Vaping and cigarette smoking have been locked in battle for some time now, but it certainly looks like vaping is pulling ahead in terms of popularity. It’s difficult to say whether that’s down to celebrity endorsements for vaping, or negative media coverage of cigarette smoking, or perhaps the recent news, as reported on ITV, that e-cigs contain 97% less cancer-causing chemicals than regular cigarettes. Whatever the root cause of vaping’s rising popularity, the perception is that it’s becoming much cooler to vape, and we’re starting to see more characters vaping in film and TV productions. Those appearances are also becoming much more positive. What does it say about a character on screen, if they are shown vaping? And does it say something different than when a character is shown to smoke regular cigarettes?
Released in 2010, The Tourist starred Johnny Depp as a criminal posing as Wisconsin maths teacher, Frank Tupelo. He’s shown reading a book, whilst vaping, and he goes on to explain to Elise (Angelina Jolie) how vaping works, saying that the smoke is simply water vapour. It seems likely that it was intended to portray Tupelo as switched on and tech-savvy, with Elise being seen as resistant to this new idea, when she suggests that it makes Frank seem less of a free-spirited man that does exactly as he pleases.
John Cusack certainly seems to be a vaping fan, as he’s appeared in a number of films where his character is seen to vape. In Drive Hard, for example, Cusack plays professional bank thief, Simon Keller, who robs a bank and then takes retired race car driver, Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane) hostage, forcing him to drive the getaway car. Throughout the film, Cusack’s character is seen with an e-cigarette in his hand. Ironically, the film is set in Australia, where e-liquids containing nicotine are, in fact, banned. Other films that feature Cusack vaping include Reclaim and Map to the Stars.
In fact, it just might be possible that vaping actors are starting to insist that their characters can vape. Zac Efron, for example, refuses to smoke, so his Bad Neighbours character vapes instead.
One more example of vaping being shown in films is the 2015 comedy/crime film, Focus. In that film, Rodrigo Santoro plays Rafael Garriga, a billionaire Formula One team owner, who is seen vaping. Again, the implication is that Garriga is a tech-savvy person, who is also health-conscious and perhaps a little more disciplined personally than perhaps he might like people to think.
Whilst these examples all show vaping in a positive light, it’s becoming harder to find examples where filmmakers are using smoking as a way of building character detail in a positive way. In Face/Off, for example, Nicolas Cage switches from the villain, Castor Troy, to the good guy, Sean Archer. In a subtle, but very clear message, Only Castor Troy smokes.
It seems clear, then, that over time, vaping is becoming much more widely used as a tool for building character detail in films. Seen as a clever, tech-savvy alternative to ordinary cigarettes, it can help define a character without having the negative burden that cigarettes now have