Studying the Sociology of Smoking
I also saw Brief Encounter last night on TCM. One of my favorite old films—I LOVE films of the 30ies and 40ies. Anyway not only do the characters smoke in that film but there's this odd “smoking rule” I'd forgotten about. The heroine is emotionally upset and wandering around the town in the rain. A policeman approaches her to see if she needs help. She says no and tries to calm herself so that she doesn't look as distraught as she feels. She sits on a park bench and lights up a cigarette to calm down. She's narrating the story retrospectively in the most of the film and says at this point (to her husband whom she can never tell about this brief affair) that she knows he disapproves of women smoking on the street and she does too, really, but it was necessary in this instance.
I do remember my mother preaching that doctrine. She didn't approve of smoking in the street. In fact she didn't approve of smoking while walking around. You could sit at the dinner table with a cigarette, smoke at your chair while you read or watched TV or even smoke in your lawn chair outside taking the sun, but you could not "walk around" with a cigarette, not inside and definitely not outside. These rules applied generally but did not apply equally to men; breaking the rules (as breaking sexual rules) reflected more negatively on women. A man walking around with a cigarette was much more acceptable, though it might be used to characterize him as “low” and “tough”.
I suspect there are academics right now doing research on smoking in films—imagine the distinctions one could tease out? Wouldn't it be interesting to see how smoking on film compared in the 30ies, the 50ies and the 90ies for instance? An interesting pop culture thesis, huh?
And look, Murrow was even photographed with the President, cigarette in hand!