"I'm so sorry to trouble you—but tobacco is the one drug every doctor forbids his patients and prescribes for himself."
In contemporary North America, about 20% of the population smokes tobacco. The number is small enough and the practice has been stigmatized enough over the last 50 years (since the science about health effects of smoking became widely known) that younger generations are accustomed to designated smoking areas and smoke-free public buildings. Tobacco use rates continue to fall as older smokers die off without as many younger consumers lighting up for the first time to take their place.
HOWEVER. If you're in a period piece, or a retro-future, or a pulp cyberpunk future, a crime-noir piece, or even an outdated Twenty Minutes into the Future
from a past decade, you might have to put up with the fact that everybody smokes—especially men (it was uncommon for women to smoke until the 1920s when "masculine" behavior became more acceptable). If the setting dates to before the 1970s, ashtrays are going to be everywhere and there will be no such thing as a "non-smoking section" of a restaurant. If it's before the 1960s, smoking might even be seen as healthy and virile. During the period of peak tobacco use in America (late 50s-early 60s), more than 40% of the population smoked with some regularity.
Note that the extent to which smoking has been stigmatized varies from country to country, so this trope may still apply in modern media depending on country of origin. Eastern Europe and East Asia in particular have high contemporary smoking rates.
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Anime & Manga
- Smoking is still comparatively commonplace in Japan, and so it is also quite common in anime. Having a character smoke (who is old enough to do so legally, obviously) says very little about them as a character, and background characters are fairly often seen with cigarettes as well. It's worth noting however that overall smoking rates in Japan have fallen sharply in the last ten years (after regulators started cracking down on it as public health issue), so depictions of smoking are also slowly changing. Men have always had much higher smoking rates than women in Japan so a female anime character's smoking habits are more likely to be significant than a male character's.
- Black Lagoon is a prime example of this, having most characters smoke at least once during the series. Rotton the Wizard is one of the non-smokers in the series. Being the smartest man in Roanapur in many ways, he'll probably live the longest.
- Cowboy Bebop: In the future, everyone smokes IN SPACE. They're usually told that there's no smoking immediately after lighting up, however.
- The Kildred from The Sky Crawlers all smoke, despite of the fact that they're all kids. Or maybe because of it, as they do not age and they keep "dying" and returning with new memories, so they don't really need to worry about something like lung cancer.
- Baccano!, but seeing as it's primarily set in 1930s America, this should come as no surprise...
- In ...Virgin Love and its related stories all the businessmen smoke, likely due to stress. It seems to be how they get through the workday as no one smokes when they're feeling good.
- YuYu Hakusho:
- In the manga, Yusuke smokes, apparently as part of his juvenile delinquent persona.
- Cool Old Lady Genkai smokes, in the manga and anime; she's a crotchety but tough old bird, and it's a bad idea to cross her.
- Kuwabara's older sister Shizuru smokes. She's tends toward completely deadpan, and once puts out her cigarette on a demon's tongue.
- Bad guy Sakyo is almost never seen without a cigarette in hand, but rarely seen actually smoking it.
- In The Wind Rises, quite a few characters are seen smoking. Somewhat egregious considering the real Jiro Horikoshi was a non-smoker.
- In Transmetropolitan, even Spider's cat smokes. Justified in that cancer cures come in pill form. Spider's assistants initially didn't smoke, but he made them start immediately after they were hired.
- In the Tintin series, pretty much everyone smokes save the title character and a couple of his close companions.
- Sin City characters tend to smoke as per the series' Film Noir roots.
- Most movies made before 1970.
- As noted in Real Life below, Product Placement meant that smoking was actually more ubiquitous in films and TV series pre-1970 than in reality.
- In Dark Victory (1939), Bette Davis smokes in her hospital bed, while awaiting surgery for brain cancer.
- Four Daughters (1938) does even better than that. Mickey (John Garfield) is in the hospital, dying of injuries suffered in a car accident. His distraught wife Ann offers him a cigarette. And the doctor lets her. Mickey croaks at the exact instant that Ann is getting the cigarette lit.
- Alien: The crew smokes in their spaceship. This is close to Truth in Television, as even the US Navy allowed smoking in submarines until 2011.
- Bad Timing: There is not one single scene where someone isn't seen smoking, lighting, or stubbing out a cigarette. All three actions often appear within the same scenes. A case of Everybody Chain Smokes.
- On the distant mining planet of Screamers, anti-radiation medication is delivered via red-colored cigarettes. When radiation levels get too high, an announcement instructs all personnel to smoke their "radiation reds" This is lampshaded at one point, with a character commenting on how ironic it is that he has to smoke a cigarette to keep harmful toxins out of his lungs.
