Cigarette of Anxiety
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 the nicotine in 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.
open/close all folders
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 Wolfs 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.
- In Damekko Dobutsu, Usahara can be seen doing this when ever he get's really annoyed or mad.
- Lucia from Venus Versus Virus smokes and sometimes it's related to anxiety. For example when she killed a little girl who had become a Virus she lit a cigarette while the girls brother and Sumire cried.
- 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.
- Sin City:
- Lucille from "The Hard Goodbye," 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 Big Fat Kill," Dwight steals one of Jackie-Boy's cigarettes while driving him and his friends out to dump their bodies, then imagines Jackie-Boy taunting him about it and how screwed he is.
- Ramona claims to have quit smoking in college by the time Scott Pilgrim takes place, but is shown doing it quite a bit when her and Scott's relationship is on the rocks in volume 5. Though by the end she seems to have kicked it again.
- 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 Zero Hour!, Senior Pilot Treleaven, who has to talk a nervous ex-pilot through landing an airliner, bums a cigarette off the airport staff, muttering "Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking." In a direct parody of this scene, 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.
- In Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo the American bomber pilots have already gotten on board the carrier and are far out to sea when Lt. Col. Jimmy Doolittle reveals to them their mission—a bombing raid over Japan. And because they're flying from so far away, it's a one-way trip; they will have to find somewhere in China to land, or ditch in the ocean, and if they land in China they'll have to try and avoid capture by the Japanese. This news is followed by one visibly nervous pilot standing up and asking Doolittle if it's OK to smoke at briefings.
- 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.
- At the climax of Snowpiercer when all seems lost, Minsoo gives Curtis what is likely the last cigarette on Earth. He smokes it as he tells his heartwrenching backstory and breaks down sobbing.
- In Jaws, Mayor Vaughn is shown with a cigarette in his hand throughout the film, but he only lights up when the shark attacks the beaches on the Fourth of July, effectively ruining the town's summer season.
- Played for laughs in The Ref. Gus, after discovering that one of his hostages is a smoker that recently gave up the habit, correctly deduces that she has a stash hidden somewhere and, upon relieving her of them, uses them to help cope with the stresses of the evening. At one point, he grows so agitated while puffing on one, he sets off the smoke alarms.
- A dramatic example occurs in Downfall, when it becomes apparent that the War is lost and Berlin is about to be taken. Hitler's top officers exit the bunker and wordlessly pass around cigarettes and matches, only pausing to take cover from incoming mortar fire. Doubles as One Last Smoke, given that most of them commit suicide shortly thereafter.
- 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.
- In Vampire Academy, Adrian had (mostly) quit smoking while dating Rose, but fell off the wagon after she cheated on him and broke his heart brutally.
- Averted in Bloodlines. After Sydney is taken at the end of book four, Adrian returns to all his vices except smoking.
- 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.
- Sasha smokes a few in the early chapters of The Tenets of Futilism before she kicks the habit.
- In The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons, Dimitri finds out about Alexander's Secret Relationship and starts casually grilling him about it. Alexander gets out a cigarette, whereupon Dimitri smirks and points out there's already one in his mouth.
Live Action TV
- One time on Barney Miller when Barney is passed over for promotion (again), he finds an old cigarette in his desk and smokes it. He had quit 3 years previously, and that cigarette was left over from before he quit.
Harris: You've smoked a 3-year-old cigarette?Barney: Just wanted to make sure I didn't get hooked again.Harris: That'll do it.
- Virtually everyone in Borgen smokes, with the notable exception of Birgitte Nyborg herself for the most part, but the Smoking = Anxiety component is most noticeable with Katrine, Kasper and Bent, who are seen smoking quite regularly, while other characters, such as Amir in season 2 and Nete in season 3, are shown smoking at certain points in their storyline to underscore the level of stress they are being put through. Although obviously, since we're talking about different actors of government and media, they're all obviously very stressed at the best of times.
- In an episode of Clarissa Explains It All, Clarissa has a dream sequence where she finds her mother smoking like a chimney. The mother explains that she used to smoke and had quit, but that recent stress had caused her to pick up the habit again.
- The lead character of The Twilight Zone episode "Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room" tries to light up to relieve the stress of being called on to kill someone for the first time. He can't because he's out of matches. His reflection, on the other hand, happily puffs away while berating him.
- Seen occasionally on Friends.
- Chandler's an ex-smoker, but can be seen lighting up again in particularly stressful situations. Apparently, he started due to the stress of his parents' divorce. His parents divorced when he was 9.
- In "The One Where Rosita Dies", Ross and Monica's dad claims unconvincingly to have no idea why there's a packet of cigarettes in his garage, until the situation (all Monica's childhood stuff was damaged by flooding) becomes too stressful for him to maintain the pretence.
- Occurs in Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- In the episode "Spiral", Spike tries it. Problem is, his hands are screwed up from the fight they were just in, so Xander ends up lighting it for him.
