Film: Thank You For Smoking

"You know that guy who could pick up any girl? I'm him — on crack."
Nick Naylor

Thank You for Smoking is a 1994 novel written by Christopher Buckley and 2005 dark comedy film directed by Jason Reitman and starring Aaron Eckhart and William H. Macy.

Eckhart's character, Nick Naylor, is a lobbyist for the big tobacco corporations, and his job is to defend them in the moral, economic and social arena of the United States. The film asks many questions about the morality of smoking versus free choice. The main plot of the film is Naylor's progression through different mindsets in the tobacco industry, particularly as he tries to appear as a good role model to his 10-year-old son. Although the film doesn't take a strong stance for or against smoking, it teaches us that "the great state of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese."

It's worth noting that while the movie deals with smoking advertising in films, it never once shows a character actually smoking. Make of that what you will.

Thank you for smoking the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The book and the movie are such substantially different animals that it's almost hard to believe anyone on the crew actually read the book (although the movie is still a worthy product in its own right: Tropes Are Not Bad). Many elements of the plot have been reduced, rearranged or cut out entirely, which creates a completely different narrative. There are too many examples to list here, but the biggest example is the kidnapping. In the book, it takes place at the beginning and is hugely important to the plot, and is eventually revealed to be a plot by BR to get good publicity and get Nick out of the way, allowing Janette to take his place. In the movie, it takes place at the end and adds little to the plot, other than making sure that Nick, a tobacco lobbyist, can never smoke again due to all the nicotine patches the kidnappers forced onto him.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Although a lot of characters are reduced or removed entirely in the movie, Nick's son actually gets a lot more screen time and a full character arc in the movie.
  • Alliterative Name: Nick Naylor.
    • Heather Holloway.
    • Bobby Jay Bliss has a nice ring to it.
  • Amoral Attorney: Nick and his lobbyist buddies.
  • Arch-Enemy: Senator Finnistre to Nick Naylor.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: If cigarettes were taken into space, they wouldn't "explode" just because they were in a 100% oxygen environment. They'd burn hotter and faster, sure, but that's a far cry from an explosion. What's more, manned space craft haven't used pure oxygen atmospheres since the early Apollo days, precisely because it would accelerate a fire, so the whole point is moot.
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Invoked deliberately with Bobby, who offers to loan his pistol to Nick by drawing at a diner table and putting his finger in the trigger guard. Though to be fair, he does point it upwards and the pistol in question, a 1911 variant, has its hammer uncocked, meaning it won't fire if the trigger is pulled.
  • As Himself: Dennis Miller, the talk show host.
  • The Barnum: Nick Naylor himself.
  • Because I'm Good at It: Nick's career choice.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Heather Holloway.
  • Bowdlerise: Parodied. After the events of the movie Senator Finistirre is still hard at work, attempting to censor cigarettes in old movies by covering them with bananas and other ludicrous objects.
  • Black Comedy: This is a comedy about people who make tons of money furiously justifying and defending the cigarette industry.
  • Blondes Are Evil: Depending on one's perspective, this is played straight and inverted. Nick is a blond, while Heather the journalist manipulates him to further her agenda—she's a brunette.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Late in the book (only), Gomez saves Nick's bacon and provides him with clues.
  • Chewbacca Defense: Most of Nick's arguments are more sophistry than substance, as he illustrates with Vanilla vs. Chocolate Ice Cream, and "We don't want Cancer Boy to die, we'd lose a valuable customer!"
    • With Vanilla vs. Chocolate, Nick alters the argument from "Which is better?" to "You're denying me the right to choose by saying chocolate's best!"
  • Cool Old Guy: The Captain. Fought in the Korean War, and forms a friendship with Nick.
  • Creator Cameo: When Heather Holloway's article comes out in the film, the novel's author Christopher Buckley is seen reading it in a train station.
  • Demoted to Extra: Jeannette, who plays a vital role in the book, appears for a split second in the boardroom at the opening and has no dialogue. Reitman takes the time to point her out for fans of the book during the commentary.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Practically Nick's M.O. He tries to give the appearance of not wanting people to smoke but his job depends on it, and his idea to put smoking in movies hinges off it.
    • Though interestingly, no one in the film itself actually smokes, which may be an attempt by the makers to avert this.
  • Drink Order: The Captain and mint juleps. Nick puts a glass on his grave.
