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Avatar Is Smoking, in More Ways than One

By January 4, 2010

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Sigourney Weaver in (I)Avatar(/i).

Sigourney Weaver in Avatar.

© 20th Century Fox

As Avatar rakes in boffo box-office cash, thanks largely to word-of-mouth among initially skeptical sci-fi die-hards that James Cameron's latest baby doesn't suck, a side controversy has arisen.

Surprisingly enough it's not the sharp-tongued Cameron who's in trouble--it's Sigourney Weaver. Or more specifically, her character, Dr. Grace Augustine, and the fact that she smokes like a chimney, thereby setting a bad example for all the alert and excited teens in the audience.

The New York Times reported this weekend that groups working against smoking in youth-oriented movies are targeting Avatar for its portrayal of Weaver's character, an environmental scientist who not only smokes but visibly derives great pleasure from it. But Cameron says Weaver's smoking has a point.

SceneSmoking, for example, rated Avatar a "black lung", its classification for films that depict tobacco use in a positive way. (It rates a 2.42, which is better than the tobacco-free Alvin and the Chipmunks sequel but shy of Sherlock Holmes and his ubiquitous pipe.) The Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco is planning an information campaign to raise awareness about Avatar's pro-smoking message.

Cameron's response to this accusation makes a certain amount of sense: Augustine smokes, and drinks, and generally mistreats herself, precisely because he wanted to establish that she cared more about her avatar body than her own.

Cameron says he meant all this, in fact, to have a real-world message in the opposite direction from the one he's accused of promoting by the cinema-smoke activists: Augustine's behavior is "a negative comment about people in our real world living too much in their avatars, meaning online and in video games," he told the Times. So don't be like Sigourney Weaver, young bucks: turn your games off and go out and play some soccer and live a little! Then run to the cinema and sit and imbibe the message about not being passive and self-destructive, all over again.

Meanwhile Avatar is now the fifth film in history to bring in over a billion dollars in worldwide gross, it was reported today. Already the fourth-highest grossing movie internationally, beating The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King at $752 million, it's expected to become number 2 in short order. The only question remaining is whether it can beat Cameron's earlier monster hit, Titanic, which took in just over $1.8 billion just over a decade ago.


January 4, 2010 at 2:32 pm
(1) Starrpoint says:

While I understand how Cameron is trying to make a point, I do think understanding how this can and does influence young kids views, maybe another way could have been used to make the point.

January 4, 2010 at 7:33 pm
(2) Karj says:

Oh, this is a bunch of BS! If smoking sets a bad example then why wouldn’t killing and lying and other “bad stuff” happening in the movies do the same. Lets make a lot of Teletubbies like movies and be happy that the future of our children is thereby saved.
The society is going too far by controlling some aspects of life just a bit too strongly and on the other hand putting an emphasis on human liberties and by that allowing too much power to an individual (child can sue his/hers parents for bad genes or some BS like that).
Most really care about children, but others only seek the betterment of their own lives (followers, importance) and come up with those crazy ideas that a somking character who eventually dies and in my opinion can’t really be a role model for that is a bad influence on children.
The biggest bad influence comes from parents and from there it spreads in schools and elsewhere.
Come one, come to your senses, this is entertainment, not some educational movie. If your child picks up smoking, you can be pretty sure it’s not because of the movies, games, comics…, it’s because of the bad examples in family- and daily life.

January 8, 2010 at 11:41 pm
(3) Rubens Rodrigues says:

The bad smelly inclusion of merchandising of cigarettes in the film Avatar – with smoke invading the theater in 3D – is just regrettable and unjustifiable. Surely Cameron and Sigourney (yes, the actors also take part in its merchandising) should have received a hefty considerable from tobacco industry to commit this suicide in a job that is supposed to go down in cinema history as a revolutionary production. Moreover the weak screenplay – which is merely a poorly disguised avatar of Pocahontas – we still have this excrescence. A film that intends to convey a message of full protection of life against the ignorance of the world today, boasts that, 150 years from now, mankind will not yet overcome the aberration of smoking habit, with the aggravation that the smoker’s avatar is a biologist who struggle – supreme contradiction – agains the preservation of nature. It’s just pathetic! If the movie wanted to convey a message of optimism for the future, Cameron put his everything to lose with this tremendous relish. To complete, Cameron already had a number of ready-made (completely tattered) answers to explain the questions that inevitably would arise on this abominable “detail” of the movie. No argument is able to defend or explain the presence of an ecologist biologist smoker in the film, expect the public could swallow their ridiculous explanations is above all a foolish and an underestimation of people’s intelligence.