- Reversed in the episode "Get It Done". Spike, who has been various flavors of The Woobie throughout the first half of the season, and who has just gotten curb stomped by a demon that he needs to kill to help Buffy, goes back to an old hideout of his to retrieve his duster, before going out to fight the demon again. After he dispatches the demon, he lights up a smoke to show that He's Back to his old Bad Ass self.
- Faith, having returned to help only to be shunned by Buffy, sneaks into the basement when the potentials get too much for her when we (and Spike) discover she has taken up smoking. This continues into the comics, where she has regressed to her earlier cynical self and smokes, needing nearly a whole pack before she is ready to assassinate a psychotic slayer. As things improve and she gets with Giles and then Angel she seems to drop the habit.
- How I Met Your Mother revealed that all the main characters were heavy smokers, but because Ted is an Unreliable Narrator, he never mentioned it in the story he is telling his kids. After this revelation, smoking is not shown again in the series for a long time until a crucial episode that changes a lot of the status quo. Robin is going through a very rough time and is on the roof smoking. The implication is that it was such an important and stressful moment that Ted clearly remembered the cigarette and found it worth mentioning years later.
- On Mad Men, when Betty finally tells Don that she knows about his secret identity, not only do Don's hands shake when he lights the cigarette, but he actually drops the cigarette, and Betty has to light it for him. Given how cool, calm, and confident Don had been portrayed for three years, it came off as a very dramatic moment.
- On Married... with Children, Marcy and Jefferson are visiting the Bundys when a Mall Santa dies in their backyard. While the Bundys themselves are blase about it, the D'Arcys are quite shaken and Marcy is smoking a cigarette.
- Sherlock: In "A Scandal in Belgravia", it is a sign of how anxious Mycroft is that he smokes a cigarette.
- In one episode of Band of Brothers, a dud artillery shell impacts right on the edge of Sgt. Lipton's foxhole. The soldier next to him lights a cigarette and Lipton, without looking away from the shell, takes it out of his hand and has a drag. The soldier says that he thought Lipton didn't smoke.
- At the start of the Small Wonder episode "Smoker's Delight", Ted tells Joan that an efficiency expert at work has made him nervous enough to start smoking.
- On That '70s Show, Kitty's efforts to quit smoking are derailed by a visit from her mother-in-law; she runs to the basement and demands that one of the kids give her a cigarette.
- The X-Files, episode "Syzygy": Agent Scully had one because there was a planetary alignment and everybody was being Not Himself.
- Breaking Bad - Skyler has a couple in the aftermath of Walt's "fugue state". She starts smoking again early in season three, by which point she knows he's a meth cook but can't bring herself to tell their son or the police. In the final episode, she is smoking away in her kitchen, where it is probably implied she is a full-time smoker now. Walt bums a smoke off of Jesse in one stressful episode, which prompts a snarky Jesse to ask Walt if he has "enough cancer already."
- The Andy Griffith Show - Andy and Barney are suspicious of a farmer who never leaves his farm, plows at night, and has a wife whom no one has ever met. After investigation, they discover that she is pregnant and about to give birth (don't forget, this episode was shown in the mid-1960s, when this was extremely unusual for any television show, never mind The Andy Griffith Show!). Andy delivers the baby because the doctor didn't show up in time, and after every one is doing well, he walks out to the porch and lights up. This was one of the very few times Andy smoked.
- Community - When Annie moves in with Troy and Abed, she ends up furious at having to adapt to their insular world (the last straw being discovering they'd set aside a room as a 'dreamatorium' while making a blanket fort for her to sleep in) and after a heated row storms out. Abed offers Troy a candy cigarette from a metal case and Troy snaps, "I don't want a cigarette; I want our Annie back!" but then takes one, muttering, "I picked the wrong week to quit."
- Metal Gear Solid 4 lets Snake smoke to reduce his stress index, though doing so also depletes his life.
- Sophia Lamb, Big Bad of BioShock 2, is reduced to this at the end of the game when you, a Big Daddy dual wielding BFGs and plasmids, are standing right outside her office window after a Roaring Rampage of Rescue through her army of followers.
- A minor character in Bioshock Infinite mentions on a voxophone going through half a pack of cigarettes while waiting to ambush the False Shepherd.
- 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.
- After the Lackadaisy speakeasy is attacked by angry pig farmers and Rocky's babyfaced cousin goes nuts on them, Zib shakily lights a cigarette—it takes him about ten or twelve tries.
- 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 what he believes to be his death by axe in the morning in the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Each Dawn I Crow." 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.
- In an episode of American Dad!, the family members all give up bad habits for Lent, signing an agreement saying that whoever breaks first will get their finger chopped off. To get Francine, who gave up smoking, to break, the others fake their deaths, waiting until after she lights up a cigarette to reveal that they tricked her.
- 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.
- During his time in office, Adolf Hitler ran very aggressive anti-smoking campaigns, as German doctors were among the first to find a link between smoking and lung cancer. These had varying degrees of success, as Germans, especially soldiers, tend to be very heavy smokers. Once he committed suicide, everyone who was left in the bunker finally felt it was safe enough to light up. This moment was included in Downfall.