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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.
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 a potential love partner, 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 or an evil person. Or he's just a badass. 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.
Most of these random smoking scenes are just included in the story because...
- U.S. cigarette companies can no longer advertise smoking on television, so they pay directors and actors money to let their characters light a cigarette in a film or TV series. Product Placement can be really useful to inspire people into smoking.
- The actor just wanted to smoke on screen and didn't care whether it was appropriate for the story.
- It's an old movie from before the time scientists discovered in 1964 that smoking is hazardous for your health. Expect Everybody Smokes to overlap with this trope.
- Perhaps they want to be controversial, though this could backfire if such a smoking scene is in a work aimed at kids. See No Such Thing as Bad Publicity.
- 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.
- Alien: The crew smokes. In a spaceship. All-oxygen artificial atmosphere? Limited oxygen supply?
- Unless the atmosphere was very low pressure (and generally unsuitable for long stays), it would have an Earthlike composition of mostly nitrogen with a smaller fraction (20% at 1 bar, somewhat more at lower pressures) of oxygen. Oxygen is actually toxic in high enough concentrations.
- It's still a tightly restricted environment with tightly limited resources. There are a number of ways that it could've been justified, but the lack of even a Hand Wave says more about the time period of production than the random inclusion of smoking says about the characters.
- 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. (http://www.elvis.com.au/presley/interview_doris_fuller.shtml)
- In The Flintstones, actress Halle Berry lights a huge cigarette at the start of the film, despite the fact that this entire story takes place in the Stone Age!!! (Well, an anachronistic Stone Age at that...) And this movie is actually aimed at children! Sure, she is a villain at the start of the film, but she has a change of heart near the end.
- The first Ghostbusters movie (1984) has a lot of scenes where the main characters smoke. After the movie became a blockbuster success and the animated series as well the characters stopped smoking in "Ghostbusters II" (1989).
- The Mask: Even though this cartoonish movie is aimed at children, both leads of the story, played by Jim Carrey and Cameron Diaz, can be seen smoking in a few scenes.
- No one smokes in the film Thank You for Smoking, though Aaron Eckhart's character tries and fails a few times. Later he's nearly killed by being covered in nicotine patches. 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."
- Independence Day: Will Smith's character and his comrade both take cigars along with them when they plan to defeat the aliens for once and for all. And they do smoke them after all the aliens are dead, because what better way of celebrating surviving an alien attack than doubling your chances of getting cancer!
- What Women Want: After Gibson's character' 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.¨
- Wall Street: Michael Sheen's character is a confident non-smoker and even tells his dad to quit the habit. But after Gordon Gekko causes his dad to get fired he inexplicably decides to start smoking himself. For a non-smoker this is a very bizarre reaction.
- 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.
- Childs Play: In "Child's Play 2" the child actor playing Andy out of nowhere takes a puff from a cigarette. There is no point to this scene and it is especially disturbing since a real life nine year old boy is smoking on camera!
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: In the first live-action movie, a bar with bad little children is shown. Some of them are smoking huge cigars. There is no real point to the plot that those kids had to smoke cigars in what is actually a child-oriented movie.
Live Action Television
- 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.
- 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. The actress playing Scully is a smoker.
- Classic Disney Shorts
- In the Mickey Mouse cartoon "The 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 cigarette! Perhaps the historical setting started to annoy him?
- Looney Tunes
- Happens often in the classic Looney Tunes, yet in their defense: back in the 1930s-1950s these cartoons were more aimed at adults than children. And the hazardous effects of smoking had not yet been proven.
- Montage of several smoking scenes in the Looney Tunes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ApxnNyAeGg)
- Tom and Jerry
- Happens a few times, but in Great Britain these scenes have all been censored thanks to the complaints of a concerned parent.
- Although not in the show itself, The Flintstones did commercials extolling the great taste of Winston cigarettes.
- The Simpsons
- In the episode "El Viaje Mysterioso de Nuestro Homer", Marge smokes a cigarette to distract Homer from the chili festival in town. Her plan backfires and 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 lits a cigar, only to have it slapped away by Marge.
- In fact, it even attracted criticism: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/5423098/The-Simpsons-promotes-smoking.html