January 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm
(4) lynda says:

Here we go, using preconceived conclusions to make science, and endorse need for more prohibitions. There is no science that this will lead to deaths, or smoking (as long as you realize that influencers smoking, peers, etc are major reasons they may start to smoke) to forward your agenda.

Heres what a professor who testified against tobacco co.’s says :

Importantly, Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails does not dispute my contention that its statement is false. Instead, its excuse for not correcting the information is that the assertion is contained in a frame that can only be changed by the web master, who apparently is somehow not available and has been unavailable for the past four and a half months.

Clearly, 340 young people do not die from smoking every day. That would mean that there are 120,000 deaths from smoking each year among young people. As I have explained previously, it is rare for smoking to cause death prior to about age 40, or age 35 at the earliest (though there may be very rare exceptions). Thus, it would be difficult to defend a claim that smoking kills 1,000 young people each year, much less 120,000.


You can make stats say what you want, you just need the right agenda, obviously. You also can not update the lies you tell for over 2 years now.

January 11, 2010 at 3:54 am
(5) Karen says:

Whiny whiners- want some cheese to go with that whine? If we are raising kids to be so stupid that they think the hacking, brown teeth and perpetual lack of money caused by smoking are “glamorous”, we need to re-evaluate ourselves as parents. Making this much of an issue about something is 100% certain to tantalize kids into trying smoking- the tobacco industry thanks you for the free advert.

January 25, 2010 at 9:35 pm
(6) Gene says:

The main objection to Weaver’s smoking is that it takes the viewer out of the world Cameron’s trying to create. The audience is suddenly going “WTF? Smoking 150 years in the future? And in a lab?? What’s up with that?” Without an explanation, it takes people out of the movie.

Cameron claims the smoking was to show Weaver’s character didn’t care about her human body. Huh? As Sigourney herself will tell you, keeping a 60-year-old body that buff is not easy. Her character obviously takes VERY good care of her body. You need a movie star’s time and money to make it to the gym that much. To follow Cameron’s supposed rationale, Grace Augustine should have been obese and slovenly (a more interesting choice; she could have awoken shouting, “WHERE’S MY TWINKIE?”).

Cameron: “Movies should reflect reality”

This in a movie with bird-riders and soul-trees, but still–OK, let’s talk reality:

1. In 150 years, apparently no one smokes–EXCEPT Sigourney Weaver. Not even the military. She’s the only one in the entire movie who smokes. Unrealistic.

2. This would be a seriously atypical scientist. 44% of cigarettes are sold to the mentally ill; most smokers are poor and uneducated. Unrealistic.

3. Smoking in the tightly-controlled-atmosphere of a moon-lab is jarring to the viewer, and unrealistic in so many ways. In 50 years of space flight, there has not been a single instance of cigarette smoking–not even by the Russians. Plus, tars and nicotine in tobacco smoke get _everywhere_, including sensitive electronic equipment and closed-environment air-circulation filters. Tobacco mosaic virus is common on cigarette tobacco and can easily be transmitted from a smoker’s hands to biological samples, contaminating them. Let alone space-flight weight restrictions, storage issues, SHS regulations and coworkers’ objections. Unrealistic on a number of levels.

4. It’s certainly unrealistic to expect nicotine addiction to take _exactly_ the same form as it does today. 150 years ago, it was snuff, or smokeless, or cigars. NOT cigarettes, which were laboriously hand-rolled. 150 years from now, it’ll be orbs, or snus, or inhalers, or patches, or e-cigs, or long cigs, short cigs, fat cigs, blue cigs –you get the point. Something _else_.

In all, Weaver’s smoking is aberrant, distracting, and doesn’t makes sense realistically OR cinematically.

So why IS there smoking in Avatar?

Considering Cameron’s Titanic, in which he also reaches anachronistically (15 years into the future) to spout similar ad copy (women who smoke are independent) — it’s hard to excuse Augustine’s smoking as unconscious.

It’s propaganda, pure and simple.

Grace Augustine IS a role model. And Avatar is an ad for smoking. What it’s telling audiences is that strong, tough, independent, smart, accomplished, sassy, healthy, buff, moral, _heroic_ women smoke.

And, judging from the number of kids in the theatre, the stacks of booster seats(!) outside Avatar screenings in the multiplexes, all the reported repeat viewings, and all the prime-time TV exposure in the future–millions upon millions of kids around the world will be getting the message for decades to come.

April 30, 2010 at 11:32 pm
(7) Bafficus says:

If Weaver’s character “didn’t respect her body” she’d be obese and suffering from Diabetes Melitus. Instead in Cameron’s fantasy she smokes and looks *good*.

What a pathetic apologist Cameron is. I would love to know if any money changed hands between the tobacco companies and the studios which influenced this or any other of their films.

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