HBO’s ‘Winning Time’ features characters who smoke heavily

In HBO’s new docudrama “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” — which aired its first-season finale on Sunday night — most of the main characters smoke… a lot.

And everywhere.

In offices.

In arenas and locker rooms.

In restaurants, clubs, beauty salons and airplanes.

And, of course, in the post-coital chambers.

But that’s not surprising.

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Based on Jeff Perlman’s 2014 bestselling book “Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s,” the first season of “Winning Time” is set in 1979-80 – the era where smoking was as common and ubiquitous as cell phone use is today.

Both of my parents were heavy smokers, and as a kid in the 1970s – the one who was forced to do his fair share of ashtrays in arts and crafts class – I can attest to the authenticity of these representations.

In the 1960s

Heck, I haven’t felt that kind of era-specific deja vu watching middle-aged men smoking on TV since Jon Hamm’s Don Draper lit up on “Mad Men.”

And truth be told, the sight of Adrien Brody playing a pre-gelled Pat Riley for the hair — and lighting up his fags, then taking that first long puff with the kind of purposeful, deliberate swagger one imagines Riley did at the time – could serve as a de facto advertisement for how cool smoking makes you look.

Pat Riley played in the NBA for a decade and won a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1972.

Fortunately, such advertisements are prohibited.

In fact, the fact that we’ve come so far as a society from those days to where we are today – with smokers exiled to their own homes, cars and some outdoor spaces – is one of underrated social miracles of our time.

That said, smoking remains one of the greatest threats to public health. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that tobacco-related causes are responsible for more than 480,000 deaths in the United States each year. Lung cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States (after skin cancer and breast cancer) and is by far the leading cause of cancer death in the country – with some 130,000 Americans expected to die of the disease this year.

After being named head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981, Pat Riley quickly became a style and fashion icon.

Because lung cancer is so often fatal when not detected early, the American Cancer Society recommends annual lung cancer screening with low-dose CT scans for people ages 55 to 74, in fairly healthy and who also meet the following conditions: they currently smoke or have quit within the last 15 years; and have a smoking history of at least 30 pack-years.

(A “pack-year” is the number of years a person smoked multiplied by the number of packs of cigarettes per day. Thus, someone who smoked two packs a day for 20 years smoked 40 packs- years.)

I shudder to think of how many pack years the “Winning Time” cast will rack up if the show continues beyond its second season renewal.

The effect of the pandemic on smoking

Of course, the view of public indoor smoking can be anachronistic. But that just means it happens where we can’t see it. And now comes a new study that shows the pandemic has negatively affected those trying to quit smoking.

Dr. Charles H. Hennekens, Professor of Medicine and Senior Academic Advisor to the Dean of Schmidt College of Medicine at Florida Atlantic University, along with collaborators from Baylor College of Medicine, examined changes in smoking habits among participants enrolled in a smoking cessation and lung cancer program. screening program.

Dr. Charles Hennekens, professor at Florida Atlantic University School of Medicine.

They conducted a cross-sectional survey with three components: changes in tobacco use; impact and coping strategies; and exposure to COVID-19 and use of protective measures.

The study results, recently published in the Ochsner Journal, showed statistically significant and potentially clinically important differences between those who increased and decreased their tobacco use during the pandemic. Among current smokers, nearly 30% reported an increase in tobacco use.

The researchers found correlations between increased tobacco use and a variety of coping strategies and mental health issues faced by study participants. Among these correlations were the following:

  • High uncertainty about the future.
  • Loneliness due to social distancing.
  • Anger or frustration at how the pandemic has disrupted daily life.
  • Boredom because he is unable to work or engage in regular daily activities and routines.
  • Desire to cope with alcohol or drug use.
  • Sadness or feeling of hopelessness.
  • Worry or fear about difficulty obtaining basic necessities such as groceries or medication.

“These data can help healthcare providers identify and counsel cigarette smokers most at risk of increasing tobacco use during current and future stresses such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hennekens said. . “All of these efforts have the potential to reduce many premature deaths from smoking, which remain alarmingly high and unnecessarily high in the United States and are increasing worldwide.”

A proposed menthol ban

Another tactic to reduce the harmful effects of smoking came late last month from the Food and Drug Administration: a proposal to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Menthol-flavored cigarettes account for about one-third of all cigarette sales in the United States, with 85% of black smokers using menthol-flavored cigarettes compared to 30% of white smokers.

Late last month, the FDA proposed banning menthol-flavored cigarettes.  If passed later this summer, the FDA estimates the ban could prevent some 650,000 smoking-related deaths over the next few decades.

The FDA statement read in part “studies show that menthol increases the appeal of smoking and facilitates progression to regular smoking, particularly in youth and young adults.” Menthol masks off-flavors and harshness in tobacco products, making them easier to use. Tobacco products containing menthol may also be more addictive and harder to quit by enhancing the effects of nicotine.

Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, noted that “For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted and disproportionately affected by tobacco use. Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to quit smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been felt by everyone in the same way.

The FDA estimates the ban could prevent up to 650,000 smoking-related deaths over the next four decades if the proposal passes later this summer.

That menthol-flavored cigarettes would ever be banned would have been unthinkable to the people portrayed in “Winning Time.”

But that’s not to say they didn’t understand how a growing segment of society would find their habit – particularly the notoriously style- and image-conscious Riley, who would eventually quit in the 2000 season – 01, by which time he had become head coach of the Miami Heat.

For the previous two decades, Riley was notoriously adamant about putting out her cigarettes before meeting the press.

In 2001, Riley told the Washington Post that his motto had always been “don’t ever let them see you smoke”.

And until HBO’s “Winning Time” aired, most of us had never done it.

About Margaret Shaw

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