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Random Smoking Scene

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Hey, wait a minute! When did they start smoking? And... er... how?

"In 1927 talking pictures were born, and suddenly directors needed to give their actors something to do while they're talking. Cary Grant and Carole Lombard lighting up, Bette Davis a chimney, and Bogart, remember that first picture with him and Lauren Bacall? ... She shimmies through the doorway 19 years old, pure sex, and says, ‘Anyone got a match?’ and Bogie throws the matches to her, she catches them. Greatest romance in the 20th century, how did it start? Lighting a cigarette."
Nick Naylor, Thank You for Smoking

You're enjoying a movie, a TV show, a book, a comic when suddenly out of nowhere one of the (presumed non-smoking) characters lights a cigarette without any real reason. It's not part of the plot, it doesn't tell you anything about the character or it is in fact the first time in the entire work that a character is revealed to be a smoker. Often, the character will never light up again, and their smoking will never be discussed again. Thus making it a grave Series Continuity Error.

Welcome to the world of Random Smoking Scenes.

In other circumstances a smoking scene can be useful to the plot. A character is nervous, wants to impress people, just had sex, is a well known smoker (Winston Churchill, Fidel Castro, Humphrey Bogart can not be portrayed as non-smokers), is a rich business executive, a classy, intellectual pipe smoker, a Native American making peace with other tribes or an evil person. Or he's just a badass. Or the story is a Period Piece set in an era when Everybody Smokes. Or he needs access to fire and a cigarette is the only option. However, the random smoking scene has no real purpose and could have easily been left out the story without affecting the plot. In a few instances, it even becomes pointless padding. Sometimes it even makes no sense because the story takes place in a time period when tobacco hadn't yet been introduced, or the character smokes in an area where it is normally not allowed. In other circumstances, it's even highly questionable because the story is actually aimed at or popular with children or teenagers. Let's face it: there's no real necessary reason to have little children smoke on screen. It's Troubling Unchildlike Behavior that could easily be faked or avoided on screen, without hurting the story.

Most random smoking scenes tend to be included in a work for one of a couple prominent reasons:

  1. U.S. cigarette companies can, as of April 1970, no longer advertise cigarettes or other tobacco products on television, so they pay production companies to let a show's characters light a cigarette in a film or TV series. Product Placement can be a potent way to inspire people to start smoking.note  In the 21st century, this has gotten less common, as the Moral Guardians (as well as the general nonsmoking public) have gotten more wise to this kind of behavior and disapprove of it.
  2. The actor just wanted to smoke on screen and didn't care whether it was appropriate for the story.
  3. It's an old movie from before the Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health was published in 1964. Expect Everybody Smokes to overlap with this trope, with folks who would strike modern viewers as nonsmokers lighting up just 'cause.
  4. Perhaps they want to be controversial, although this could backfire if such a smoking scene is in a work aimed at kids. See No Such Thing as Bad Publicity. In the 21st century, this is definitely the least common (since trying to be "edgy" in this way, especially with actual children's programming, can be a death sentence for crucial advertising dollars if one is on TV or ad-reliant media).

See also Stealth Cigarette Commercial.


