Smoking: I’m Dying for a Fag

Smoking: I’m Dying for a Fag

Photo by Nickolas Muray. George Eastman House from Rochester, NY, United States

This post is dedicated to all those who have already given up on[1] their New Year’s resolutions!

 It is an established fact that smoking causes heart disease, lung cancer, bad breath[2], sterility and, in the UK, poverty[3]. I do not wish to encourage[4] anyone to smoke. Smoking is a bad habit but this is no reason for Tefl to pretend that[5] it doesn’t exist; many learners do still smoke[6] and they have the right to know the vocabulary of smoking in English.

Cigarettes are bought in packets[7] of 10 or 20, so we normally stipulate which size we want when buying:

Ten American Spirit, please.

Twenty Benson & Hedges, please.

The part of the cigarette, containing the filter, which you discard[8] is called the (cigarette) butt /end or, in colloquial UK and Australian English, the fag end:

The ashtray[9] was full of old fag ends/cigarette butts, so I had nowhere to stub my ciggie[10] out[11].

Offering A Cigarette

There are a number of ways you can offer a cigarette:


Have a cigarette.

Would you like a cigarette?

Help yourself to a cigarette.

In all of these examples (and the others below) the word ‘cigarette’ could be replaced by ‘fag’ in a colloquial British or Australian English context. But be careful, ‘fag’ in US English means a gay man and so could lead to[12] confusion! A packet of cigarettes is often called ‘a packet of fags’ in Britain.

Asking For A Cigarette

As we have said, smoking is an expensive habit in Britain, so people do not tend to share[13] their cigarettes as much as in other countries where they are cheaper. For this reason it is not so common to ask other people for a cigarette unless you have an intimate relationship with them. Asking strangers[14] to give you a cigarette is particularly[15] frowned on[16] and you may get the answer “no!”. It is even possible that people offer to buy a cigarette off[17] you! Either way, if you do want to ask someone you know for a cigarette you could use one of the following:

– Can I cadge[18] a cigarette off you? I’ve run out[19].

– Could I take one of your cigarettes, I left mine in the car?

– Could I bum[20] a cigarette off you? – I forgot to buy some.

 Notice that you would normally give a reason why you are asking the other person for a cigarette instead of[21] buying your own.

Refusing A Cigarette

You may not feel like[22] a cigarette at the moment or perhaps you don’t smoke. Either way, if someone offers you one you should refuse[23] politely[24]:

– No, thanks. I’m trying to give up[25].

– No, thanks. I’m trying to cut down[26].

– No, thank you. I don’t smoke.

Cheers[27]. But I’ve just[28] put one out[29].

Accepting A Cigarette

The expressions we use to accept a cigarette are the same as those for accepting anything else:

– Cheers. (colloquial, UK English)

Ta[30]. (very colloquial, UK English)

– Thanks.

– Thank you.

– That’s very kind of you. (formal)

Matches & Lighters

The standard question if you need a match[31] or a lighter[32] to ignite your cigarette is,

– Have you got a light, please?

– No, sorry. I don’t smoke.

For more footnoted texts, please visit:

[1] to give up on (give-gave-given) – renounce

[2] bad breath – halitosis

[3] poverty – the state of being poor, not having money. Smoking is very expensive in Britain.

[4] to encourage – incite

[5] to pretend that – (false friend) act as if, simulate that

[6] do smoke – (emphatic) smoke

[7] packet (UK English) – pack (US English)

[8] to discardthrow away, get rid of

[9] ashtray – container where you leave cigarette ash (= burned material) and cigarette ends.

[10] ciggie – (UK informal) cigarette

[11] to stub out – put out, extinguish

[12] to lead to (lead-led-led) – result in

[13] to sharegive away, divide up, use in common

[14] stranger – (false friend) sb. you don’t know

[15] particularly – (false friend) especially

[16] to frown on – disapprove of, censure, deplore

[17] off – (in this case) from

[18] to cadge sth. – (slang, pejorative) ask for sth. without paying for it

[19] to run out (run-ran-run) – have none left, have used up gradually

[20] to bum sb. – (slang, pejorative) take sth. without paying

[21] instead of – in contrast to, rather than, as an alternative to

[22] to feel like – want, desire

[23] to refuse – decline, say ‘no’

[24] politelycourteously

[25] to give up (give-gave-given) – stop (a habit)

[26] to cut down – reduce consumption

[27] cheers – (colloquial) thank you, thanks

[28] just – (in this case) a moment ago

[29] to put sth. out (put-put-put) – extinguish (a fire, cigarette, etc.)

[30] ta – (slang) thanks

[31] match – (in this case) small stick of wood that can be easily ignited

[32] lightergadget for igniting cigarettes


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