'House Of Cards': Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em

Everybody still raves about Netflix’s hit “House of Cards” but I would bet that among its most ardent fans are the makers of e-cigarettes, followed very closely by the makers of the regular kind that are stuffed with tobacco and burn and haven’t been allowed to advertise on TV since 1970.  

Both have been featured prominently in the series about venal Rep. Francis Underwood (Kevin Spacey) and his conniving partner-in-crime wife, Claire (Robin Wright). The series has not only been lauded on its own, but seems to be the symbol of What Streaming Video Can Become for the industry.

Yet, the cigarette thing is just the (filtered) tip of the story. “House of Cards” is a product placement home run, for, among others, Dunkin’ Donuts, Playstation gaming consoles and Cadillacs.     

Maybe this, too, is native advertising?

In the first season, Frank and Claire routinely ended their days and nights of manipulating the Washington power scene by sucking on a cigarette and blowing the exhaust out of a romantic side window at their home. The soft lit scenes made smoking look mighty good, and just the most natural thing to do after sticking knives into backs all day long.

This season, Frank began puffing on e-cigarettes. “It’s vapor,” he explains to his wife. “Addiction without the consequences.” Eventually, she joins him.  

This season, in episode four (atmospheric spoiler-alert here) Claire and Frank are smoking an e-cig, and after she exhales, she sighs, “I wish I had the real thing right now.” At that, her husband unveils one he’s hidden under the base of a lamp, and fires it up. She inhales, then exhales a plume of smoke and says stinky breathily, “I missed this.” He purrs in response, “So have I.”

For steel-willed power brokers, these two have sure have met their match in nicotine delivery systems. Smoking on screen is nothing new, but these scenes are downright rapturous. Smoking is the key reason for the scene. They're not driving...and smoking, or arguing...and smoking. These are their smoking scenes.

The e-cigarette introduction into the plot has been duly noted by Liz Halloran, writing a blog for  

“A Washington-based drama with an implicit endorsement of "vaping" – the practice of partaking in nicotine without burning tobacco?” she asks. “It could have been ripped directly from the playbook of lobbyists working Capitol Hill and Washington regulators on behalf of the estimated $1.7 billion-and-growing e-cigarette industry.”

Of course, the e-cigarette lobbyist denied it had anything to do with those scenes in “House of Cards” and the agency that does product placement for “House of Cards” doesn’t talk about what it’s placed, apparently. But the timing is perfect. Lobbyists are worried about how the feds will regulate e-cigs. The industry contends it can help smokers stop.

I suspect the “House of Cards” version of events is something near the truth. Vaping lets cigarette smokers quit-- except for the times that they haven’t. Product placement of both kinds of smoking works both ways, regardless of how it got there.

“The true hallmark of a stable relationship is cigarettes,” the Los Angeles Times wrote, tongue-in cheek, during the first season. “Of course, all relationships have their ups and downs. But that’s nothing sharing a nightly cigarette together out your bay window won’t fix.”

It’s not like “House of Cards” is alone in the cigarette-smoking business. In fact, its apparent rival, HBO, has been having its own butt Olympics with “True Detective,” and, I’ve got to say, Matthew McConaughey makes chain smoking look good. But that series isn’t the signature piece for HBO. “House of Cards” has that status for Netflix and the online video business beyond. That's not anything to celebrate.

5 comments about "'House Of Cards': Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em ".
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  1. David Cearley from self employed, February 26, 2014 at 3:59 p.m.

    Leave your phobia at home. What you describe is almost exactly how a smoker or exsmoker feels about cigarettes. I find it amusing the characters are sociopaths.but you're more offended they enjoy smoking.

  2. Tom Goosmann from True North Inc., February 26, 2014 at 11:25 p.m.

    Big tobacco has found a home in product placement. No one admits to taking money, but there's got to be a smoking gun behind this show and a multitude of others and movies where smoking can be presented as sexy and cool, everything the ban on cigarette advertising aimed to eliminate. This has nothing to do with the story line, whether the characters are good guys or bad guys. It's all about an ad platform to perpetuate an addiction and make money off eventual misery.

  3. Michael McFadden from Aethna Press, February 27, 2014 at 1:02 a.m.

    Interesting. I was wondering when the smokophobes would begin really screaming about the smoking in this show. In Dexter, families were regularly served up a hero serial killer dismembering various bodies every night, but the real venom came out over the fact that his sister snuck a few cigarettes while hiding behind the police station during the the first two seasons of shows. The pressures eveidently grew to the point where she had to quit so her smoke wouldn't pollute all the puddles of blood in the eyes of watching children, and the last few seasons saw smoking generally limited to a gang of pedophiles living under an abandoned bridge.

    Good to see HoC willing to take on a powerful adversary here, but I'm wondering how long they'll be able to hold out. Free speech only goes so far in this country.

    - MJM

  4. Michael McFadden from Aethna Press, February 27, 2014 at 1:12 a.m.

    btw... Tim Goosmann makes the claim just above that there are a "multitude" of other TV shows where smoking is "presented as sexy and cool."

    Tim, I won't ask for a complete list, but want to name just three or four that regularly do that? There are dozens upon dozens of shows out there, so naming a half dozen or so out of the list should be a piece of cake... if what you're saying is true. = . = . = .

    I'd be deeply surprised to hear that the smoking on HoC or anywhere else is part of a product placement deal. The Master Settlement Agreement was a $250 billion dollar "Get Out Of Jail Free" card for the big tobacco companies (I believe it's explicitly written into the agreement that SMOKERS, not the companies themselves, had to foot the MSA tax.) and I doubt they'd risk throwing it in the river simply to get a few shots of smoking on a few isolated shows. = . = .

    - MJM

  5. Michael McFadden from Aethna Press, March 2, 2014 at 5:37 p.m.

    As I was watching the season premier of Hannibal, I realized that this show, just like Dexter, is also a "kid friendly" program. Parents can enjoy watching artistic arrangements of body parts and learn recipes for cannibalistic delicacies and what wines to serve with them while knowing that if their children are also watching they'll be protected from the deadly sight of wisps of smoke!

    - MJM

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