But on Thursday, with much fanfare, the federal government helped Jackson Pollock kick the habit, unveiling a new 33-cent stamp based on a famous photograph of the artist, but without his trademark cigarette.
The Postal Service calls it a design issue, an effort to produce a stamp calling attention to Pollock the artist, not Pollock the smoker. But cultural historians are appalled, saying the political incorrectness of smoking these days is leading us to snuff out our own past.
"The communists used to airbrush inconvenient persons from photographs. Americans are airbrushing signs of inconvenient sins. I think it's a joke," said Professor Todd Gitlin of New York University.
It's not the first time the Post Office has had a no-smoking policy. Blues guitarist Robert Johnson was captured smoke-free in 1994. A stamp of chain smoker Edward R. Murrow shows no cigarette too.
For author Christopher Buckley, it's a sad statement that the government doesn't trust us with the truth.
"Essentially what you're doing is tampering with the cultural DNA," Buckley said.
Imagine, Buckley says, the next cigarette purge: Casablanca just wouldn't be Casablanca. Seductive scenes from classic movies would vanish, like smoke.
It's true teen smoking is on the rise. But critics say blocking the view of who we really are is just a smokescreen.
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