- Gattaca, in the retro future variant.
- Jim Jarmusch's Coffee And Cigarettes, of course.
- No one is seen smoking in Thank You For Smoking, even though smoking is what the entire movie is about. The trope is referenced when discussing a possible space movie that would try to make smoking appealing:
Nick: But wouldn't [the cigarettes] blow up in an all-oxygen atmosphere?
Jeff: ... Probably. But, you know, it's an easy fix. One line of dialogue: "Thank god we invented the, you know, whatever device."
- Nowhere Boy. Seems that every other scene pretty much every character has a ciggy hanging from their mouth.
- Ghostbusters. In the commentary for the film, Ivan Reitman said that he had watched both Ghostbusters I and II back to back to jog some memories and was astounded that almost no one lit up in the second one.
- In The Hairy Bird, even though smoking is said to be prohibited on school grounds, it's shown that even the headmistress, Miss McVane, smokes.
- Stand by Me: All the main characters smoke, including the generally wholesome POV Character. They're twelve.
- The Wages of Fear starts with the expected amount of smoking for a black-and-white movie set in a rough town. It becomes ridiculous when the characters keep smoking next to a truck full of nitroglycerin, with a sign that says "No flame within 50 feet." One character even smokes while covered in oil.
- In Videodrome there is rarely a scene, in the first half of the movie in particular, where the main character isn't lighting/smoking or putting out a cigarette. Several other characters are seen to smoke quite regularly throughout the film, but the lead is the most notable. His assistant even lights one up before he gets to the office, and gives it to him -along with a cup of coffee- straight from her mouth, before he goes into a meeting.
- Most Vietnam war movies, like Apocalypse Now, and especially Platoon.
- All of the main characters in Smoke, of course.
- Everyone in Reality Bites. But ironically, of course, like little hipster chimneys.
- Robert Heinlein's 1941 serial/1958 novel Methuselah's Children is full of characters who smoke constantly. To make it worse, many of them are over a hundred years old. They're not some kind of immortals, protected from cancer, they're just naturally long-lived thanks to a long-running eugenics project. This was Ret Conned a few decades later in The Number of the Beast, where a character explains to visitors that they discovered an alternative to tobacco-based cigarettes which are non-addictive and non-cancerous.
- Agatha Christie, oh so much. To the point where characters don't look down on other characters for not smoking...they look down on them for smoking different types of cigarette.
- Seems you can't go anywhere in the world of Atlas Shrugged without finding some chain-smoking rich industrialists. The mystery behind a symbol on a cigarette box is even part of the plot.
- Only the 'good' industrialists who succeed on talent. The 'bad' ones, who live off government favours and crony capitalism, don't smoke. Ayn Rand considered "fire at your fingertips" a positive symbol. In a real life Aesop, she developed lung cancer. See the Real Life section for more details.
- In the Twenty Minutes into the Future novel Ghost From The Grand Banks, one of the characters makes a living out of retroactively subverting this trope: his company digitally edits vintage films and TV programs, erasing any evidence of smoking from scenes, so they'll be marketable to post-tobacco audiences.
- Isaac Asimov's stories often feel less dated than many other Golden Age science fiction tales, but the fact that everybody smokes like a chimney is a dead giveaway.
- A possible lampshading is in The Robots of Dawn, a sequel written in the eighties, where Baley has quit smoking.
- In the Foundation series, endless examples of this, dating the novels when a daring woman character smokes among bearded peasants in the third book; there are also tobacco farms on Hari Seldon's homeworld and decorated cigar boxes as gifts and heirlooms.
- The End of Eternity, though, has a character who smokes cigarettes and complains that his habit is hardly ever practiced or approved of in the vast majority of the many centuries in the future. And it was published in 1955.
- Lucky Starr is a kids' series, so our heroes always decline cigarettes when offered; but the habit is certainly popular among everybody else in the Solar System.
- Most Golden Age mystery novels feature heroic smoking on the part of some characters, but the Ngaio Marsh Inspector Alleyn novels are in a league of their own. The only people not shown constantly smoking are the unsympathetic characters, and the general attitude to smoking is that it's a positive character trait.
- Played for laughs in Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer in which Stacey Keach played the title character, who always dressed like a 1950's Private Detective in fedora and trenchcoat with a permanent cigarette in his mouth, despite living in the 1980's where everyone kept telling him to stop smoking.
- H. Beam Piper:
- In pretty much every HBP story, people smoke. And most everyone stops for cocktail hour.
- In the Fuzzies trilogy, by , smoking is common. These were written before the act became stigmatized, and it ended up ensuring we got a plot point, but no lampshades are hung.
