What was it like when everyone smoked?
April 15, 2016 12:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm reading mid-century noir again, and keep coming up against the ubiquity of smoking. I realize I may be an outlier, but to me the smell of smoke is overwhelming and cuts so far into things like perfume, food smells, clean smells, that I have a hard time parsing the descriptions that don't acknowledge this. Is this just an issue of the fish in the water, or was there sort of an underlying understanding that everything smelled of stale smoke that was so understood that it's never mentioned?
posted by OmieWise to Society & Culture (106 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's the fish in the water. Heck I grew up in the 70s and the smell of cigarette smoke is only really noticeable to me now, because it's so uncommon.
posted by tel3path at 12:13 PM on April 15, 2016 [26 favorites]


Fish in the water. My parents smoked in the house when I grew up and I never noticed it, not on my books, clothes, in the car, anywhere. They stopped when I was about 13, and now cigarette smoke seems totally noxious and gives me a headache.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:15 PM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I was born in the 70s, but everyone in my family smoked, all of my parents' friends smoked, you could smoke in restaurants, offices, anywhere. There are pictures of me in the playpen with wafts of smoke around. You get the idea.

The fabric deodorizer Febreze has a great line of commercials now, trumpeting how you become 'nose-blind' to smells that are around you all of the time. That was the case. I never noticed the smoke smell, and other things still smelled like food, perfume, clean laundry, etc. Now nobody in my circles smokes anymore and I can smell someone smoking a half-block away.
posted by kimberussell at 12:16 PM on April 15, 2016 [15 favorites]


I will say that there's a baked-in cigarette smell in my grandfather's house that's obviously from decades of continuous chain smoking, but even that doesn't bother me if no one is actively smoking. It's not so much "stale" like a bar as it is rich and leathery.
posted by stoneandstar at 12:17 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


You really do stop smelling it pretty quickly. It does dampen other smells, but people compensated by wearing more perfume etc.
posted by stoneweaver at 12:19 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I remember being able to smoke on planes, first anywhere and then in a dedicated section, in the eighties. I worked with someone who, if forced to sit in the non-smoking section, would light up as soon as his foot crossed over the jetway/terminal line and would then walk through the terminal, burning cigarette in hand. No one looked askance at him.
posted by carmicha at 12:23 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Olfactory fatigue.
posted by xyzzy at 12:27 PM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I grew up in the late 50s, 60s. I was lucky that nobody in my family smoked except my grandfather who smoked cigars, would light one up when my mom picked him up from work with me in the back seat gagging. Nobody would dare tell an adult not to smoke. Almost all my friend's parents smoked, and it was common for mom or dad to send a kid to the corner store with the money to buy a pack. Ashtrays of various sorts were a common summer camp craft for kids to make for their parents. Smoking and the smell of it was everywhere so you did get used to it. As a young adult the only time I actually noticed and was bothered was after spending an evening in a club or bar where the air was thick with smoke, and when you got home your hair, your clothes, everything smelled even if like me you never smoked. It was really gross.
posted by mermayd at 12:30 PM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


When my grandma's chain-smoking tenant finally moved into a nursing home, we learned that the smoke had actually gotten into everything, up to and including the paint on the walls. The smoke smell was noticeable on furniture as soon as you took it outside, but nothing in particular seemed to smell "different" as long as it was all together.

After grandma passed away, we found a similar issue with her clothing - she never smoked indoors, but she smoked quite a bit every day. I doubt she noticed the smell because it was always on her.

I will tell you that when someone smoked, say, an imported cigar in a room where people were all smoking ordinary US cigarettes, the cigar smoke was incredibly noticeable. Same with the funny smell they add to natural gas - if the stove didn't light up correctly, you could tell just as easily as ever. I think we (as a society) were just able to "delete" the specific odor because we encountered it constantly.

I assume that this is why humans went along living for so many centuries without indoor plumbing or municipal sanitary sewer systems. And, I mean, horse-drawn carts, man.
posted by SMPA at 12:32 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I was born in 1961 to parents who both smoked constantly, not mention just about every adult I came in contact with. Smoking was everywhere: restaurants (which didn't even have "non-smoking sections"), grocery stores, homes, waiting rooms. As a child, it wasn't unusual to get accidentally burned by bumping into someone's hand that was holding a cigarette. Ashtrays and butts were ubiquitous. But it was so common as to be remarkable only in retrospect.

