Smoking on screen and on the field: Athletes and celebs who smoke

David Kaufman, M.D. Health Pro March 21, 2008
  • I came across an interesting article yesterday while I was catching up on soccer news. David James is an English soccer goalie who smoked for many years before giving it up about 7 years ago. He discusses many of the strategies he tried to use to stop smoking, and the influence that new rules and regulations had on his success in quitting. (Reader beware: the article is written in British English, so some words may be unfamiliar or have different meanings in American English.)

     

    Though it seems strange, there have been many top athletes who smoke. Soccer is the game I follow the most, and I remember that Zinedine Zidane, a famous French soccer player caused a small scandal when he was photographed before an important 2006 World Cup game sneaking a cigarette. Other famous athlete smokers include Keith Hernandez (New York Mets), Vlade Divac (NBA player), and incredibly, some of the early riders in the Tour de France! Other famous athletes who were reportedly smokers include Jesse Owens, Babe Ruth, and Joe Dimaggio.

     

    I also remember that Johan Cruyff, perhaps one of the 5 best soccer players in history, had heart attacks at a young age, required heart bypass surgery, and later made a public service advertisement against smoking for part of the Spanish regional government.

     

    On a sadder note, the actor Patrick Swayze, who was recently diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas, has been reportedly seen smoking still even after his diagnosis. And of course, recently, the conservative thinker and writer William F. Buckley, Jr. died, and lung disease from smoking likely palyed an important role. Click here to see a long list of famous people who died of smoking-related diseases.

     

    In a recent article, Mr. Buckley talked about his smoking habit and how he would even compromise his free-market ideology because he believes in banning smoking.

     

    Unfortunately, the big-screen appeal of smoking movie stars and other celebrities is a strong influence for young people to start smoking. Some health care organizations have advocated putting an "R" rating on movies where smoking is featured prominently to try to prevent young people from seeing those movies and the Motion Picture Association of America, which rates movies, said it will factor how smoking is portrayed in a movie into its ratings system. It is estimated that half of teens who start smoking do so because of seeing smoking depicted favorably in a movie so presumably giving movies with lots of smoking in them an "R" rating would limit how many teens start smoking.

     

    Do celebrities have an effect on your behavior? Did you or someone you know start smoking because of seeing someone famous do it? Does a celebrity endorsement of quitting convince you? Do you think that limiting smoking in movies will have an effect on how many young people start smoking? Does seeing a famous person get sick from a smoking related illness play a role?

     

    Future blogs will talk more about what diseases are related to smoking, how smoking causes changes in lung function that can affect endurance, and how stopping smoking can improve your sense of health and well-being.