- This is particularly notable in Omnilingual, where the characters are excavating ancient Martian ruins ... in individually pressurised buildings.
- Darkness Visible is fantasy, but it is set in 1895, so naturally this trope applies. Notably, the fact that Marsh has such a major smoking habit does double duty as a plot point and a clue to his sexual orientation.
- The Day of the Triffids the main character dedicates a paragraph or two of narration to lighting up every two to three pages until about two-thirds of the way through the book, when the general lack of supplies means he probably ran out.
- In the novels featuring the Russian Investigator Arkady Renko, beginning with Gorky Park, Renko laments that an enemy could just drop cigarettes on the U.S.S.R. rather then bombs to kill everyone off. Everyone drinks, too. This is probably Truth in Television.
- Interesting variation in Tom Clancy's novels, particularly the Jack Ryan series. Many of the characters, including the titular protagonist, don't normally smoke, but they start lighting up their cigarettes after the tension levels ratchet upward.
- Richard K. Morgan's Altered Carbon subverts this trope. The genre is sci-fi detective noir where the main character is living in someone else's body. Although fulfilling many noir tropes, the main character is agitated to discover the body he is wearing is addicted to smoking. He spends most of the novel battling his addiction to cigarettes and only rarely embracing it.
- Flip open a Philo Vance novel, and odds are Vance will either be lighting up a Regie cigarette or in the middle of smoking one. It's enough to make one wonder if author S S Van Dine was getting a price break in recompense.
- Interesting use in Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis- not only is this trope in play, but even the book's maddeningly prudish, hysterically posturing 'feminine' character smokes as much as the hero. A little period knowledge explains why the hero is always fretting about how many cigarettes he has left to last the week- cigarettes were still rationed in Britain in 1951, as the import and manufacturing base recovered from WW2. It underlines the way that they're considered one of life's minor essentials in the period.
- In Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers, heroine Harriet Vane offers a cigarette to cheer up a miserably drunk college girl who has sneaked into the dorm after curfew.
- Subverted in City of Devils whose hero has a complete inability to light a cigarette without disaster.
- In The Secret History all the main characters smoke except for Bunny. The book being set in a liberal arts college in the eighties, everyone does drugs too.
- The Newsflesh series has an interesting take, as Twenty Minutes into the Future a Zombie Apocalypse is caused by the merging of cures to the common cold and cancer. Despite the zombies, the two cures also did exactly what they were supposed to, and with no risk of ever getting cancer, smoking becomes a lot more popular. Although it's also noted that its current most serious side effect, emphysema, isn't something you want to be dealing with when a zombie is chasing you.
Live Action TV
- I Love Lucy: Not only did all four of the series leads smoke regularly (at least during the first five years of the show), many of the guest stars lit up.
- By extension, a vast majority of TV comedic and dramatic series during the early years of television saw a majority of the people smoking, without restriction or being made an outcast. This was in an era where 40-plus percent of American adults smoked.
- The Tonight Show: Especially during the Jack Parr and to a somewhat lesser extent the first 15-20 years of the Johnny Carson era, a large number of the guests smoked on-camera, without restriction. Even Parr, Carson and — to a lesser extent — Ed McMahon, smoked on-camera, although by 1980 or so, Carson and McMahon eventually stopped lighting up on the set.
- Mad Men: Lampshaded by the DVD packaging which resembles a giant Zippo lighter. Of course, it's not literally everyone. A few characters (Pete Campbell being the most notable) don't smoke. Word of God states that the non-smoking characters are the ones whose actors were never smokers in Real Life; even though the cigarettes are herbal, this is apparently important to them.
- Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
- Star Trek: The Original Series is somewhat notable for averting this. The network wanted to use this trope, but Gene Roddenberry refused, on the grounds that given the known health risks of smoking, people would have stopped doing it that far into the future.
- Fitz Kreiner, from the Doctor Who Expanded Universe, is from the 1960s. Naturally, he smokes. Also quite naturally, the Doctor and Fitz's more modern fellow companions hassle him about it, especially Sam. He falls Off The Wagon every time he quits, although in one book, he has Blood from the Mouth for no particular reason.
- Life On Mars: Even at crime scenes and morgues. And in hospitals. Weirdly, it was totally OK to smoke in hospitals in the UK back then - they even came round with a trolley selling them!
- In Absolutely Fabulous, in part. While Edina and Patsy's frequent smoking in Saffron's own home would still be legal in the UK today, it stands out glaringly when Eddie, Patsy and Magda smoke inside the private hospital (which, as noted above, was commonplace in British hospitals until recently), with the nurse bringing a trolley of cigarettes for them to buy. That said, smoking would probably not be advisable for Patsy right before her elective facial surgery.
