Firstly: never smoke. You will stink, you will probably die, you will break the hearts of those who love you, and you will learn what it is to truly hate yourself. You will try to quit one day, and you will fail, and know how crushing it feels to be bested by a chemical. At some point, you will probably even contemplate smoking an unfinished butt you spot in a gutter. If you want to be lowered to this, then there's most likely a tobacco dealer in your area who can help you out. Assuming that you do want to destroy your life, here's an outline of the basics:

Selecting a cigarette

This, of course, is a matter of personal taste. The first question is whether to roll your own or smoke tailor-made cigarettes; read the advantages of hand rolled cigarettes for a good discussion of the pros and cons in this area. If you do decide to smoke hand-rolled cigarettes, you should read how to roll a cigarette or rolling cigarettes for a description of the required technique.

Choosing between cigarette brands is largely a matter of image. Look at their advertisements, and take note of the style of person you see smoking particular brands. Of course, taste plays a role also: you may find a brand which actually tastes good to you, however it's unlikely because they all taste like shit.

Regarding the strength of your poison, weaker cigarettes are perhaps better because they kill you more slowly (although some studies show that smokers inhale more deeply from weak cigarettes, thus annulling the "benefits"). Unless you've already developed a taste for heavy tar-filled suicide sticks, choose a low-strength cigarette. Note that hand-rolled cigarettes are stronger than just about anything else.

Getting ready to smoke

Roll your cigarette if that's what you do. If smoking factory-made cigarettes, you may want to pack them more tightly by holding the packet upside-down and tapping it vigorously, thereby causing the tobacco to settle towards the filter end of the cigarette. If you're largely smoking to look cool, draw a cigarette out of the pack using only one hand: flip the lid up with your index finger, push a cigarette slightly upwards with your thumb, then grab it with your lips and slide it out.

Lighting up

If smoking outside, wind is your constant enemy. If you can't find an alcove to shelter you, turn your back to the wind so that your torso acts as a windbreak, hunch over slightly and cup your hand closely around the cigarette to shield it. Light a flame. If using a match, let it burn for a second or two before lighting the cigarette, otherwise your first drag will taste like sulfur. If using a Zippo, read gyp's writeup here to learn some cool ways to light it. While sucking in--use reasonable force unless smoking hand-rolled cigarettes, which usually light very easily---apply the flame just to the very tip of the cigarette. The cigarette should be horizontal; don't let it point toward the ground, otherwise the flame will engulf far more of the cigarette than is necessary, which wastes tobacco and makes it harder to light. You can stop sucking once the tip glows orange.

If it doesn't seem to be burning well, you don't necessarily need to light it again; instead, blow through the cigarette, then suck, then blow again; repeat until fully alight.

An alternative method is just to hold the cigarette in your hand and light it without simultaneously sucking. This works well enough with hand-rolled cigarettes, but tailor-made cigarettes are trickier and you may have to hold them in the flame for some time and rotate them slowly before they light.


Make an airtight seal around the cigarette with your lips and breathe in to fill your mouth with smoke. At this point a common mistake is to exhale without ever drawing the smoke into your lungs--where I live we refer to this, for no discernible reason, as "bumpuffing". It's the safest way to smoke if you simply want to be seen smoking; however if you want to actually feel the effects of nicotine then you'll need to continue breathing in for a second after removing the cigarette from your mouth, thus filling your lungs with smoke. Hold it in there for a while before exhaling, since this gives the chemicals time to soak into your bloodstream. (If you're smoking something more expensive than cigarettes, like marijuana, then you should delay your exhalation for as long as is comfortable after each drag.)

Unless you're in a movie or picking a fight, breathe your smoke out in a direction which avoids other people's faces. In a crowded room this may mean tilting your head backwards and blowing at the ceiling. For variety, and to increase your risk of nasal cancer, you can breathe it out through your nose.

