For decades cartoons have thrived in a strange, violent, and often Utopian unreality. It’s a world where everyone gets hurt, but nobody dies. For example, when Jerry the Mouse sets fire to Tom the Cat, the topics of third-degree burns and skin grafts are not the next logical progression in the narrative arc. Instead, Tom may appear slightly charred around the ears for a moment, but in the next frame he is back to normal and the cat and mouse games resume.
Considering their distance from reality, it’s odd then how, over the years, cartoons have been used as teaching tools to warn against bad habits such as drug use, alcohol abuse, and — most commonly — smoking. It would seem apparent that cartoons exist in a fantasy realm, one that allows children (and adults) to disconnect from reality while appealing to more base human impulses, such as laughing when a cartoon cat is smacked in the face with a baseball bat, or watching with glee as a cartoon mouse jumps down a drainpipe to escape being eaten by his adversary. As you’ll see in this collection of videos, however, cartoons have most often been used to deter America’s youth from smoking cigarettes — a cause which has obviously been extremely successful.
10. Cigarettes turn you into a slave, Satan’s slave!
In Dying for a Smoke (1967), Nick O’ Teen (aka The Devil) is on the prowl for new Cigarette Slaves! But he’s not looking to extract free labor from these poor slobs, he’s got his eyes on a singular prize: sending smokers to an early grave. And that’s when a recurrent theme of anti-smoking cartoons is presented, smoke and you’re going to die. And if you’re extremely unfortunate, as the white-coated doctor explains, you’ll suffer from heart disease, lung cancer, or bronchitis before you expire. Smoke up!
9. Smoking leads to misery (and kills dragons)
In The Huffless Puffless Dragon, Dragoon is the cool dragon in town. As he declares in the opening sequence, “I make girls faint, strong men fall, I’m the hottest dragon of them all.” What makes him so hot, obviously, is the fact that he smokes. But we soon discover Dragoon has a weakness — physical activity — a point exploited by a more athletic dragon who refuses to cave to peer pressure. When Dragoon attempts to best the green, more athletic dragon, he dies (of course). Brought to you by the American Cancer Society.
8. Getting addicted is fun and it’s empowering to quit
According to Goofy, whose flawed ancestral lineage apparently dates back to the days of Christopher Columbus, smoking is part of life. It’s okay to start because, well, everybody does it and it’s fun. But as you grow older and become more of a buffoon, cigarettes only exacerbate your laundry list of genetic flaws, so you should quit. Plus, it’s empowering!
7. People will cry when cigarettes kill you
Johnny Smoke hails from the Land of the Tobacco Plant and is a “tall, hard-riding long lean bloke” (i.e., a cigarette with a bandit’s mask and as cowboy hat). Apparently he dispatches his enemies by getting them addicted to cigarettes (a fairly slow and inefficient way to kill), then stands over their dead bodies and laughs as freshly lit cigarettes burn by their side. Death by cigarette, Wild West style.
6. Unless you want Superman to kill the guy who gave you a cigarette, don’t smoke
An updated version of our old pal Nick O’ Teen is peddling cigarettes to a group of kids in Metropolis when Superman arrives to break up the fun. Some not-so-witty banter ensues and, to teach the kids a lesson, Superman kills catapults Nick O’ Teen into the sky before boasting that his X-ray vision allows him to see all the ooey-gooey flavor that cigarettes leave on your tar-soaked lungs. And really, what kid wants to grow up (and decay) that fast?
5. You don’t really enjoy it (and you’ll burn down the forest!)
Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo subscribe to the same theory as Superman: smoking makes you grow up too fast. Plus, once you get hooked, it’s tough to stop. And according to Yogi’s example of the chain-smoking old man vacationing in the woods (by himself!), he doesn’t even enjoy smoking, but he CAN’T quit.
4. If you try cigarettes, you surely might die
Children tricked into thinking they are on a tour of a candy factory quickly learn that something’s not right. Why is the tour guide a maniacal Mad Hatter type? Why are round-bodied goblins gleefully singing as hard packs roll off the assembly line? And why does the whole factory smell like a tobacco farm? Fear of death as a motivator to dissuade children from smoking is a recurrent theme in these cartoons.
3. Robots will lecture you, make you feel inferior
C3PO is at it again, ruining R2D2’s fun. This time Goldenrod finds R2 tucked behind some “advanced” computers sneaking a cigarette. “Smoking does dreadful things to your lungs, and is very bad for your heart,” C3PO explains. And he adds that robots should set a good example for humans. Plus, R2 doesn’t have lips, so no menthol goodness for him. P.S.: It’s not technically a cartoon, but kid-centric and Star Wars branded.
2. Cigarettes “taste boggin’!”
On a planet populated by Cool Beans who chew on blue sticks that make your breath smell terrible (why not just call them cigarettes?), conformity runs rampant. And worse yet, these blue sticks do terrible things to the Cool Beans’ bodies, but still they all continue to chew on them. Until one day when a young bean tries a blue stick for the first time and declares “This tastes boggin’!” This cartoon aired in Australia, and supposedly the phrase “This tastes boggin’!” became a playground joke. I wonder why?
1. Winston’s taste good like a cigarette should
“Let’s take a Winston break!” Oh, wait. It seems like Fred and Barney are endorsing cigarettes in this one, not preaching that cancer will eventually make your face fall off. Oh, this actually is a cigarette commercial. Well that doesn’t seem right, using cartoons to sell cigarettes and all. Oh well, smoke ’em if you got ’em.