On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco

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Chekhov in a 1905 illustration.

On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco (Russian: О вреде табака, translit. O vredye tabaka) is a one-act play written by Russian author Anton Chekhov; it has one character, Ivan Ivanovich Nyukhin. First published in 1886, the play was revised by Chekhov and is best known from his 1902 version. This was first published in English in The Unknown Chekhov (1954), a collection of writings.


The action takes place in a town hall. Nyukhin has been told by his wife to give a lecture about "the harmful effects of tobacco," although he is a smoker. He emphasizes that this will be a dry and boring lecture, but always postpones the actual subject by talking about his problems with his domineering wife.

"I must tell you, by the way, that my wife runs a boarding school. Well, not exactly a boarding school, but something in the nature of one. Just between us, my wife likes to complain about hard times, but she has put away a little nest egg... some forty or fifty thousand rubles. As for me, I haven't a kopek to my name, not a penny... "

He wants to stand up against his wife, he wants to run away, to forget and to be alone. He throws off his old, shabby waistcoat (a metaphor for himself), but suddenly picks it back up, because

"She is here. My wife is there in the wings waiting for me."

By the end of the monologue, Nyukhin has said hardly anything relevant about the harmful effects of tobacco, but asks the audience not to betray him:

"If she asks you, please, I beg you, tell her that her scarecrow husband, I mean, the lecturer, me, behaved with dignity."


The play was originally published in 1886, but Chekhov revised it later, completing the better-known 1902 version. The first English publication was by Ecco Press in The Unknown Chekhov (1954), a collection of writings.[1]


Paul Newman directed a short film adaptation of On The Harmful Effects of Tobacco that received limited screening in New York City in 1962.[2] Nyukhin was played by Michael Strong, who had performed the monologue to high praise in The Actors Studio. Despite a favorable mention in The New York Times, Newman removed his name from the credits for reasons that remain unclear. He gave the sole print to Strong, who kept it until his death in 1980. As of November 2016, Turner Classic Movies plans to air the film in early 2017.[2]

The play was also adapted and set to music composed by American Dominick Argento, in his A Water Bird Talk (1974–1976); he also used passages (and images in performance) from Audubon's Birds of America.


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