Stop smoking the cigarette before the flame reaches the filter. If you strain to extract every last drag from it, you'll probably start burning the filter and breathing whatever deadly fumes it emits upon combustion. (The alert reader should note the irony of advising smokers to avoid "deadly fumes".)

Ashtray technique

If smoking indoors, find an ashtray or empty bottle to ash into before you light up. There are a few methods commonly employed to dislodge ash from the end of a cigarette. Gently tapping a finger on top of the cigarette looks quite stylish, however you run the risk of bending or breaking it if you misjudge the force required. A better method is to smoke with the filter clamped between your index and middle fingers, and to ash by flicking the filter end with your thumb (press down on the part you suck, then allow your thumb to slide off so that the filter snaps back up, causing the burning end to snap downwards). mkb informs me that another method seen in Europe is to slowly rub the cigarette against the edge of the ashtray. If the ash stubbornly refuses to fall (this will happen more often with hand-rolled cigarettes), then you can push it off with your finger, which smears but will not burn your skin.

When you're done smoking, put the cigarette out completely by grinding it into the ashtray. Smokers commonly underestimate the effort required by this task, so double-check that it's out before leaving it there to smoulder and pollute the air after you're gone. Similarly, if smoking outdoors and throwing the butt onto the ground, either aim for a puddle or grind it out underfoot. If walking while smoking, you can throw the butt slightly ahead of you, then land your next step on top of it and twist the foot as it lands to extinguish the cigarette without breaking step. (Of course, you will choose not to litter in any case; the disrespect you have for your own lungs need not be extended to the planet as a whole.)


There are various ways to make yourself look cooler while shortening your life. One of the more difficult is documented in the node how to blow smoke rings. As already mentioned, the Zippo writeup describes showy ways to light up. If you're not concerned about starting unwanted fires, you can learn to launch the butt away in a glowing arc by flicking your index finger against your thumb. Some spectators, obviously unaware of the distinction between lungs and stomach, may be impressed if you take a sip of alcohol (what else would you drink whilst smoking?) between inhalation and exhalation of smoke. Varying the rhythm or direction or intensity with which you blow out smoke can create several visually pleasing effects if imaginatively done. True exhibitionists may want to practise throwing an unlit cigarette and catching it between their lips. However, you should carefully observe a twelve-year-old smoking in an alley, or a cancer victim inserting a cigarette into the manmade hole in his windpipe, before imagining that anything you do while smoking looks particularly alluring.

Tips and traps

Apart from slow death, many challenges await the budding smoker:

  • On windy days, you'll find that unsheltered cigarettes burn away very quickly even while you're not sucking on them. Avoid the problem by holding the cigarette with the burning end towards your palm, thus shielding it with your hand. (Holding cigarettes like this is also important in tightly crowded places, since it inhibits you from burning holes in passersby.)
  • Cigarettes with tears in the paper are hard to smoke but shouldn't necessarily be thrown away. It is often sufficient to cover the hole with a finger while smoking. If you have cigarette papers, then you can create a paper bandage by tearing off the sticky strip from the paper, licking it and wrapping it around the damaged part of your cigarette.
  • Cigarettes which are lit from a candle's flame often won't burn. To risk wasting a cigarette, try it for yourself: the vapour from the candle somehow seals the end of the cigarette, and no end of sucking will help you. The only solution is to cut or tear off the end of the cigarette and relight it.
  • If the only cigarette on hand is too weak for your taste, you can strengthen its intensity by shortening or removing the filter. Various rules of thumb have been quoted (e.g., "halving the length of the filter doubles the strength") but probably shouldn't be trusted as mathematically accurate.
  • If you smoke for more than a day or two, you will become addicted. No-one is immune. Nicotine is widely considered to be more addictive than heroin, as evidenced by the very small proportion of smokers who manage to quit successfully. Before long, smoking ceases to be pleasurable and is simply a chore which must be performed to ward off unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. However, products such as nicotine patches very effectively reduce cravings, and can make quitting quite bearable.

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