  • Eureka Moment: Nick hits upon his strategy for the congressional hearing while watching Bobby eat apple pie covered with cheese.
  • Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: The Captain.
  • Everyone Has Standards: The reaction to Nick's speech to his colleagues at the MOD Squad after his Heroic BSOD.
    Nick: And right there, looking into Joey's eyes, it all came back in a rush. Why I do what I do. Defending the defenseless. Protecting the disenfranchised corporations that had been abandoned by their very own consumers. The logger. The sweatshop foreman. The oil driller. The landmine developer. The baby seal poacher.
    Polly: Baby seal poacher.
    Bobby: Even I think that's kind of cruel...
    • In the end, Nick ignores whatever financial compensation to work for BR after he threw him under a bus, finding his self-respect more important than "a mortgage to pay.
  • Eviler Than Thou: Played for laughs. Nick comments that as alcohol and guns don't kill as many people as cigarettes, Polly and Bobby don't need to worry about being killed by vigilantes. They are both deeply offended by this until he apologizes.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: In as much as you can call Nick evil, anyway. He knows his work is shady all around, but he still wants to be a good role model for his son.
  • Expy: In the book, the lead guy who kidnaps Nick resembles Peter Lorre to the extent that he is simply called "Peter Lorre" for the rest of the book.
  • Fun with Subtitles: BR refers to Finnistre as an environmentalist in a speech to his board. This word is subtitled as "Pussy" even if the subtitles are switched off.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: Invoked in-universe, where it is proposed that movies featuring smoking be "improved" by removing the cigarettes and replacing them with less offensive objects.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Senator Finnistre. Fighting for public health doesn't make you very pleasant, especially with an opponent like Nick Naylor.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking/Smoking Is Cool: The entire movie and book are built on discussing these tropes.
  • Grey and Grey Morality: Both the tobacco companies and anti-smoking senator use dirty, or at least morally ambiguous tactics.
  • Hand Wave: The entire concept is lampshaded:
    Jeff: Sony has a futuristic sci-fi movie they're looking to make.
    Nick Naylor: Cigarettes in space?
    Jeff: It's the final frontier, Nick.
    Nick Naylor: But wouldn't they blow up in an all-oxygen environment?
    Jeff: ...Probably. But it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue. "Thank God we invented the, you know... whatever... device."
  • Here We Go Again: After he quits the tobacco lobby, Nick transitions into becoming a consultant that trains lobbyists and spokespeople for other corporations.
  • Herr Doctor: Dr Meisenbach. In the movie, his name is the hilarious Dr. Erhardt Von Grupten Mundt, who could "disprove gravity".
  • Hypocritical Humor: Senator Finistirre.
    Nick: I'm just tickled by the idea of the gentleman from Vermont calling me a hypocrite, when the same man in one day held a press conference where he called for American tobacco fields to be slashed and burned, and then jumped on a private jet and flew out to a farmyard where he rode a tractor on-stage as he bemoaned the downfall of the American farmer.
    Dennis Miller: Care to comment, Senator?
    Finistirre: The... I... shh... No.
    Dennis Miller: Eloquent in its brevity.
  • Informed Attribute: They say Nick is a heavy smoker but you never see him smoking. We did, however, see him trying to smoke, only to find he ran out of them.
  • Insult Backfire: Subverted. Nick's comparison of the death rates from cigarettes, alcohol, and firearms is not received kindly by Polly and Bobby Jay.
  • Ironic Echo: Everyone's got a mortgage to pay.
    • In the book: "Population control", as well as:
    Larry King: Care to comment, Nick?
    Nick: Not really, Larry.
    Larry King: Emotional issue.
  • Irrelevant Thesis: Nick Naylor, constantly.
  • Jerkass: Jill, Nick's ex-wife. She gets uppity when Nick tries to spend time with their son- she seems to think that, since he defends Big Tobacco, he's obviously going to tie their son down and force him to smoke at gunpoint. At one point she basically says to him "Why would he want to hang out with you when he could hang out with Brad?" (Joey's stepdad).
  • Karma Houdini: The guys that kidnap and try to kill Nick are presumably never caught.
  • Karmic Death/Death by Irony: Inverted when some anti-tobacco activists kidnap Nick and try to overdose him on Nicotine Patches, it's his lifetime of smoking that gave him the resistance to fight it. It does become a Cool and Unusual Punishment though, as he can never smoke again on pain of death.
    • A second example in the book: BR had people killed through smoke inhalation "accidents", and is killed in the same manner by the same person.
