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Film / Thank You for Smoking

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"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, William H. Macy and Katie Holmes.

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:

  • 20 Minutes into the Past: While the film was released in 2005, it is set in the late 1990s, before the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (1998) which closes the film was concluded. The novel on which it was based was released in 1994.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: At the climax, BJ admits that everyone he works with loved the "Merchants of Death" moniker, to the point of getting bumper stickers printed off.
  • 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 but still mark a point in the sense that even after his near death experience, and the fact that he can never smoke again due to all the nicotine patches the kidnappers forced onto him. Nick doesn't discourage people to smoke. So the message of the film still stand: choice is the most important thing.
  • 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.
  • Affably Evil:
    • Nick earns his living by defending and promoting cigarette companies, but he's a devoted father and rather charming and likable man.
    • Even more is Bobby Jay Bliss, the gun rights lobbyist. It's rare to see a N.R.A S.A.F.E.T.Y member so sympathetic in a movie. He almost borders on Evil Is Funny with the M.O.D. stickers. It's mentioned in the book that he's a Born-again Christian.
  • All Women Are Lustful: Heather, at least in the film, wants to have sex with Nick as she's watching a segment about him on TV, which he lampshades.
  • 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.
  • Arc Words: "For the mortgage." Nick Naylor uses it as his personal life motto, and Heather Holloway later throws it back in his face after the news article comes out. In the end, Nick turns down BR's offer of employment with the reasoning that his self-respect is more important than a mere mortgage.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Senator Finisterre was clearly aiming for this when he questioned Nick on whether, when Joey turns eighteen, he would let his son have a cigarette. He's flummoxed when Nick says yes, if that is what Joey wants.
  • Artistic License – Chemistry: Naylor expresses concern with a hypothetical sci-fi movie pitch depicting astronauts smoking in a starship, saying that lighting a cigarette in a pure oxygen environment would cause an explosion. In real life, if cigarettes are lit in a 100% oxygen setting they’d burn hotter and faster but would not explode themselves or the surrounding air. 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.
  • As Himself: Dennis Miller, the talk show host.
  • Assassins Are Always Betrayed: In the book, this is invoked to trick Nick's would-be assassin into killing the man who sent him to kill Nick, by setting up an elaborate ruse wherein this trope appears to be in effect.
  • 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.
  • Broken Aesop: For all Nick talks about the importance of people being educated, this entirely glosses over how he repeatedly spoke in the past claiming outright lies about cigarettes and even promoting scientists to essentially change facts that people could be educated by.
  • 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!"
      Joey: ...But you didn't prove that vanilla was the best...
      Nick: I didn't have to. I proved that you're wrong, and if you're wrong, I'm right.
      Joey: But you still didn't convince me.
      Nick: (Pointing to the passers-by) Yeah, but I'm not after you. I'm after them.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Captain. Fought in the Korean War, and forms a friendship with Nick.
  • Could Say It, But...: When Nick makes his first public appearance after Heather's article, he says he's above revealing the name of the seductress who'd gotten him to spill his secrets, but only after giving a great physical description of her.
  • 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.
  • Esoteric Happy Ending: Invoked and parodied to the extreme. Nick comes out on top by testifying before Congress, repairing his reputation before turning down the BR offer. He starts his own PR consulting firm to help similarly morally ambiguous clients. Meanwhile Heather gets her comeuppance via demotion to weather reports and Finisterre succeeds in passing legislation against smoking to edit them out of films. Happy ending!
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Nick hits upon his strategy for the congressional hearing while watching Bobby eat apple pie covered with cheese.
  • Everybody Smokes: Strangely, this is entirely averted in the film. The Captain is the only character who comes close, holding an unlit cigar in one scene.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Captain.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Nick's ex comes to his apartment and brings Joey to snap him out of his Heroic BSoD, knowing that what Heather did to him was cruel.
    • 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 "paying a mortgage".
  • 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.
  • Extended Disarming: Implied when Bobby Jay gets stopped following Nick and Polly through a metal detector and insists they go ahead, as "this might take awhile."
  • 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.
  • Frothy Mugs of Water / 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.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Nick's doctor says he can never smoke a cigarette again because all the nicotine patches nearly killed him and he's in frail health. This doesn't help Nick's mood towards the end of the movie.
  • 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. However, the movie itself doesn't have any smoking at all.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: Both the tobacco companies and anti-smoking senator use dirty, or at least morally ambiguous tactics.
  • Gun Nut: Bobby Jay, the firearms industry spokesman, is packing multiple handguns at any one time. Also a bit of a Psycho for Hire, with Nick noting that Bobby joined the National Guard after witnessing the Kent University riots, as he wanted to shoot at college students too. Instead, he got sent to fight Panamanians, who shoot back.
  • 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.
    • The first lobbyists in question? The cell phone industry over (again) cancer claims.
  • Herr Doctor: Dr. Meisenbach. In the movie, his name is the hilarious Dr. Ernhardt Von Grupten-Mundt, who could "disprove gravity".
  • Honor Before Reason: When Nick receives a kidnapping threat, he refuses any protection from his employer, saying he's a man of the people. Sure enough, he gets kidnapped and nearly killed.
  • 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: Nick is said to be a heavy smoker but he is never shown smoking. He does reach into his pocket for a smoke once, only to find that the pack is empty.