It wasn't until I was a senior in high school that I realized how bad it must be, when the person who picked me up from school mentioned how that I smelled like smoke in the mornings. I was either so nose-blind to the smell that I didn't even notice it on others, or it was so common that it wasn't worth mentioning or taking note.
posted by The Deej at 12:35 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Olfactory fatigue.

This. I either didn't notice it, or liked it when I did, the way some people like the smell of diesel. It was fine. Everyone who needed that particular dopamine hit got one in time. (I smoke, it's awful, I'm quitting this week, am glad for the bans and for the stigma I personally bear so that fewer young people will wind up with that monkey on their back, but it was honestly socially fine for most people at the time. [Except for the accelerated dying, but that's a separate question.] People who complained were seen as overly sensitive. Born late 70s.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 12:42 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Everyone had ashtrays in their living rooms. Even if no one in the house smoked, they were there for guests.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:46 PM on April 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I was born in 1971 to non-smoking parents, so our house actually didn't reek but everyone else and everywhere else did (I remember teachers in school smoking in front of us). it was like car exhaust is now; you'd notice it when you were first out but then after a few minutes only if it was some kind of huge big deal like an unusual cigar, or pipe smoke or something.

Agreed that there was no stigma. It was like coffee is now.
posted by warriorqueen at 12:49 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remember that it was a common option in cars from the 60's through the 70's to have an "electric lighter" for cigarettes. It was a removable knob that you pushed in the console to "activate" it, and when it popped back you took it out and the end was hot and you could light your cigarette with it. It usually was part of the permanent ash-tray in the car.

Also, all the restaurants, nightclubs, markets, etc. always had bowls of matchbooks with their logos printed on them.

Ah, memories!
posted by Hanuman1960 at 12:50 PM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


My mother always said that growing up in my grandparents' house, the presence of cigarette smoke was more of a visual thing than anything else. Just an omnipresent haze, reminiscent of the background fog you see in Seventies movies. Nobody really noticed the smell until smoking started to decline in the mid-'80s or so.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:56 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm younger than a lot of the people who've posted so far but I remember when a bar I frequented went no smoking in the early 2000s and we were shocked at how badly it smelled. The cigarette smoke covered it up. Also, I used to come home from concerts/clubs and hang clothes on the door to air out, and wash my hair right away. I've never smoked, but smoke smell would just come out of my hair in the wash.
posted by zutalors! at 12:58 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


It was horrible if you didn't happen to become nose-blind, and to some children the smell could be actually a little painful.

It was also not great to be told you were being ridiculous if you objected. Or to be forbidden from opening car, bedroom, or other windows.

Also, seeing the...remains...in the sink in the dishes the family ate out of could be pretty gross.

Some adults can find it hilarious to taunt children about all this, too.
posted by amtho at 1:02 PM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


I used to smoke in class in college. The back two rows had ashtrays on them -- the smoking section. The college library had smoking rooms. Our apartment in college had giant bucket-size ashtrays that we would empty only when they were overflowing. It makes me gag to think about it now, but we never noticed the smell.

Now, I can smell a smoker in a car half a mile in front of me.
posted by archimago at 1:03 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hey, I have a horrifying family story about this! No, wait-- two!

My dad grew up in the 50s, and he had horrible dangerous asthma, back when inhalers were giant machines instead of something you could carry in your pocket. Or even in your car. His first "portable" inhaler (which I have seen) was the size of a toaster.

His doctors agreed that the pervasive cigarette smoke was making him worse. And yet, here are two stories about how impossible making that smoke go away was:

-One night, while he was in the hospital because of his debilitating asthma, two men in a shared room on the ward were having a "party" in their room, with screaming women and booze. The nurses thought it would be cute for my sickly father to interrupt the party (and also the men might be less likely to hurl abuse at him? idk). So they sent him down the hall. He still remembers opening the door and being greeted by a WALL of cigarette smoke emerging from the room. In a hospital. Where he was being treated because he almost died from his asthma.

-After one of these asthma-related hospital stays, he was being discharged, but the doctor sat my dad and my grandparents down for an important talk. "You cannot smoke in your home any longer," the doctor said. "Your son will die from his condition if you do." My grandparents both agreed, shocked. "Of course, doctor!" they said. They proceeded to get my father discharged, and they all got in the car to go home. As soon as they left the hospital parking lot, they both lit up in the car. "But Dad--" my dad said, confused. "--the doctor said--" "JUST OPEN A WINDOW!!!" my grandfather shouted.