  • Knight Templar: the kidnappers in the movie and Senator Finistirre in both, to an extent, who is also a Manipulative Bastard.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Book only. Lady Bent is clearly modeled on Margaret Thatcher.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: "And where in the hell did you find Cancer Boy? ... When you're looking for a cancer kid, he should be hopeless! He should have a wheelchair, he should have trouble talking, he should have a little pet goldfish he carries around in a ziplock bag. Hopeless!"
  • Logical Fallacies: Many of the arguments concerning cigarettes are quickly deflected by Nick Naylor by subtly changing the subject. His debating partners, most of whom aren't really good at debating at all, rarely call him out on this. Naylor even admits to his son that he never has to prove that he's right, but only has to discredit his opponents somehow or twist their arguments so they look bad even if they are entirely correct. It's notable that Naylor seems perfectly aware that he's really only playing the masses and the viewers, and that it requires a certain moral flexibility on his part rather than actual facts.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Surprisingly, Bobby Jay, while fighting Panamanians.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Nick Naylor. He can make the anti-smoking lobby look like hypocrites and opportunists, and make the tobacco industry look like a loving family that looks out for its own.
    • Joey himself seems to be learning from his father, as he able to get him mom to let him go to Los Angeles.
  • Meaningful Name: In the director's commentary Reitman mentions a conversation with Buckley about the things he got wrong in the film. One of them is that Senator Finistirre's name is supposed to be pronounced finis terre instead of Finister. It's French for 'End of the World'.
  • Mood Whiplash: An amusing televised debate between Nick and Senator Finistirre which contains one of the funniest moments between them takes a much darker turn when a very calm caller promises that Nick will be dead by the end of the week.
  • Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: The German scientist who works for the tobacco companies.
    Nick: He's been researching tobacco for thirty years and hasn't found any conclusive evidence linking cigarettes and cancer. This guy's a genius. The man could disprove gravity.
  • Morality Pet: Joey is this for Nick. He does what he can to be a good role model to his son, even when he knows his job is morally ambiguous.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Senator Feinstein, I mean, Finistirre
    • Averted in the book with Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, and others.
  • No Smoking: As noted elsewhere on this page, despite the movie being about smoking, we never actually see anyone smoke.
  • Occidental Otaku: Jeff, the movie producer. He is apparently obsessed with Japanese culture to the point of heavily basing his entire building on a jazzed-up traditional Japanese design aesthetic, having a very well-stocked koi pond and constantly maintained indoor rock gardens, and wearing a very intricate kimono when he's alone.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: BR
    • Only in the film, where after his tours in Vietnam, "everyone who knows what it means are all dead". In the book, his real name, Budd Rohrenbacher, is mentioned once as an aside; people simply call him BR for simplicity rather than No Name Given.
  • Parenthetical Swearing: The way BR spits out the word "environmentalist", we probably didn't need the subtitle that pops up reading "Pussy".
  • Pietà Plagiarism: Featuring Nick and Abraham Lincoln, after Nick is kidnapped.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The movie forgoes many of the book's subplots and the final series of plot twists, instead focusing on Naylor's relationship with his son and his rivalry with Senator Finistirre.
  • Really Gets Around: Nick in the book, to the point where Reitman apologized to Eckhart in the commentary for removing so many of those scenes.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Nick from comparing cigarettes to chocolate in front of school children, to giving a cancer ridden teenager a fist bump after accusing the anti-smoking people of using the teenager's illness for publicity.
  • Spoof Aesop: Cigarettes saved Nick Naylor's life.
  • Stealth Cigarette Commercial: From the book, "Everything your parents told you about smoking is right".
  • Sympathetic P.O.V.: Nick Naylor's actions are at best amoral and sometimes indefensible (persuading the kid on the plane to smoke in the movie springs to mind), and what makes it so troubling is his charm still makes it difficult not to like him, let alone revile him in the way we may feel we should.
  • Title Drop: BR has a sign on his desk that says "Thank You For Smoking."
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Despite working as a lobbyist for the cigarette industry, Nick's personal charm and charisma make him very popular among the general public.
  • Wall Bang Her: Nick and the hot reporter.
  • Wham Line: "The Captain died this morning."
  • Zero-G Spot: Discussed, in combination with Smoking Hot Sex.
  • 0% Approval Rating: Arguing for an industry that is seen as a killer doesn't make you very popular. Nick more or less accepts this and it makes his job more rewarding when he succeeds.