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The Smoking Machine

Documentary warning children about the drawbacks of cigarettes – not least their addictiveness.

Documentary 1964 16 mins


Hacking coughs punctuate the soundtrack throughout, making the film’s propaganda purpose clear from the start. We follow a group of children trying to find out why the various adults in their lives smoke, and what the attractions are considering what to them are obvious drawbacks. Indiscriminate smoking “looks funny to us now”, says the narrator, but The Smoking Machine’s own footage of people casually smoking in cinemas, cafés and on public transport must seem equally bizarre to today’s kids.

Although there had long been suspicions about links between smoking and cancer, it was the publication of a Royal College of Physicians report, Smoking and Health (1962) that gave the issue widespread publicity. The Ministry of Health responded by funding anti-smoking propaganda films, many aimed specifically at children in the vulnerable 11-16 range. The first, Smoking and You (1963) was much more graphic in its close-ups of blackened lungs and the side-effects of smoking-related illnesses, but was perhaps less accessible than The Smoking Machine’s focus on children’s natural curiosity.