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  • This ad for Herman Cain (at the time a candidate for the 2012 Republican nomination for President) features Cain's Chief of Staff Mark Block talking about what Cain hopes to achieve by running... and then, towards the very end, a shot of him taking a drag off his cigarette. It comes out of nowhere and counts as a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment, as well. Combined with the closing shot of Cain slowly turning to the camera and slooooooowly smiling, the ad quickly went viral. This is also a very clear case of Type 2: Word of God says that Block happened to be smoking throughout the taping, but the cigarette was out of frame, and the editors thought it would be cool to throw in a shot of him taking a drag.
  • A rather infamous anti-smoking TV commercial from the 1980s featured C-3PO condemning R2-D2 for smoking a cigarette. Well-intended, but probably the best illustration of a "random smoking scene", since R2-D2 was never seen smoking in the Star Wars movies. They even had to "add" an arm to the robot to make him able to smoke.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Bulma in Dragon Ball Z is seen smoking two times during the early part of the Majin Buu Saga, which are pretty much the only times you actually see her smoking.
  • Gray of Fairy Tail was seen smoking in his first few appearances. Laxus smoked a cigar in his first appearance. None of them has smoked since. Good Smoking, Evil Smoking may be in effect here as a way to characterize them, since Gray is mostly heroic, while Laxus initially was a straight-out Jerkass.
  • Naruto:
    • In Jiraiya's debut episode of Naruto, he was shown smoking a pipe. However, this is the only time you actually see him smoking.
    • The comedic Naruto spin-off, Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals, shows a scene of Orochimaru dressed as a woman in a bar smoking.
    • Subverted in chapter 14 of the Rock Lee manga. Gamakichi was comparing his relationship with Gamatatsu to Neji and Hinata's. After a brief montage, it showed Hinata dressed as their father, Gamabunta, complete with a pipe. However, smoke wasn't coming from the pipe.
  • In the One Piece movie, Strong World, Brook is shown smoking something while dressed as a hippy.
  • Yuki fron Wandering Son is seen smoking in one chapter. It's unusual because, despite having a smoker boyfriend, Yuki herself was never implied to smoke prior to that chapter.

    Comic Books 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Child's Play 2, little Andy is seen taking a drag from a cigarette in one scene. This happens really out of nowhere and serves no further purpose to the rest of the story. Also, in the first film he was just a regular nice little boy. You really wonder why the director would include such a scene, especially since we're talking about a small kid.
  • In the biopic Ed Wood (1994), Sarah Jessica Parker plays the role of Ed Wood's wife Dolores Fuller. Fuller lived to see the movie adaptation of her husband's life, but didn't like the way Parker portrayed her on screen since the actress smoked all the time, while she actually always has been a non-smoker. [1]
  • A Hard Day's Night: In a few scenes, most prominently towards the beginning on the train when George and Ringo discuss a woman who was flirting with Ringo earlier. Then again, The Beatles apparently smoked like crazy throughout the shoot, and director Richard Lester mentioned in at least one documentary someone would always be standing by just before each scene to take the cigarettes out of their hands, and then give them back after filming was finished.
  • In Husk, Chris and Natalie share a cigarette when they are left alone at the wrecked van. Natalie is apparently a secret smoker and asks Chris not to tell her boyfriend Brian that she is a smoker. Neither lights up again over the course of the film, and Natalie hiding her smoking from Brian never becomes plot relevant. The main purpose of the scene is to establish that Chris carries a lighter.
  • In It's a Wonderful Life George lights up a cigarette while outside of Harry's party. It might represent his depression, since Harry's getting a lucrative job offer and George is still stuck in Bedford Falls, but otherwise it never comes up again.
  • In-Universe example in Mrs. Doubtfire: The cartoon Daniel is dubbing in the opening scene has the parakeet take a long drag of his One Last Smoke before he is eaten by the cat, thoroughly enjoying it. Daniel objects and ad-libs dialogue to make it seem as if the bird doesn't like it, which gets him fired.
  • Paper Moon: Child actress Tatum O'Neal plays a con artist in this film, alongside her own father, Ryan O'Neal. You would think that he would at least guard her from being exploited by the director, but no. The ten year old actress is seen smoking in several scenes. And she won an Academy Award for her portrayal!
  • Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: Smoking is implied to be exceedingly rare or non-existent among humans in Star Trek, but St. John Talbot, the human ambassador to Nimbus III, is nevertheless smoking a cigarette in one scene. None of the characters seem to notice or point this out. (Then again, he is on a Crapsack World.)
  • Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: When Kirk and McCoy arrive at the Klingon penal colony of Rura Penthe, a fellow prisoner, Martia, gives Kirk a drag on what she's smoking, claiming it will keep him warm. (Rura Penthe being an ice planet.) Strangely, she doesn't offer it to McCoy (neither does Kirk).
    • Word of Dante This was a theory of someone that worked on the movie and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 believes this is how this space shifters can adapt themselves to look like another creature is through DNA Exchange. The character was looking to die, so looking like Kirk would be the best bet.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990), a bar with bad little children is shown. Some of them are smoking huge cigars. The smoking was to demonstrate the super-child-unfriendly environment fostered by Shredder and the Foot, (along with other evils like gambling, stolen electronics, truancy, and skateboarding). This scene may be a bit explicit and jarring to modern viewers, who expect some minimal level of euphemism when dealing with the plight of wayward urban youth.
  • What Women Want: After Marshall's female psychiatrist discovers that he can hear what women think she is so shocked that she decides to smoke a cigarette. She admits it's "highly unorthodox", but yet it's still a strange reaction.