So, yeah. So pervasive that "if you keep smoking around your child he will die" was literally something they couldn't follow for more than half an hour, apparently.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 1:09 PM on April 15, 2016 [24 favorites]


I remember that it was a common option in cars from the 60's through the 70's to have an "electric lighter" for cigarettes. It was a removable knob that you pushed in the console to "activate" it, and when it popped back you took it out and the end was hot and you could light your cigarette with it. It usually was part of the permanent ash-tray in the car.

There's a scene in the classic 80s film Heathers that features this. Must puzzle younger people watching the film now no end.

I fervently believe that the rise not so much of foodie culture per se, but of that particular subspecies that emphasizes the unadorned charms of individual ingredients (Blue Hill-style), owes a lot to the end of smoking. I'm too young to have clear memories of this, but I doubt you could taste a damn thing in a restaurant back in the day.
posted by praemunire at 1:17 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


I was born in 1982, and my dad was a heavy smoker - indoors, in the car, twenty unfiltered a day. Sometimes he would sit in his office playing Spider Solitaire and the room would fog with smoke. He didn't give up when my brother was born with under-developed lungs, and I remember him sitting, cigarette in hand, next to my newborn nephew's cot. (Incidentally, my mother, born in the late 40s, has a scar on her chest from when a relative dropped a lit cigarette in her crib.) The ceiling above his chair remains yellow despite my mother's attempts to paint it in the ten years since he died.

So, basically, from the day I was born I was surrounded by cigarette smoke. It never occurred to me that things smelled different without it until I went away to university and actually noticed how strange it was to not have it hanging in the air. My friends started smoking at 15, and they smoked the cheapest brand in the shop - that gave me a headache, but I was used to the constant presence of Senior Service. I had, or I didn't think I had, any problem smelling or tasting things, though I do admit to teenage over-application of vanilla oil. My dad's cooking was always far too spicy for me - years of smoking deadened his tastebuds, but years of passive smoking didn't mine.

All my working life has been in non-smoking offices, and I don't smoke myself. Whenever I go home now and I go up into the loft, things absolutely reek of cigarette smoke. Even the inside of the computer that used to be in my bedroom, a room my dad was rarely in. I find it astonishing that everything smelled like that and I didn't notice, but apparently it did.
posted by mippy at 1:22 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Born mid 1970s, Canada. Here are some memories I have of where people were allowed to smoke and until when:
  • Public transportation (cigarettes were acceptable but NOT cigars--I remember being on a city bus where someone was smoking a cigar and the other passengers were pissed. This was 1986--we were headed to a special event so I remember the exact year)
  • Airplanes (had a "smoking section" partitioned off by a curtain as others mentioned above); this was in place on an international flight I was on in 1990
  • Restaurants (had a smoking section) till at least 1996, in my province
  • Shopping malls (had designated smoking areas--inside); they outlawed it in 1995 in the small town I moved to
  • Small town high school staffroom where I worked in 1996
  • Smoking was outlawed in bars and nightclubs in...1999? 2000? in my province. It was so weird to come home from the club and not have clothes and hair that reeked of smoke.
It's so weird to think that we all just...lived with it. Everywhere.

I really didn't like it as a kid--no one in my family smoked--but it was definitely common, and everyone just put up with it. Nonsmokers who dared to complain were often viewed as overly sensitive. But even if you didn't like secondhand smoke, it did become a fish in water thing for many of us. I was very used to it, even if I didn't like it. Now that smoking is prohibited most places it's VERY noticeable to me when I do smell smoke.

And super weirdly, I find, BECAUSE it's so rare, when I catch a whiff of smoke now, it's often kind of nostalgic in a not-unpleasant way. But just a whiff. I can't imagine going back to how things were--yuck.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


The year I started high school, 1985, was the first year our high school did not have a smoking section. So we spent a lot of time at the park across the street, seeing how many cigarettes we could fit into the lunch break.

I smoked like a chimney through the 90s, and I must have smelled really terrible. And I smoked non-filtered cigarettes (even Gauloises and Gitanes for extra stench) so I got charming nicotine stains on my fingers.

We had ashtrays throughout the house when I was a kid. My dad smoked Pall Mall reds; my mom golds. We'd go to houses of family friends and my mother and the mother of the other family would sit at the kitchen table and fill up a dinner-plate size ashtray with butts over the course of a few hours.

