Sometimes, things get worse rather than better.
"The entire fleet is after us." (lights up)
So the world's about to end
, you didn't save the girl
, you did but she's about to give birth
, or you just had a really bad day at work. While others might be needing a freaking drink
right about now, it's not going to cut it for you. What you really
need is a cigarette. Possibly 20. This is also where the phrase "Smoke 'em if you got 'em" is likely to come in.
Stress smoking is a popular way to depict just how nervous or upset a character is, doubly so if they have previously quit and fall Off The Wagon
because they cannot handle their anxiety any other way. If the only time the character lights up is when things have gone south, it's this trope. This is often spoofed in old cartoons, where a really stressed out character would be surrounded by cigarette butts, but can be used in dramatic works as well. A common method of showing stress is to show the character's shaking hands as they fumble to hold the light to the cigarette.
Somewhat of a Truth in Television
, as smoking does help with stress, however, in the grand scheme of things, it's a short-term solution to a long-term problem; the user only thinks that their stress is gone from smoking, when in reality, their underlying stress has been covered up by the nicotine; not treated, and they now have to deal with the stressor of addiction.
Often goes hand in hand with Must Have Nicotine
. Compare Drowning My Sorrows
and I Need a Freaking Drink
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Anime and Manga
- In Catseye, the young male detective only lights up when he's really stressed, such as when the underage youngest sister pops up in bed with him (turns out she's a sleepwalker).
- In Men's Love, Kaoru spends an entire night chain smoking in attempt to fend off an anxiety attack after Daigo's father's henchmen try to bribe him to break up and tell him Daigo is getting married. In fact, The Verse the story is set in is entirely populated by stress smokers.
- In Digimon Adventure, Mr. Ishida (Matt and T.K.'s father) lights up when he sees his ex-wife.
- Doctor Stein in Soul Eater tends to do this when he needs to calm down. It's subverted once after his second fight with Medusa, where rather than calming down he's has a bout of Laughing Madness because of the Kisin being released. This is later exploited to frame him for the murder of BJ, by leaving a packet of his favorite cigarettes (which the local shopkeeper orders in for him specially) at the scene.
- In Wolf's Rain, Hubb takes a cigar of anxiety when he realizes he's going to die on the cliffside.
- One chapter of Oishinbo is about a young apprentice chef who needed a cigarette to settle his nerves when cooking for Kaibara Yuzan and was fired for it. Yamaoka gives him a spiel about just how bad smoking can be for a chef and he quits.
- Sanji from One Piece is a chain smoker, usually smoking one cigarette at a time, but when he becomes really upset (like when Keimi was kidnapped and about to be sold as a slave), he has been seen smoking five cigarettes at a time.
- Jigen, from Lupin III inverts the idea. The cool gunman is only smoking when he's relaxed. (He's nearly always relaxed) Putting the cigarette out if the situation is getting tense/excited.
- Inverted with Asuma from Naruto, as well. He stops chain smoking when his friend is killed by Akatsuki, because he's taking them as a serious threat.
- Silk Spectre II tried to light one of these on Mars in Watchmen. Dr. Manhattan extended her air supply so she could light it.
- In Transmetropolitan, dealing with Spider Jerusalem causes Royce to smoke several cigarettes at once. On multiple occasions.
- Lucille from Sin City, after revealing to Marv that Kevin cut off and ate her hand, and made her watch, breaks down in his arms and says that she could use a cigarette.
- In the Lost In Time Series, Terry Daniels does this when he's feeling the strain of his choices and so he smokes trying to relieve his nervousness about them in chapter ten before Frank confronts him to learn the truth about why he sided with Soto.
- Some fanfic writers like to have Angel do this.
- Duncan McSmurf decides to get stoned out of his mind with smurfnip in an Empath: The Luckiest Smurf alternate timeline story where he witnesses Smurfette marrying Papa Smurf. Grouchy in the main timeline story "Smurfnip Madness" tries to resist the temptation of smoking a smurfnip cigarette, but ends up succumbing to it and almost being arrested by Brainy and Hefty posing as police officers.
- In the RWBY fic Going Through The Motions, Adam has one of these after a bad breakup.
- Canada ends up becoming a very heavy smoker in What a Way to Fall as a way to deal with his crushing stress and grief. When his grief over America's death and anger over the circumstances that led to it come to a peak, he begins chain-smoking. The next chapter after that however has him trying to curb his habit, even using an electronic cigarette to get his nicotine fix.
- This is used in 1408, the protagonist has a cigarette stored behind his ear for these types of situations.
- The baker Enzo tries to light a cigarette in The Godfather when he and Michael Corleone are guarding Vito Corleone; Enzo's hands are shaking too hard to light the cigarette, but Michael is completely calm and lights it for him.
- In the movie Children of Men, after Julian dies Theo goes to light a cigarette but ends up falling to the ground sobbing.
- In National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Clarke's wife, Ellen, begins smoking while having a minor anxiety attack in the kitchen due to the stress of her parents and Clarke's parents staying in their house. Lampshaded when her mother somehow instantly knows that she's smoking, from the other room, the instant she lights up.
- In The World's End Sam declares she needs a cigarette after Gary tells her their hometown is overrun by robots. (The stress has less to do with the robots and more with how infuriating dealing with Gary is).
- The War of the Roses starts out with Gavin smoking a cigarette that he had been keeping in a glass case for several years, vowing to never smoke again if he never smoked that cigarette. As he smokes, he tells a prospective client about ''why'' he took the cigarette out of the glass case to smoke it. Another one of his clients was Oliver Rose, who was in a Divorce Assets Conflict with his wife, Barbara. Said conflict turned nasty, including an attempt by Barbara to seduce Gavin. The stress of having Barbara come on to him and yet restraining himself from giving in stressed Gavin out so much that he smashes the glass case to get at the cigarette to smoke it.