  • When first introduced in the Discworld series, head wizard Mustrum Ridcully is, in Reaper Man, a militant non-smoker. He adamantly refuses a cigarette claiming that if you could see the inside of your own lungs you'd think twice. But in Unseen Academicals he is seen searching his rooms, late at night, for smoking materials, as he really needs tobacco. Either the pressures of the job made him take it up or this is a continuity error/random smoking scene.
  • The novel The Guns of Navarone has a section near the end where some of the characters meet at a local Greek bar before beginning the final stage of their mission. One of the English soldiers is already waiting there and is noted to be smoking with some of the locals. The leader of the group informs his comrade he is in fact smoking hashish not tobacco and advises him to stop. The soldier, not realising his mistake obliges but no further mention is made of the fact one of the commandos was going into live combat stoned.
  • Star Wars Legends: In his introductory scene in Galaxy of Fear, Karkas is smoking and blows some into Tash's face. He's not otherwise shown smoking, even when in Tash's body, perhaps because she's not yet fourteen.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Adam-12: An early episode saw Pete Malloy putting out a cigarette and is the only time he is implied to be a smoker. This is the only time any of the main characters smoked.
  • In one episode of Angel the title character is seen leaning against a car smoking a cigarette. Partially justified as we know the character would have a dark past from his time without a soul and smoking hardly seems the worst vice that he may would have indulged (as well as being a vampire not really being at risk from the potential health problems) but mostly in that it is both to show him crossing a moral/despair event horizon and to spring his trap with a well timed flick of the lit cigarette
    • Also, although the work is set in modern times: Angel himself is from a time when everyone smoked all the time. He was turned in the mid-19th Century. So, randomly lighting up is perfectly legitimate. It's actually a surprise that he doesn't light up more (which is presumably partially because it's a kid's show). Later on, in both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and in Angel, they consistently portrayed his Darker and Edgier Angelus personality smoking. This is somewhat consistent with Spike also being portrayed as a smoker and being more of an Anti-Hero.
  • This is seen frequently in Dexter. Sometimes smoking is relevant to the plot (such as DNA from a cigarette butt, or cigar ash as evidence) but sometimes random, normally non-smoking characters smoke.
    • Lieutenant Laguerta smokes a cigarette while interrogating Neil Perry, a suspect in the Ice Truck Killer case.
    • Masuka is seen smoking a cigarette with Debra outside of the police station on one occasion.
    • Rita is seen randomly lighting up once or twice, but this is justified by the fact that she is a former smoker lighting up out of stress.
  • In The Andy Griffith Show, the episode "Quiet Sam" has Andy assisting a farmer and his wife in their baby's birth (all off camera, this was 1961). After the delivery, Andy is shown relaxing and smoking on the porch.
  • Doctor Who:
    • In "An Unearthly Child", the First Doctor is shown lighting up a pipe upon landing on prehistoric Earth — the story is about him being captured by a group of cavemen who want him to create fire for them, but he loses his matches. This was 1963, and public opinion about showing heroic characters in children's shows smoking changed soon afterward, meaning that neither he nor any of his future incarnations are ever seen smoking again. (The Expanded Universe, which is a bit less child-friendly, has it that Four occasionally smokes a pipe too or at least enjoys sharing them socially, Eight has a taste for cigarettes and Two is a bit of a stoner.)
    • "The Deadly Assassin" has a scene where the Fourth Doctor uses a hookah and a pile of his clothes in a chair as a Decoy Getaway, so as to create the illusion that he's smoking in the corner with his back to the door when the Time Lord guards break into his TARDIS. Since he isn't ever seen smoking on screen, it comes across as a bizarre part of the illusion. He isn't shown actually smoking it, though he pops the end of the pipe into his mouth while he's setting it up. Later in the story, though, he wakes up from beside a machine that's been burned out by saying "Do you mind? This is a non-smoking compartment."
    • The Doctor has a cigarette case in "The Face of Evil". It only has jelly babies in it, though he mimes with them like they're cigars.
    • Ian lights a cigarette while trying to help Barbara after a car crash in the Target book Doctor Who in an Exciting Adventure with the Daleks. He never smoked on the show, let alone in the story the book is an Adaptation Expansion of.
  • Dixie McCall, while on a break, in one early episode of Emergency!. Although most of the show's actors smoked, this is one of the rare times any of the characters is shown doing it. Of course, this was before hospitals banned it in general.
  • Happens frequently in Grantchester, playing up its 1950s setting.
  • In the Sherlock episode "A Scandal in Belgravia", Mycroft passes his brother a cigarette to smoke after the shock of a character's death. (Elsewhere, Sherlock is shown to be a quitting smoker who excessively uses nicotine patches to cope with stress.) According to Word of God, this is meant to reflect the literary original's cocaine use, which was similarly frowned upon in its day.
  • Dana Scully from The X-Files smokes exactly once in the entire series out of stress while she is by herself in a hotel room, but does not mention it to anyone or even make note of it onscreen. The cigarette is just there. Gillian Anderson is a smoker. In that episode, everyone involved became temporary, literal Cosmic Playthings thanks to a rare planetary alignment. It briefly turned the town into a Quirky Town, including the visiting agents.
    • Fox Mulder is also seen with a cigarette in a flashback episode that might explain the Sunflower Seeds.
  • Played With on How I Met Your Mother. None of the main characters have ever been seen smoking onscreen, but the episode "Last Cigarette Ever" reveals that they are all habitual smokers. Future Ted, telling the story to his kids, left out any mentions of this until telling the story of how the gang tried to quit. Although they fail to break the habit, they are never seen smoking again, and Future Ted reveals that they would all eventually quit for various personal reasons.

