2019, Netflix vowed to cut back on depictions of smoking in their original programming — specifically, any shows that receive a rating beneath TV-14. 

Phasing out smoking in comic books and superhero movies helps to keep it from appearing as something glamorous or healthy. While some people might argue that their favorite characters should be able to smoke as they did before, it’s pretty clear that smoking in comics and comic book movies isn’t going to make a resurgence any time soon. 

Article By: Frankie Wallace
Cover Image source: Unsplash

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