WWE has gotten a surprising amount of publicity coming off of R-Truth’s heel turn Monday night, which included him smoking a cigarette at ringside. The anti-tobacco group TobaccoFree.org put out a release condemning WWE. And Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld dedicated his “Gregalogue” to the issue during his show, Red Eye, on Tuesday night.
I’ve got mixed feelings about whether it’s a good idea for WWE to have one of its performers smoke on television. On one hand, WWE can make the rational argument that having a despicable heel like R-Truth smoking on TV actually send out a positive message—that smoking is not a virtuous trait. Considering Vince McMahon’s well-known disdain for cigarettes, I don’t doubt that this was his intention.
But an argument can also be made that by simply depicting the act of smoking—regardless of who is holding the cigarette—WWE is giving cigarettes a major television platform, and that, in and of itself, is a bad thing.
It’s not an unprecedented stance. The motion picture industry has long sought to do away with smoking in films. The depiction of smoking is even grounds for getting a stricter rating by the Motion Picture Association of America. Some movie studios have also vowed not show smoking in movies they produce.
It may seem like an extreme stance, but it’s not entirely without merit. Whether it’s a babyface or a heel, featuring a professional athlete and performer smoking on television can serve to keep cigarettes in the mainstream.
WWE may have the right intentions, but it should carefully consider if it is doing more harm than good, and whether there’s a better and safer way to tell the same story.