- Teachers has many of the main cast smoking, not only at the pub but also illicitly in the school toilets and in maintenance areas of the school grounds. As with many of the above examples, even the legal smoking areas depicted stand out to UK viewers, who have been unable to smoke in workplaces and public buildings (including pubs) since 2006.
- Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) (and not just cigarettes either)
- Apparently Willie didn't listen to his Uncle Sam when he told him not to start smoking.
- Speaking of which, here's a list of everyone of significance in Caprica who has smoked onscreen: Joseph Adama. Samuel Adama. Amanda Graystone. Daniel Graystone. That Philomon guy. And Sister Clarice is known to frequent a Fantastic Opium Den. Hm. Looks like everyone who isn't in high school out of the main cast.
- Most of the characters in Twin Peaks smoke, since it's a Fifties throwback.
- Most of the people on Deadliest Catch smoke, and of the few who don't, most of those chew tobacco.
- In the most recent season, one captain (Keith of the F/V Wizard) is trying to quit chewing tobacco at the guilt trip/urging of his daughter. And, while it's somewhat understandable people in a high-mortality profession like crab fishing view long-term risks like smoking differently, there's some indication Captain Sig of the Northwestern has changed his tune after Captain Phil of the Cornelia Marie suffers a pulmonary embolism one season, then a massive stroke and finally dies of a second embolism. Sig reacts to the news by throwing his pack of cigarettes across the wheelhouse.
- Watch almost any cooking-based reality show that shows contestants during their breaks, and you'll see every single contestant smoking like a chimney. This is somewhat ironic, as pointed out by Gordon Ramsay (famous chef and host/judge of Hell's Kitchen). He does not smoke and has berated contestants for the habit, which deadens the sense of taste and actually makes them worse chefs than they would be otherwise.
- It's pretty hard, if not impossible, to think of main character from Skins who doesn't smoke.
- Jal in series 1/2, Katie in series 3/4. Though both succumbed to other drugs.
- There's a scene in one episode where Katie has a drag of one of Effy's cigarettes.
- The main characters rarely are shown smoking. This is notable because the series was filmed during a time when smoking was common and takes place in a time before anyone thought smoking was bad for your health. However, every major male character was seen smoking at some time in the series; Col. Potter confessed to enjoying 5 cigars a day for decades. Even Radar during the first and second seasons was seen smoking (and drinking whisky).
- Camp Chef Igor can be seen with an actual cigarette in one episode. Also, there's a lot of smoking in the movie.
- In UFO the characters regularly smoke in computer rooms, medical areas, SHADO's underground headquarters, the Skydiver submarines and even on Moonbase! Averted in "Sub Smash" where a nurse tells Commander Straker he can't smoke inside a hospital room.
- Since it's set in the fifties, nearly everyone in the BBC series The Hour smokes.
- In the show Undercover Boss many of the workers and a few bosses smoke. The biggest example is when the boss buys an ashtray for a lady who goes into the parking garage to smoke and throws the cigarettes on the ground.
- Hogan's Heroes didn't normally show people smoking, but it did have a running joke in the form of Hogan stealing Klink's cigars whenever his back was turned, as well as frequent attempts to bribe Schultz with cigarettes.
- Danger 5 is a spoof of 1960s Thriller Spy Drama fiction, and consequently, literally everyone in each scene smokes. Played for Laughs, of course.
- Played with on How I Met Your Mother. People smoke when it becomes plot-relevant, most often cigars but sometimes cigarettes or...sandwiches. However, in fact they're pretty regular smokers, Future Ted just doesn't talk about it much because he's telling the story to his kids.
- Poirot: True to the Agatha Christie novels, everyone smokes in the UK adaptation starring David Suchet. Sometimes they smoke so much it's hard to see through the blue haze.
- Boardwalk Empire, which makes sense as the show is set in the early 1920's. In fact, the only characters of significance who doesn't smoke (that's old enough to, anyway) are Margaret, Richard who is physically incapable due to his war injuries, and Arnold Rothstein who also abstains from drinking. Everyone else is almost always using one or preparing to light one.
- Dancing on the Edge, a mini-series set in London in the 1930s has everyone smoking except the two Ingenues.
- The shift of this trope across the years was pretty much the entire basis of short-lived British sitcom The Smoking Room, set in the early 00s when these were a fairly common feature of large workplaces- smoking at one's desk or the general break room having become felt to be obnoxious by the majority, but the laws against actually smoking in a workplace building not being passed yet. The whole premise was that people now mixed in the smoking room from different areas and levels who wouldn't otherwise speak to each other (with a strong subtext that this meant all the best and most interesting interactions went on in there, as was the writer's conviction.)
