Body Language – Cigars, Cigarettes, Pipes and Glasses


Smoking is an outward manifestation of an inner turmoil or conflict and has little to do with nicotine addiction. It is one of the displacement activities that people in today’s high-pressure society use to release the tensions that build up from social and business encounters. For example, most people experience inner tension while waiting outside the dentist’s surgery to have a tooth removed. While a smoker will cover up his anxiety by smoking, non-smokers perform other rituals such as grooming, nail biting, finger and foot tapping, cufflink adjusting, head scratching, taking a ring off and putting it back on, playing with a tie and demonstrating numerous other gestures that tell us the person needs reassurance.

Smoking gestures can play an important part in assessing a person’s attitude, as they are usually performed in a predictable, ritualistic manner that can give us important clues to the person’s attitude.

Pipe Smokers

Pipe smokers perform a cleaning, lighting, tapping, filling, packing and puffing ritual with their pipes and this is a very useful way to help relieve tension when they are under pressure. Sales research has shown that pipe smokers usually take longer to make a decision to buy than do cigarette smokers or non-smokers and that the pipe ritual is performed most often during the tense moments. of the sales interview. Pipe smokers, it seems, are people who like to stall decision-making and who can do so in an unobtrusive and socially acceptable way. If you want a quick decision from a pipe smoker, hide his pipe before the interview.

Cigarette Smokers

Like pipe smoking, cigarette smoking is a displacement of inner tension and allows time to stall, but the cigarette smoker generally reaches his decision faster than the pipe smoker. The pipe smoker is, in effect, a cigarette smoker who needs more time to stall in making decisions than his cigarettes allow. The cigarette ritual involves tapping, twisting, flicking, waving and other mini-gestures indicating that the person is experiencing more tension than may be normal.

One particular signal indicates whether the person has a positive or negative attitude towards his circumstances; the direction in which the smoke is exhaled, whether it is up or down. A person who is feeling positive, superior or confident will blow the smoke in an upward direction most of the time. Conversely, a person in a negative, secretive or suspicious frame of mind will blow the smoke down most of the time. Blowing down and from the corner of the mouth indicates an even more negative or secretive attitude. This, of course, assumes that the smoker is not blowing the smoke upwards to avoid offending others; in that case, he could have blown the smoke in either direction.

In motion pictures, the leader of a motorcycle gang or criminal syndicate is usually portrayed as a tough, aggressive person who, as he smokes, tilts his head back sharply and with controlled precision blows the smoke awards the ceiling to demonstrate his superiority to the rest of the gang. In contrast, Humphrey Bogart was often cast as a gangster or criminal who always held his cigarette inverted in his hand and blew the smoke own from the corner of his mouth as he fanned a gaol break or other devious activity. There also appears to be a relationship between how positive or negative the person feels and ie speed at which he or she exhales the poke. The faster the smoke is blown upwards the more superior or confident the person feels; the faster it is blown down, the more negative he feels.

If a card player who is smoking is dealt a god hand, he is likely to blow the smoke upwards, whereas a poor hand may cause him blow it downwards. Some card players see a ‘poker face’ when playing cards as a method of not displaying any body signals that may give them away, while other players like to be actors and use misleading body language to lull the other players into a false sense of security. If, for example, a poker layer were dealt four aces and he wanted to bluff the other players, he could throw the cards face down on the table in disgust and then curse, swear or fold his arms and put on a non-verbal display that would indicate that he had been dealt a poor hand. But then he quietly sits back and draws on his cigarette and blows the smoke upwards! Having read this chapter, you will now be aware that it would be unwise for the other players to play

the next hand as they would probably be beaten. Observation of smoking gestures in selling shows that when a smoker is asked to buy, those who have reached a positive decision blow the smoke upwards, whereas those who have decided not to buy blow it downwards. The alert sales person, seeing the smoke being blown downwards during the close of a sale could quickly resell the customer on all the benefits he would receive by purchasing the product, to allow the customer time to reconsider his decision.

Blowing smoke out through the nostrils is a sign of a superior, confident individual. The smoke is blown downwards only because of the physical location of the nostrils and the person often tilts his head back in a ‘looking down his nose’ position. If the person’s head is down as he nose-blows the smoke, he is angry and is trying to look ferocious, like an angry bull.

Cigar Smokers

Cigars have always been used as a means of displaying superiority because of their cost and size. The big-time business executive, the gang leader and people in high-status positions often smoke cigars. Cigars are used to celebrate a victory or achievement such as the birth of a baby, a wedding, clinching a business deal or winning the lottery. It is not surprising that most of the smoke exhaled by cigar smokers is upwards. I recently attended a celebration dinner where cigars were distributed freely and it was interesting to note that of 400 recorded cigar smoke exhalations, 320 were in an upward direction.

General Smoking Signals

The continual tapping of a cigar or cigarette end on the ashtray shows that an inner conflict is taking place and that you may need to reassure the smoker. Here, too, is an interesting smoking phenomenon. Most smokers smoke their cigarette down to a certain length before extinguishing it in the ashtray. If the smoker lights a cigarette and suddenly extinguishes it earlier than he normally would, he has signalled his decision to terminate the conversation. Watching for this termination signal can allow you to take control or to close the conversation, making it appear that it was your idea to end it.


Almost every artificial aid used by man gives its user an opportunity to perform many revealing gestures and this is certainly the case with those who wear glasses. One of the most common gestures is placing one arm of the frame in the mouth (Figure 127).

Desmond Morris says that the act of putting objects against the lips or in the mouth is a momentary attempt by the person to relive the security he experienced as a baby at his mother’s breast, which means that glasses-in-mouth is essentially a reassurance gesture. Smokers use their cigarettes for the same reason, and the child sucks his thumb.


Like pipe smoking, the glasses-in-mouth gesture can be used to stall or delay a deci- sion. In negotiating, it has been found that this gesture appears most frequently at the close of the discussion when the person has been asked for a decision. The act of continually taking the glasses off and cleaning the lenses is another method used by glasses wearers to gain time for a decision. When this gesture is seen immediately after a decision has been asked for, silence is the best tactic.

The gestures that follow this stall gesture signal the person’s intention and allow an alert negotiator to respond accordingly. For example, if the person puts the glasses back on, this often means that he wants to ‘see’ the facts again, whereas folding the glasses and putting them away signals an intention to terminate the conversation.

Peering Over Glasses

Actors in the motion pictures made during the 1920sand 1930s used this peering gesture to portray a critical or judgmental person such as the master of an English public school. Often the person may be wearing reading glasses and finds it more convenient to look over the tops, rather than removing them to look at the other person. Whoever is on the receiving end of this look may feel as though he is being judged or scrutinised. Looking over the glasses can be a very costly mistake, as the listener inevitably responds to this look with folded arms, crossed leggy and a correspondingly negative attitude. Glasses wearers should remove them when speaking and put them back on to listen. This not only relaxes the other person but allows the glasses wearer to have control of the conversation. The listener quickly learns that when the glasses are off he must not interrupt the wearer, and when they are put back on he had better start talking.

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