    Video Games 

    Web Comics 
  • Parodied in Exterminatus Now with the introduction of Virus. He doesn't smoke, but he tries in his opening, and ends up hacking up a lung. This is lampshaded in the next page.
    Eastwood: Since when do you smoke?
    Virus: I don't.
    Eastwood: Then what the hell were you smoking for?
    Virus: I was setting the scene, the situation just seemed to call for it.
    Eastwood: You mean it was a lame attempt to look like a badass.
    Virus: Did it work?
    Eastwood: Nah, you just looked like a regular ass.

    Western Animation 
  • Classic Disney Shorts: In the Mickey Mouse cartoon "Brave Little Tailor", the story takes place in a fairy tale setting in the Middle Ages. Yet the giant decides at one point to roll himself an enormous improvised cigarette! Perhaps the historical setting started to annoy him?
  • Although not in the show itself, The Flintstones did commercials in the first two seasons extolling the great taste of Winston cigarettes.
  • Happens often in the classic Looney Tunes, yet in their defense: back in the 1930s-1950s these cartoons were either more aimed at adults than children or for general audiences in the truest sense of the term (for all ages, not how the general audiences rating is generally understood to be in the modern day), and the hazardous effects of smoking had not yet been proven. Montage of several smoking scenes in Looney Tunes can be seen here.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Near the end of the episode "Marge on the Lam", Marge is seen smoking a cigarette in a Badass Smoker pose. This is really awkward because she normally doesn't smoke and for most of the episode her friend Ruth Powers was acting out the Badass Smoker part.
    • In the episode "El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer", Marge is also seen smoking a cigarette to distract Homer from the chili festival in town. Her plan backfires because Homer knows "she doesn't smoke." Later, Homer dismisses her with the words: "Sheesh, why don't you have a cigarette or something?" whereupon Marge concludes: "Mm, I suppose I could."
    • In the episode "The Mansion Family", the Simpsons take care of Mr. Burns' mansion. Bart then lights a cigar, only to have it slapped away by Marge.
    • In fact, it even attracted criticism in Australia.
  • Happens a few times in Tom and Jerry, but in Great Britain these scenes have all been censored thanks to the complaints of a concerned parent.