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The Simpsons had its heyday in the 1990s and seasons 2 through 8 were its most genius, filled with allusion, social satire, frank absurdity, and genuine characters that could at times break your heart as easily as make you laugh. The majority of these characters have at some point been drawn with a cigarette in their mouth.
Despite creator Matt Groening’s intention to discourage smoking, especially with younger audiences, The Simpsons is filled with tobacco use. Character’s that regularly smoke include: Miss Krabappel, Miss Hoover, Krusty the Clown, Fat Tony, Snake Jailbird, Herman Hermann, Captain McAllister, Kent Brockman, Roger Meyers, Lunch lady/Nurse Doris, Troy McClure and, of course, Marge’s twin sisters Patty and Selma, who epitomize the way Groening chose to depict smoking; they are chain smokers, depressed and unhealthy, with grey hair and gravel in their throats. The cigarette of choice for Patty and Selma, the only cigarette brand that exists in The Simpsons, is Laramie.
Laramie cigarettes were a real tobacco brand in the US that ceased operation in the 1950s. Groening revived the company for The Simpsons, though without updating the company’s image, choosing to make them one of many anachronisms in the show’s 1990s setting. In the show, Laramie runs 1950s-style ad campaigns that boast false health benefits, display flagrant sexism and even target children. Laramie mocks several still existing cigarette brands; the package art resembles Marlboro and their mascot is Menthol Moose, a blatant rip-off of Joe Camel. There are Laramie Jrs smoked by the bullies of Springfield Elementary, Laramie Slims smoked by Miss Krabappel, Laramie Hi Tars, Selma and Patty’s favourite, and Laramie Extra Tars, which brag the slogan: “Now with more Nico-Glycerol!”
In the episode “Three Men and a Comic Book,” we learn that Laramie sponsored the black and white TV show version of Radioactive Man, Bart’s favourite comic book. In a scene of not-so-subtle product placement, Radioactive Man enjoys a cigarette with his sidekick Fallout Boy:
“Ah these Laramie cigarettes give me the steady nerves I need to combat evil.”
"Gee willikers Radioactive Man, I wish I was old enough to smoke Laramies."
"Sorry Fallout Boy, not until you're 16."
The scene may seem ludicrous to modern audiences, but in the 1960s Winston ran cigarette commercials featuring The Flintstones. It is also in this episode we learn that when Marge was a young girl, she agreed to do all of Patty and Selma’s chores, inadvertently giving them the free time needed to start their smoking habits.
In the episode “Lisa the Beauty Queen,” Homer enters Lisa in the beauty pageant for Little Miss Springfield, sponsored by Laramie cigarettes. In a commercial for the pageant Jack Larson, president of Laramie, explains:
“Government regulations prohibit us from advertising on TV, but they can't prohibit us from holding a beauty pageant for little girls age 7 to 9.”
It is not until Lisa is crowned that Jack Larson reveals the true intent of the pageant to Lisa, showing her a new propaganda poster with a picture of herself praying next to a bed, a cigarette in her mouth and the text: “God Bless Mommy and Daddy and Laramie Cigarettes.”
"You see, Lisa, it’s been an unlucky year for Laramie, a lot of the people who smoke our product have been... well, dying, ha ha, and we need young smokers to take their place.”
Lisa is almost swayed by the fame she is offered, but in the end she denounces the company:
“From now on I will speak out against the evils in society, from dognapping to cigarettes!"
Jack Larson also makes an appearance in the episode “Bart the Murderer.” When a truckload of Laramie 100s is hijacked by the mafia, Larson speaks to a crowd of panicked smokers at a press conference:
“Folks I'm pleased to announce that a new truckload of Laramies with their smooth good taste and rich tobacco flavour is already heading towards Springfield and the driver has been instructed to ignore all stop signs and crosswalks."
Bart unwittingly finds himself stashing the stolen cigarettes in his room and when Homer finds them, thinking his son has taken up smoking, he decides a fitting punishment will be to make Bart smoke every cigarette from the thousands of cartons. Bart is saved by the mafia’s delivery driver who arrives to pickup the cigarettes and can’t help notice:
“Hey kid, you look good with that cigarette, kinda sophisticated.”
Censors have accused The Simpsons of endorsing smoking with its frequent depiction of the habit. But to never show smoking would be to turn a blind eye to the issue. Matt Groening chose to engage viewers, especially young ones, with the subject of tobacco use and represent it in the most unflattering, unappealing and ridiculous light possible. He trusted that even children would understand that a commercial featuring a beauty pageant participant exclaiming “What a feeling! I’m as happy as a smoker taking that first puff in the morning!” was conveying a deeper message.