The smell of cigarettes permeating a house makes me nostalgic, honestly.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:31 PM on April 15, 2016


I too grew up in a smoking household. Everybody smoked, everywhere. We even had a smoking patio in high school, for the students. Didn't know anything was different until I went away to college. Now if a smoker walks by me in a store I'm aware. I have however noticed folk who smoke tend to wear more cologne or perfume.
posted by PJMoore at 1:32 PM on April 15, 2016


My high school had an official smoking space for students outside. It was sort of a three walled wooden shelter facing the football field and students were allowed to go catch a smoke between classes.
posted by octothorpe at 1:48 PM on April 15, 2016


We rarely traveled when I was young, so hotels were a treat. There was this certain smell to a hotel room that brought back fond memories.

Only now do I realize that it was the stench of a million previous guests smoking in that room combined with the futile efforts of housekeeping to clean it up.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:50 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Airplanes (had a "smoking section" partitioned off by a curtain as others mentioned above); this was in place on an international flight I was on in 1990

I'm just old enough to remember flying when there was no smoking/non-smoking sections on airplanes, so the person next to you might smoke for the entire flight. And then when they did create non-smoking sections, there was no physical separation (and definitely no curtain that I remember), so the smoke moved everywhere. And if you were flying standby or it was a full flight, you might get placed in the smoking section anyway, regardless of your preferences. And I flew many times sitting in the row directly in front of the smoking section, and you could see the plumes of smoke blowing forward between the seats.

Here is a NYTimes article looking back on flying before smoking regulations.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:56 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Born in 1969. Everyone around me smoked right up until about the mid-1990s. I never smoked (tobacco) more than a couple puffs while drunk.

My dad's car had this sort of film all over the inside from cigarette smoke.

There was no concept of asking people not to smoke. It's just what people did. They'd pull out a cigarette in your house and ask, not if they could smoke, but if you had an ashtray. Usually they didn't need to ask because most people had ashtrays on every single flat surface. Some ashtrays were actual furniture, if you were fancy.

Same with a car. People would just get in my car and light up and it never, ever (until later) occurred to me that I could ask them not to do that. It would be like asking someone not to breath.

Sometimes restaurants had signs that said "No cigar or pipe smoking." because, you know that was offensive.

When he was little, my friend's mom taught him that a gentleman always lights a woman's cigarette. She was teaching him manners. As an adult, he always pulled out his lighter for a woman.

My mom smoked when she was pregnant with us because there was no concept that you didn't do that.

Smoking was everywhere. Malls, grocery stores, restaurants. Offices. I fixed PCs in the early 90s and monitors and keyboards were always yellow from smoke.

Johnny Carson smoked during his show. Every single picture of Eddie Van Halen showed him either smoking or with a lit cigarette on the end of his guitar. Everyone in the movies smoked. Nobody thought this was odd.

Cars had cigarette lighters built in. These are now the sockets where you plug in your phone charger, but they were originally there for the lighter. There were also ashtrays built into every seat.

My high school had a smoking area out back. Teachers and students would hang out and smoke. I graduated in 1987 and I think they abolished the smoking area around 1990.

Basically the world was set up to accommodate smokers, like some bizarre version of the ADA.

Nobody noticed the smell because that's just what the world smelled like.

It was completely terrible and awful but we didn't realize until it stopped.
posted by bondcliff at 1:57 PM on April 15, 2016 [20 favorites]


I skipped the bottom, so sorry if I missed if someone told you this -- but fyi, one of the effects of being a smoker, as I was for over 25 years, is that it really kills your sense of smell. You don't smell your own reek of cigarette smoke, or the smell in the car, or the smell of other people's cigarette reek, or really much of anything that isn't very strong. I used to think an awful lot of food was bland when in truth I just wasn't able to taste anything subtle. When everyone smoked, this inability to detect any but strong aromas was pretty universal.
posted by bearwife at 2:07 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I remember that it was a common option in cars from the 60's through the 70's to have an "electric lighter" for cigarettes. It was a removable knob that you pushed in the console to "activate" it, and when it popped back you took it out and the end was hot and you could light your cigarette with it. It usually was part of the permanent ash-tray in the car.

My 1994 Honda has this, so I'm not sure when it ended. It can also be used to power electrical equipment. I plug my GPS unit into it. We have a 1964 pinball machine, which was made the last year there were cigarette holders on pinball machines.