  • Informed Attractiveness: When Nick inquires about a reporter from the Washington Probe during his weekly "Merchants of Death" dinner, Bobby pointedly mentions that "she has world-class tits". Heather, while by no means an unattractive woman, is played by the modestly endowed Katie Holmes.
  • 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.
  • Karma Houdini: The guys that kidnap and try to kill Nick are presumably never caught.
  • Karmic Death: Inverted. When some anti-tobacco activists kidnap Nick and try to overdose him on nicotine patches, it's his lifetime of smoking that gives 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.
  • "Last Supper" Steal: In the Opening Monologue, we see a shot of "sharks" placed around a table reminiscent of The Last Supper scene.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: Parodied, when Bobby Bliss offers Nick his pistol to do this to get out of having to answer questions before Congress.
  • Littlest Cancer Patient: Finistirre's aide on the opening talk show attempts this, bringing with him a teen who's gone bald from smoking-induced cancer. However, it backfires when Nick's testimony is suave enough to even persuade the kid. Finistirre later chews out his aide for bringing a bald but otherwise healthy-looking teen.
    Finistirre: "Where in God's name did you dig up 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: 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 his mom to let him go to Los Angeles by exploiting a few insecurities of hers.
      Joey: It was an argument, not a negotiation.
  • 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'. On top of that, his first name "Ortolan" is also the same name of a small bird. David Koechner has a hearty chuckle when he puts 2 and 2 together on the commentary track and realizes the duel meaning of the name.
  • Metal Detector Checkpoint: When Nick, Polly, and Bobby, arrive at the Senate hearing, the first two go through a metal detector checkpoint without issue, but Bobby, being a spokesman for the firearms industry, has so many sidearms stashed on his person that the guard gets visibly annoyed with him.
  • 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. The man's a genius. He 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.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lampshaded, in reference to Heather.
    Bobby: She has big tits.
    Polly: How is that relevant?
    Bobby: World class tits on a reporter interviewing a man with privileged information are always relevant.
  • Mushroom Samba: After Nick is forcibly made to wear dozens of nicotine patches, he passes out into a hallucinatory dream where he imagines himself starring in a fire safety video.
  • Necktie Leash: When Nick stands in front of Heather's door, she opens up and pulls him in by the necktie. A Wall Bang Her scene ensues.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Senator Feinstein, I mean, Finistirre.
  • Never My Fault: This is basically Nick's job, twisting, obfuscating, or otherwise deflecting from the truth so it looks like everyone except the cigarette companies are at fault.
  • Noodle Incident: Jeff's assistant Jack spots a friend of his in the hallway, then, with a huge smile, gives the guy a vile threat about impaling his mother and feeding her to his dog, then shakes his hand and tells Nick and his son "It's an inside joke."
  • 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 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 Nick's relationship with his son and his rivalry with Senator Finistirre.
  • Product Placement: In-Universe, a subplot features Nick working with Jeff, the movie producer, to insert a smoking scene into Jeff's big sci-fi blockbuster, complete with a marketing tie-in line of cigarettes from Nick's company.
  • Punny Name: Maria Bello probably wouldn't be the second listed actor in the opening credits if her name's resemblance to Marboro didn't play great into the cigarette packaging theme of said opening.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Heather Holloway, who is discredited after Nick makes various veiled public comments about her unethical tactics as a reporter. In the Where Are They Now epilogue, the last time we see Heather, she's providing weather reporting in a massive storm in the middle of nowhere.
  • 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.
  • Revised Ending: An alternate ending was filmed in which Joey starts to light a cigarette during Naylor's press conference and Nick swats the cigarette out of his mouth, embarrassing himself in front of the cameras and disgracing his career as a tobacco lobbyist.
  • Sex for Services: Depicted in a realistic manner. Heather publishes an expose of Nick, justifying under Exact Words that Nick never said what was off-record. This causes him to lose his job and credibility. After a brief Heroic BSoD, Nick reveals in various interviews that she used sex to get the information. This is a gross violation of journalism ethics, and her coworkers give her an Everyone Has Standards look when the story breaks. In addition, he uses the Double Standard that women are blamed more in affairs. Heather loses her job on this criteria and is demoted to a weather reporter.
  • Southern Gentleman: The Captain gives off this vibe with his white suit, Southern accent, and many riches. The Politically Incorrect Villain angle is also subtly hinted: His waiters? They're all Black.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Invoked when Jeff the movie producer suggests a scene where Brad Pitt and Catherine Zeta-Jones light one up together after fucking in zero gravity.
  • The Smurfette Principle: Polly is the only woman in the MOD squad, even after they add more members at the end.
  • Spoof Aesop: Cigarettes saved Nick Naylor's life.
  • 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."
  • Too Dumb to Live: Nick becomes this when he receives a death threat from an anonymous caller during a TV interview. Although he's rattled, Nick refuses to receive a bodyguard or protection, saying that it would ruin his image of being a man of the people. (Yes, it is lampshaded that this is really dumb.) Sure enough, he gets kidnapped and nearly murdered by a nicotine patch overdose.
  • The Topic of Cancer: Nick, BR, and their company can hide the issue from the public as much as they want, but they can't stop The Captain from dying of lung cancer.
  • Vehicular Kidnapping: When Nick is grabbed and stuffed in the back of a van by the masked men who turn out to be anti-tobacco lobbyists.
  • Villain Protagonist: Nick Naylor, although he's so goddamn charming it's easy to forget that his job is basically to lie to the public to prevent corporations from facing any kind of public repercussions.
  • Wall Bang Her: Nick and Heather Holloway, all over his apartment, including the kitchen table, the sink, the closet...
  • Wham Line: "The Captain died this morning."
  • Zero-G Spot: Discussed, in combination with Smoking Hot Sex.


Video Example(s):


Smoking Handwave

How do you make a smoking product placement in a space movie? Easy fix! There's even a literal handwave.

How well does it match the trope?

4.75 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / HandWave

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