In this movie, Late Night with the Devil (2023), where the timeline is set in the 1960s or 1970s, one of the guests is smoking a cigar when the program is on the air.

the guest smokingthe guest smoking

Were people allowed to smoke on TV back in the 1960s to 1970s?

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    In the 1950s, not only were people allowed to smoke on the air, they were thoroughly encouraged to do so. I Love Lucy was sponsored by Philip Morris. They smoked like chimneys on the show and then cut to adverts with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz smoking and talking about their favourite brands; youtube.com/watch?v=irtb4_Whios "You'll love them. They're so smooth and mild, and taste so good!"
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 20 at 16:50
  • 14
    People used to smoke everywhere, all the time It wouldn't even have occurred to them to restrict people from smoking on TV. The only exception would be places where a lit flame would actually be dangerous. Commented Apr 21 at 10:48
  • 3
    Lets take a radio and later TV-show like "Dragnet" - sponsored by "Fatima cigarettes - a mild cigarette" and "Chesterfield cigarettes - sound off for Chesterfield", where someone is smoking or asking for a cigarette, in every other episode. Commented Apr 21 at 15:25
  • 4
    Was there any place people weren't allowed to smoke during the 60s to 70s? They smoked in maternity wards up until the 90s! pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1525741
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Apr 22 at 7:58
  • 2
    You know, I'm pretty sure (USA) it is not literally illegal to have live personalities smoking currently on US broadcast TV. For example, you could imagine some sort of interview show where the interviewer and the interviewee are smoking cigars. For that matter, you can fairly easily imagine a 60 minutes (or whatever) interview where the interviewee is smoking. It is illegal to run ads on broadcast TV for cigarettes, but I don't think there's literally a LAW that prevents one of the major broadcast networks for having a (say) interviewer or newscaster smoking.
    – Fattie
    Commented Apr 22 at 16:36

4 Answers 4



Famously, Edward R. Murrow, an american news broadcaster and commentator was often shown smoking on television.

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An example video of a 1962 broadcast is found on youtube.

Indeed, many shows were sponsored by tobacco companies and smoking was even advertised as "healthy" by doctors.

  • 11
    Folks, no-one is disputing the fact that smoking is unhealthy. Comments are not the place for this discussion. Take it to chat please.
    – Paulie_D
    Commented Apr 21 at 13:19

From the 1950's: "The Jack Benny Show" (sponsored by Lucky Strike) went so far as to incorporate the sponsor's product into the "entertainment" portions of the show.

The link is direct to "smoking advertising as entertainment." However, I recommend watching the full episode. Jack's guest is Marilyn Monroe herself. Goodbye, Norma Jean. And, promoting to college students at t=00:00 is simply delicious in 2024...

Perhaps for reasons of copyright, at least one other version of the linked episode exists on YouTube (at the time of writing).  This other version does not include the "sponsor's product promotion as entertainment".

It must have been "entertainment" as the audience applauds after this musical interlude.

Dean Martin often sang his songs with the smoke of a cigarette in his fingers wafting around him.

Jackie Gleason ended his show "The Honeymooners" by walking on stage in a bathrobe, often with a beverage ("it's not a whiskey, nudge-nudge") and a cigarette in hand.

Late-nighter Johnny Carson often failed in his attempts to hide his occasional discrete (ahem) puffing during interviews (when he thought he was not on camera).

And, it wasn't just people smoking on TV in the 60s. According to USA Today, these characters appeared in "TV's First Animated PrimeTime Program".

As for "the 70s", I never watched the series, but one particularly well-known quirk of the TV detective "Columbo" was the (often lit) cigar his character always had in his hand.

Anyone living in the US or Canada during those halcyon days would remember Rowan and Martin's "Laugh-In". Here we see one of the show's hosts coming on stage with a lit cigarette. Series ran 1968-1972. (Skip to 00:20 for a glimpse of Mr. Spock as his alter ego, Leonard Nimoy...)

Then there's the disgraced comedian Bill Cosby (affectionately known as "America's Dad") in
this poignant 11 minutes from 1971. (Part II here) Hard to miss the role of tobacco in this monologue.

Perspective: Schoolmates, in the '70s, were sent to prison (in Canada) for possession of marijuana. 50 years later and... "No problem, bro'! Just make sure you're in a designated smoking area at the airport, okay?" Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

  • 2
    The example is as I claimed it to be: an episode from the '50s. The Jack Benny show ran until 1965. Dean Martin, "The Honeymooners" and Johnny Carson all represent other examples from the '60s. I state that I cannot recall a particular example from the '70s (but have little doubt another user may be able to.) The title clearly states, "... In the past". Take-up your issues of pedantry with the OP, please. (Your '50s response under the OP's question violates the site's plea "Avoid answering questions in comments")
    – user104290
    Commented Apr 22 at 1:04
  • 4
    I've just now watched a good dozen episodes of the jack benny show that aired between 1962 and 1964 and none of them have cigarettes shown. The sponsored bits might've been done away at some point during the 1950s. Commented Apr 22 at 3:52
  • @Roddy: is it possible that the "cigarettes parts" were removed long after, when the taboo about smoking on air was more in use and enforced? I mean, I've seen cartoons being modified because of political correctness of the era, why not shows? Did you notice anything while watching? Was it streaming or DVD?
    – OldPadawan
    Commented Apr 22 at 5:28
  • 2
    Streaming, because I'm cheap. More likely it's related to the fact that Lucky Strike stopped sponsoring the show in 1959, which makes it a poor example overall. Commented Apr 22 at 5:43
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    @RoddyoftheFrozenPeas Acknowledging that the Q becomes more specific, the title states "... in the past." I chose to interpret "'50s and '60s" as meaning "in that era." Thank you for your assessment...
    – user104290
    Commented Apr 22 at 5:55

Another data point, as recently as the '90s: here is comedian Denis Leary on Late Night with David Letterman, 19 February 1993, smoking.

  • Leary was known (in fact renowned) for his consumption of cigarettes and refusal to work on set without them, despite the rules against it.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 23 at 15:52

People used to smoke in aeroplanes, elevators, offices, and in cinemas. This post claims that smoking was allowed in cinemas in New York as late as 1988. I was surprised, though, to see a former nurse say:

I started working as a Respiratory Therapist in 1983. In those days we were smoking by the monitors at the nursing station in the ICU!

So I don't see why TV would have been an exception.

  • 6
    The question wasn't about smoking in general, it was about smoking on TV. Note that there are many things you can do in public in real life that you can't/couldn't do on US network telly, like saying the word "toilet"
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 21 at 20:52
  • 4
    @Valorum Smoking had no negative social status associated with it until the 80's. There's no reason why it would have been banned anywhere. Cigarette commercials were banned on TV in 1971, before that they were everywhere.
    – Barmar
    Commented Apr 21 at 23:06
  • 1
    @Valorum exactly what Barmar already said. OPs question is only a question because of the societal context of how we now see and treat cigarettes/tobacco. In the 60s/70s context such a question would be somewhat absurd even because of course they would smoke on TV, why would they have such an unreasonable (at the time) discrepancy between lived reality and TV? Especially when there was NO motivation to do so and a lot of reasons to smoke on TV
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Apr 22 at 8:07
  • 1
    @SimonCrase According to this timeline, Australian states were increasing provisions for non-smoking spaces on public transport between 1900 and 1920, with a ban on broadcast advertising coming in 1972-76.
    – G_B
    Commented Apr 22 at 8:43
  • 2
    @Hobbamok - TV doesn't always accurately represent reality.
    – Valorum
    Commented Apr 22 at 12:17

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