My father smoked throughout my childhood. The one place where I noticed the smell even then was the bathroom - probably because it was a small, enclosed space. I'm extremely sensitive to the smell of cigarettes now - I get headaches from it - but it didn't bother me during my childhood.

There were also gender aspects to smoking.My mother, born in 1928, talked about the first time she saw a woman in a film smoke a cigarette - she reported that the whole audience gasped. After the Coconut Grove nightclub fire in Boston in 1942, there was a letter in the newspaper saying that women who smoked while shopping were creating a fire hazard (I don't remember what newspaper - this was a research project I did in college). As a child in Illinois in the 1960s, I thought of smoking as something that men did. Women who smoked did not seem quite nice to me.
posted by FencingGal at 2:13 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


You could smoke on the London Underground until it was abolished in 1987 (following a fire at Oxford Circus). Not only is it an underground railway with little in the way of air-conditioning, but many escalators back then were still original wooden ones.

I imagine in years to come people will be astonished to hear about a time when there wasn't a smoking ban in public as I was when I learned that.
posted by mippy at 2:17 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember going into smoking restaurants as a child and not liking the smell or the ashtrays. Still, I do find the smell much more noticeable now that it's not saturating the fabric of reality at all times. As a kid, the smell of 100s of old smoked cigarettes in the walls was noticeable and kind of annoying. As an adult, the smell of one cigarette burning indoors in a public place is extremely noticeable, almost obscene.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 2:20 PM on April 15, 2016


Child of the fifties here; Mom smoked about 2-3 packs a day, and Dad (until he quit in '66) smoked 4-plus packs. "Olefactory fatigue"....yeah, that covers it. The smell was everywhere, and we just didn't notice it.

Smoking was legal everywhere in those days; there were no separate smoking sections in restaurants or on planes or anything because the whole WORLD was a 'smoking section'. Heck, I remember when they started dividing smokers from non-smokers: there might literally be NOTHING but a small sign separating the two, but still people bitched. The change is absolutely amazing!
posted by easily confused at 2:27 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


One reason old photos look different, especially in enclosed areas, was smoke.
posted by Candleman at 2:33 PM on April 15, 2016 [10 favorites]


My parents stopped smoking but my grandparents still smoked like chimneys when I was a kid, about 20-25 years ago. We would go visit them often for the weekend. My mother says she would have to wash all our clothes once we got home, even the ones we hadn't taken out of the suitcase, because the smell of smoke had permeated everything.
posted by lizbunny at 2:34 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm far from a biochemist, but I think that your olfactory receptors run out of snaptic chemicals in the short term and downregulate and take more quantity to fire in the long term when they are exposed to too much of one scent, so you literally stop smelling it.
posted by zug at 2:48 PM on April 15, 2016


I remember my dad sitting in a hospital bed in the hallway, smoking. He wasn't allowed to smoke in the ward and he couldn't walk so he pursuaded the nurses to push him into the hall multiple times a day.
posted by kitten magic at 2:58 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


One feature of the everyone smoked everywhere era that you no longer see today is those tall trash can/ashtray combos that were everywhere. Department stores contained dozens of them. The ashtray portion was filled with sand-like stuff. People often threw their gum in the ashtrays too, and that gum would get covered in that sand and then dry into a hardened gum-silicate thing that was fun to go digging for while mom was shopping, and shopping, and shopping. Until she caught you doing it and was totally embarrassed that her kid had been digging for treasure in the department store ashtray.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:01 PM on April 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


Born in 1970 and the smell of smoke and stale beer == my grandfather. Loved that man to pieces. We'd visit every Saturday and I'd spend the day sitting next to him as he worked through a pack of Winstons and a rack of Schlitz or Falstaff. I know most people cannot stand the smell but I dig it.

My parents did not smoke and so for six days out of the week I was living clean and olfactory fatigue never set in. Which is grand. Because, like I said, the smell is nostalgic for me. Also, I especially miss the smell in bars. Smoke is much pleasanter than stale beer and piss. Maybe I'm hanging around in the wrong kinds of bars?