- In Airplane!, Steve McCroskey, ground support, picked the wrong week to quit smoking (which he says as he lights up a butt). Also the wrong week to quit drinking, taking amphetemines, and sniffing airplane glue.
- In Stranger Than Fiction, Karen Eiffel has a particularly affecting scene after she might have killed Harold Crick where she tries to anxiously light a cigarette before just grabbing it and tearing it apart.
- In Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Big Russ Thompson is shown lighting up despite apparently having quit several years before, demonstrating to the kids how worried he is about them. Russ Jr mentions how Big Russ only smokes when he's really worried.
- Frank William Abignale's mom had these in Catch Me If You Can. At one point, Frank swiped the cigarette, threw it away, and said, "You promised me you would quit."
- Faye Dunaway gets so nervous in Chinatown that she lights a cigarette while her previous one is still burning.
- Final Destination 2 has Ket Jennings, a nervous workaholic who smokes even when on the treadmill. When she's stuck in her car due to some logs, she lights up a cigarillo as she's waiting to be rescued.
- Used in the original The Manchurian Candidate when Marco tries to light a cigarette on a train, but is so nervous and wound-up that he keeps fumbling the matches.
- In The King's Speech, Bertie tries to have a cigarette after a particularly bad session with a speech therapist. His hands are shaking too much, though, and his wife lights it for him.
- In the American film version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Blomkvist is particularly stressed after losing his libel case against Wennerstrom and buys a pack of cigarettes. He lights one, and tosses the rest of the pack into the garbage.
- In the 1981 film Looker, the commercial actress who comes to warn Dr. Roberts about someone killing all the other actresses he had worked on breaks out a cigarette and tries to find a lighter when the doctor kindly lights it for her.
- Evolution: When it seems nothing can stop the alien menace, Harry Block lights up a cigarette, mentioning there's no point to clean living now. He only takes a couple drags before he tosses it.
- In 9 to 5, Violet's son offers to roll her a joint to get her mind off her problems at work, which she initially refuses and argues against, but when her son asks how long she's been waiting for the promotion, Violet casually says, "Slip it in my purse." Later on, the joint gets shared with Doralee and Judy in an "old fashioned lady's pot party" at Doarlee's house where they end up sharing their revenge fantasies.
- There's a bit in My Favorite Year where Peter O'Toole's character, suddenly nervous when he finds out he will be on live TV, babbles about his stage fright and borrows a cigarette a girl is smoking for a quick drag in the middle of his rant.
- Before the final battle in Children of the Lens, one of the Kinnison girls is trying to chain-smoke, but is so wound up that she only manages one or two puffs before stubbing the cigarette out and lighting a new one.
- In the first Red Dwarf novel, we learn that Rimmer, a lifelong non-smoker, goes through 40 cigarettes a day when his astronavigation exams draw close.
- In Eric Plume's Margin Play, Amber notes that "tobacco tastes better when your life is on the line." She also lampshades this trope during her second visit to Mrs. Kitsmiller's house, smoking while she waits for Burton on the porch, and noting that ordinarily it would be a bad choice, since it will make him think she's anxious. But that's exactly what she wants him to think.
- This is the main reason that August from Of Fear and Faith smokes. He also has an anxiety disorder, which means he ends up smoking a lot.
- Averted in Bloodlines. After Sydney is taken at the end of book four, Adrian returns to all his vices except smoking.
- Played straight in the former series. Adrian had (mostly) quit smoking while dating Rose, but fell off the wagon after she cheated on him and broke his heart brutally.
- Sherlock Holmes smokes a lot more than usual, both his iconic pipe and the cigarettes he actually uses more often, when working on a particularly difficult or frustrating case.
Live Action TV
- Freefall: The Mayor does with with a cigar after being confronted with a difficult choice.
- Something Positive: At the end of "Dungeons & Dumbasses", Aubrey is smoking a cigarette after having to put up with Mike all night.
- Zii does this in Ménage à 3, explicitly reserving her cigarettes for such use.
- In Family Guy, Brian lights up in his therapist's office.
- Disney's Goofy has been known to do this in some of the older cartoons featuring him.
- Done in an exaggerated manner by a rooster waiting for his death by axe in the morning in a Merrie Melodies cartoon. He has a conveyor belt set up to repeatedly bring a cigarette to his lips so he can kill it in one drag before the next arrives.
- In King of the Hill, Hank, despite having quit over a decade ago, will occasionally smoke a cigarette when badly stressed.
- In the episode Krusty Gets Cancelled of The Simpsons, Krusty insists that Gabbo's new show doesn't worry him. Cue shot of ashtray overflowing with burned-out cigarettes.
- In the season four episode of Lisa's First Word, Krusty sets up a scratch off game in which every time the US wins a gold medal in an event, the owners of the card will win a free Krusty Burger. However, the game was rigged for only games in which the Soviets would win. However, this was the 1984 Olympics, and the Soviets ended up boycotting it, leaving the US to win all the games, and Krusty to lose $44 million. The next time we see him, he is puffing away on a cigarette.
- Very much a Truth in Television for high stress and high risk positions, such as military personnel, as smoking rates in the US military (as of mid-2014) are still higher than the US civilian population. Many soldiers claim that it is used for a stress reliever, while anti-smoking experts argue back that the smoking itself is just an added stressor. At the time of writing, (2014) there are talks about banning tobacco from the military entirely, but it is promising to be a battle that the pro-smoking side won't lose easily.