Mad Men and Cigarette Smoking

Mad Men is one of the most acclaimed and influential TV series in the history of television. It won several awards, the Golden Globe and the Emmy Award being the most prestigious. This drama series deals with the professional and personal lives of the people working on Madison Avenue, New York, and it’s situated at the beginning of the 1960s. More specifically, this drama series follows the life of the people working for a smaller ad agency called Sterling Cooper. The main protagonist is the mysterious and talented executive Donald (Don) Draper, portrayed by the actor Jon Hamm.


Don Draper is characterized as a sleek man with too many vices. He drinks, he smokes, and he’s a womanizer. Don Draper (born as Dick Whitman) has a lot of insecurities, and the origins of his insecurities can be traced back to his early childhood. A son of a prostitute and an abusive father, growing up, Whitman could not find a lot of kindness in his surroundings. The only person who had any consideration for him seems to be his uncle Mark. After his father was killed by a horse in front of Draper’s eyes, he ended up under the care of a prostitute called Aimee who took his virginity. That moment defined his relationship to sex.


Whitman never finished high school and in his early 20s, he enrolled in the military and went to serve in the Korean War. He served under Lieutenant Donald Francis Draper, who was killed during an explosion from an artillery attack. This was the moment when Whitman changed his tags with his Lieutenant and from that moment on, he took the identity of Don Draper. After his service to the military, Don Draper goes to New York to pursue a career in marketing, and that’s how the show starts.


The first episode of Mad Men portrays Draper facing the dilemma of how to sell cigarettes under the growing influence of public awareness about the negative effects of smoking. During the series, everybody is smoking everywhere. In the office, on the plane, at home…it seems as if every scene is filled with cigarette smoke.. Draper’s first wife, Betty, is also a smoker. She is portrayed as an intelligent, depressed, and lost woman, who at the end is diagnosed with lung cancer. To understand the ease with which cigarettes were perceived back then, see the scene where Betty offers her teenage daughter a cigarette as a reward.



The success of Mad Men came from playing with contemporary taboos such as cigarette smoking. In today’s society, it’s unimaginable to practice behavior such as this. In today’s society, Mad Man would have smoked somewhere on a balcony on the top floor of the building, or they would have had air purifiers for cigarettes that would have filtered the smoke. Or even better, Don Draper would have worked in a smoke-free environment, and all that he’d been left with was drinking and women.

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