Of course, I'm a reforming smoker myself. I love everything about the habit--except for maybe the cost. My lungs, on the other hand, do not. Been mostly smoke-free for the last 10 years and was only a light smoker for the 10 before that.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:11 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'll spare the repeated stories of "everyone smoked at my house" (they did) - but the most striking memory I have is that our family doctor smoked, in the office or exam room!
Oh, and my grandmother smoked in her hospital room, despite being on IV's and a bunch of other stuff. You could smoke in the waiting rooms too, of course.
posted by dbmcd at 3:16 PM on April 15, 2016


Born in 1968 to a chain smoking father. I spent a lot of my childhood & teenage years trying to keep the smell out of my clothes & room to no avail. My mother had to scrub the walls of the house once a year to remove the smoke build up from the white paint. He had such a distinctive smokers cough, our parrot could copy it, which was creepy as fuck after my father passed away from lung cancer, because it would sound like him waking up in the morning.

Every bar or nightclub you went to was full of smoke & you always came home smelling like an ashtray. There would be matches & an ashtray on the table in restaurants. You had to wash your hair if you went out in a crowd of any sort or it would smell of smoke. I can clearly remember when my mother was in hospital having my brother, she had to go in for 3 months pre birth due to problems, other expectant mothers going out to the verandah to smoke & no one thought anything of it, luckily for my brother my mother didn't smoke.

I remember as a kid travelling on a plane from Australia to the UK, there were ashtrays in the armrests, people smoked the whole time. There were theoretical non smoking sections, but as the air is just circulated around it was pointless. There was however great food & lots of legroom & perfumes & hand creams in spacious restrooms, and you could go see the cockpit so it was almost worth it.

I remember cigarette butts everywhere as most smokers just dropped the butts on the ground. If it rained the gutters of busy streets would fill up with them.
posted by wwax at 3:29 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


Born in '64, parents both heavy smokers. Dad was a photographer, and he'd even smoke in the darkroom (which had to be some kind of serious flammable hazard with the chemicals). Mother was a teacher, and of course the teachers didn't smoke in the classrooms, but they'd all beeline for the teacher's break room in between classes for a quick smoke. My parents were also both jazz musicians who gigged at night, so of course they smoked constantly then. My grandfather also smoked, and he and I would watch baseball together while he'd smoke away, and I'd lie across the back of the couch above him with smoke wafting all around me. At home we had to paint our apartments fairly regularly because the white paint would yellow over a couple of years. Whenever I would wash the windows as a kid the paper towels would instantly turn yellow. One of the chores I hated the most as a kid was to have to wash all the ashtrays in the house. Ugh. My hands would stink from it.

Except for the ashtray washing, I never minded the smell when I lived with them, but once I headed off to college and I was away from it I was completely revolted when I'd get back home. I brought books with me and would be horrified when I'd go to re-read them and would realize how completely the smoke permeated them. Still, beyond not smoking myself I wasn't very militant about it. When I went to France in 1995 everyone was still smoking in public and on trains and I had a friend who had asthma and was also fairly blunt and confront-y, and I remember asking her before we left to please not ask people to stop smoking while we were overseas because I'd be embarrassed.

I feel like Boston was kind of slow to adopt anti-smoking regs, and old-school Bostonians were slow to comply anyway (kind of like how we aren't great with seat belts, either) because we're a stubborn lot. Even after both of my parents quit smoking themselves, they'd like to sit in the smoking section in restaurants because they missed it. To them, smoking was about being young and listening to jazz and going to clubs. They stopped enjoying eating out because it took less time and wasn't as fun. We still have a couple of boxes in our basement of ashtrays and of matchbooks from clubs.

When I catch a whiff now of cigarette smoke I usually think of my Dad. Like many have mentioned here, I can smell it from blocks and blocks away if the wind is right, and I pretty much loathe it because Dad died of lung cancer and so did Grampa. But it still triggers instant memories.
posted by clone boulevard at 3:53 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


One of my earliest memories of going to a movie theatre in the 60s was looking back up at the projectionist booth and seeing the huge cone of light projecting through the pall of cigarette smoke floating in the theatre.

Right near the front door of a lot of restaurants and coffee shops, there was a cigarette vending machine... drop in a few quarters, pull a handle, and out popped a pack of cigarettes. Kids in my high school knew which places they could go to buy cigarettes from the machine without getting hassled.