- The original Mission: Impossible series had a lot of smoking, Cinnamon and Rollin especially. Became a plot point a couple of times, when doctored cigarettes were used to make marks more pliable.
- In Call the Midwife, set in the East End of London in the late 50s, most of the characters - including pregnant mothers! - have a casual smoke every so often. It's even a bonding moment for Dr Turner and Sister Bernadette, who share a Henley cigarette after a particularly difficult delivery. He does seem a bit surprised when she takes him up on his lighthearted offer, but it's likely that's only because he's never seen her smoke before; the nuns are just about the only characters who aren't constantly lighting up.
- The revived Upstairs Downstairs, set in the 1930s, had a Mad Men-like amount of smoking going on.
- Invoked by Rilo Kiley:
- Jenny Lewis specifically called this one an "anti-anti-smoking song." Make of that what you will.
- Of course, they could easily be doing another kind of smoking, but one suspects that both meanings were intended.
- In early Tom Waits songs, there are more references to Kents, Lucky Strikes, and the like than you can shake a stick at.
- Common in Hair Metal, Heavy Metal, and Visual Kei videos well into The New Tens. To name examples would be too exhaustive, because there are too many.
- Grim Fandango, a LucasArts adventure game, is heavily influenced by film noir, and so everybody smokes like chimneys. The joke? It takes place in the Land of the Dead, so all the characters are already deceased. Walking, talking skeletons can't get lung cancer because they have no lungs.
- In Starcraft it's ubiquitous. Among the Terrans, at least. Not sure the Protoss even breathe, but they don't have mouths.
- BioShock 1, being set in 1960. Although you rarely see another person smoking, there's plenty of boxes of Oxford Club and Nico Time lying around (that take away health but restore EVE). It's also notable that cigarettes are one of the biggest products for smugglers.
- BioShock Infinite one-ups its predecessor by featuring a children's cigarette brand in Columbia. There are even some kids apparently taking smoke breaks scattered throughout the game.
- The ad for truth serum cigarettes in the Team Fortress 2 Spy update claims, "There is no one who does not like to smoke." Appropriate, since the vague time period the game's set in most closely resembles The Sixties.
- Spy is not the only class to smoke. Here's what some of the other classes prefer:
Pipes (Soldier, Pyro, Demoman, Medic, Sniper)
- The Saboteur, despite its cartoonish Dieselpunk aspect, actually stays true to the period as far as this trope goes. The player can even tap a button to have Sean light up if he's standing around doing nothing. One loading screen lampshades it, calling smoking one of Sean's least healthy habits (the man routinely climbs buildings, blows up buildings, crashes cars, and gets into gun fights, so that's saying something).
- Deus Ex: While you will not see anyone actually smoking, cigs are a relatively common find throughout the game, and there are usually cigarette vending machines in public. In a nightclub, one NPC will ask you for a light. JC can smoke as well, but at the cost of 10 health points to the torso, making it at full health, chain smoking 10 packs in a row will kill you.
- The prequel, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, plays this straight as well. Walk down the street of Detroit, or heck, even just step outside the Sarif Offices at the helipad, and you'll see all sorts of people smoking a cigarette. The player character, Adam Jensen is also a smoker as well, presumably to deal with the stress of becoming an augment. Of course, since he can get an aug upgrade that allows him to breathe in visibly green toxic gas with no ill effects, cigarette smoke is probably of no concern to him.
- The fan-made prequel 2027 also features this. Matches and cigarettes are a common find.
- In L.A. Noire, pretty much every character smokes except the protagonist. If you stand around for too long, your partners will light up a cigarette.
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker: Just about every named character either smokes (Snake, almost every single MSF soldier, Amanda, Chico and Paz' true persona), has smoked in the past (Miller and Galvez quitted) or otherwise uses tobacco products (Huey uses an electronic cigarette, Strangelove and Pacifica Ocean snuff).
- In Lucky Dog 1, practically all of the main characters smoke cigars or cigarettes with some having preferences for one over the other (Gian for instance only smokes cigarettes, while Luchino seems to like cigars). This is probably justified since the plot is following the lives of criminals in the 1930's. In fact, only two of the characters, Giulio and Bakshi don't ever seem to smoke.
- Many characters in The Word Weary smoke (Harry the Hipster, Grace, John and Poor Trotmann) though it takes place in the present day. This is somewhat justified in that the main character works in a hookah lounge.
- In Jennifer Babcock's C'est la Vie, Mona (who is French) smokes as if daring the entire USA to physically prevent her.