In the early 80s, I had a summer job in a factory. One day the clutch slipped on one of the big industrial motors. The clutch was glowing red hot and smoking. We got the motor shut down, and the fire fighters arrived and unloaded fire extinguisher after fire extinguisher into the thing to get it stabilised. The air quality in the plant was already pretty abysmal, the clutch had barely stopped smoking, and the air was full of fire retardant, but what did the fire fighters do? They all lit up a cigarette.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 3:53 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh! I was also complicit in my parents' habit. Practically every day I'd have to run off to the local convenience store to pick up cigarettes for them. Not one clerk ever even asked me who the cigarettes were for. I was probably 8 or 9 the first time I bought for them.
posted by clone boulevard at 3:58 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's really quite shocking to think how pervasive smoking used to be. As late as 1986 it was a normal behaviour in the movies; now you never see it.

The movie Heartbreakers is what, 15 years old? And it had an anti-smoking theme going on, but that'd just be preaching to the choir now - it was then, mostly.

Such a weird thing to do. Oh, I think I'll roll up these dried leaves, stick them in my mouth and set fire to 'em.

I'm convinced that the reason dancers are a million times more athletic is because nobody smokes any more, and I'm convinced the reason people look younger for so much longer is because nobody smokes any more. People used to be so *wrinkled*.
posted by tel3path at 4:03 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


On weekends my mother would lay in bed and smoke for a good hour before she got up. When I would get up and open my bedroom door there would be a literal cloud of smoke in our house, so much so that I could clearly see the clean air near the floor. It was like living in a house fire.

When I was 6, 7, 8 years old, I was regularly sent down to the corner market to buy cigarettes for my mom. The shop owner knew her and knew who I was, so yeah he sold cigarettes to me.

When I was eleven I transferred to a new school. A girl on my bus route asked me if I smoked. I was shocked by the question, of course I didn't smoke, but then she told me that I smelled like smoke. Apparently no one in her house smoked so she could smell it on me. I couldn't smell it at all.

Like everyone else's experience, every adult in my life smoked. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends. Then my mom died at an early age of lung cancer. She was in her 40's and had been smoking 2 packs a day for 30 years. Everyone quit smoking after she died.

I never had allergies as a kid. Being around smoke for even a few minutes now pretty much guarantees that I will get a sinus infection.
posted by vignettist at 4:08 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


One of my earliest memories of going to a movie theatre in the 60s was looking back up at the projectionist booth and seeing the huge cone of light projecting through the pall of cigarette smoke floating in the theatre.
Previously on MeFi
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 4:09 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Same experience here - born in the early 60's, both parents smoked - so I will just add one thing: the morning smoker's cough. I have vivid memories of the sound of my father's morning cough, as he woke up and tried to clear the phlegm out. Like miner's lung, I think. The main reason I never started.

One of the things Mad Men got right - I recall Don waking up in the morning in one scene, and pausing to cough deeply before he tried to stand up.
posted by Mogur at 4:19 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


My grandmother once made my family a cake that must have been from a boxed mix that had been marinating in her smoke-filled small house for a while, because the cake tasted like cigarette smoke.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:26 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


> I remember that it was a common option in cars from the 60's through the 70's to have an "electric lighter" for cigarettes. It was a removable knob that you pushed in the console to "activate" it, and when it popped back you took it out and the end was hot and you could light your cigarette with it. It usually was part of the permanent ash-tray in the car.

My 1994 Honda has this, so I'm not sure when it ended. It can also be used to power electrical equipment. I plug my GPS unit into it.


Yeah, every car we had when I was growing up (I was born in 1986) had a cigarette lighter. My mom's last car was a 2000 or 2001 VW and it still had the cigarette lighter knob--it was kicking around in the armrest of the car, since we didn't smoke and used the plug for the GPS. I'm pretty sure the reason we have still have 12V outlets in cars is that the rise of cell phones coincided with the tail end of people wanting cigarette lighters in cars. It's the same outlet, just without the lighter knob.
posted by hoyland at 4:39 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oh, yes, you could tell who was arriving home by the distinctive cough. We didn't even think of it as a bad thing; it was just normal. "Daddy's home!"
posted by amtho at 5:19 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


For us Protestant white people at least, food wasn't like now. All the packaged foods were made by some company like Kraft and the produce section was only basics. Lettuce was iceberg, dressings were bottled, fancy party snacks were luncheon meats on crackers with jello, meat was always stewed or "well done". There weren't a lot of delicate taste experiences, so cigarette smoke wasn't really spoiling anything.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:26 PM on April 15, 2016 [5 favorites]


our family doctor smoked, in the office or exam room!

I'm surprised nobody's mentioned this yet: cigarette advertising, mostly pre-1960s, I think, that featured doctors endorsing their favorite brand. (Or models posing as doctors, I suppose.)
posted by scratch at 5:34 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


I remember that it was a common option in cars from the 60's through the 70's to have an "electric lighter" for cigarettes.

My 2005 Mazda has this - it's just on its way out.

My husband's mother smoked in her hospital room with her babies next to her in 1982 and 1983. My parents didn't smoke but most of my grandparents did. Mostly they smoked outside or at the casino, so it is a nostalgic smell for me, too. I smoked for about ten years, and it really does deaden one's own sense of taste and smell - I can notice it much more strongly now than I did when I smoked.

I've always wondered how they got the smell out of office buildings where heavy smoking was the norm.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:57 PM on April 15, 2016


Definitely fish in the water.

Also, non-smokers were chastised for complaining, because smokers were entitled. If non-smokers wanted relief they had to go (quietly) outside. Nowadays non-smokers are entitled to breathe non-smokey air, smokers have to go outside like good sports, and quit bitching about it. By the way, don't come around me with that ashtray mouth looking for a smooch.

Ashtrays. Yeah. Kids in primary grades made ashtrays out of clay for their parents. Teachers had a smoking lounge. Nine out of ten doctors recommended Pall Malls, and Willie the Penguin smoked Kools. The Marlboro man hadn't yet died of emphysema.

Those were the days.
posted by mule98J at 6:14 PM on April 15, 2016 [4 favorites]


I remember coming home from college for Christmas in 1985, and suddenly noticing how bad the house smelled, the yellow film on the car windows, and the horrifying realization of how bad I must have smelled at school, which I decided must have accounted for my lack of dates in high school. I had no idea of how bad cigarette smoke smelled until I went away to college and didn't live with a smoker.
posted by COD at 6:45 PM on April 15, 2016


Re: cigarette lighters in cars. Every car I'd been in or owned prior to my current (2006) model had cigarette lighters and ash trays. The "nicer" cars had additional lighters and ashtrays in the back seats; my mom got a dealer model with every possible option installed and it had five ashtrays and three or four lighters despite only seating five people if three of them were child-sized.

Also, in rural Ohio today you still have strangers come up to you and ask for "a light." I'm an asthmatic Mormon and I've thought about carrying a lighter just so I won't have to turn people down all the time!

Oh, and all the restaurants that I've worked in had operational "smoking sections" until the day our indoor smoking ban went into effect. Any restaurant that hasn't been updated in the last decade will have these silly partitions that absolutely did not block the smoke; they just made it harder for the waitresses to see the tables in half of the dining room. I've always assumed that the smoking section was why my coworkers never succeeded at quitting despite the ridiculous expense. I was usually the only non-smoker on my shift.
posted by SMPA at 7:24 PM on April 15, 2016


Teachers had a smoking lounge.

I went to two schools with student smoking lounges.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:27 PM on April 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


And tin ashtrays make excellent Christmas decorations and/or frisbees. And the world never seemed to be close to running out of them, and no one cared if you pocketed them even though you don't need one because you don't smoke. And they were the same everywhere, like there was just one factory making them.

OH MY GOSH and I forgot about the "Kick Butt" campaign at work, where we sent people out to pick up cigarette litter on freeway onramps. Keep America Beautiful sold us about a thousand vinyl "pocket ashtrays" that were supposed to get people to stop throwing stubs on the ground. I can't remember what the percentage was, but supposedly cigarette butts made up the majority of street litter when measured by weight. We also invested in signs that say "CIGARETTE BUTTS ARE LITTER" because people threw the butts even with a litter fine warning sign.
posted by SMPA at 7:32 PM on April 15, 2016


Kick Butt Columbus
posted by SMPA at 7:33 PM on April 15, 2016


Ugh, it was awful. My mother smoked when I was really little but by family lore (which, knowing my parents, could be utter bs), she was driven to quit by my unrelenting complaining. Airplanes were the worst, especially my first transatlantic flight (first flight ever?) where a big tour group had booked up a huge chunk of the nonsmoking seats, so we got shunted into the smoking section (not that it really mattered, as someone up above noted) so all the smokers in their party strolled over and stood around in the aisles over us, adding even more cigarette smoke. I blew my nose and black stuff came out. Miserable.

I remember once standing in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland, I must have been around 10 at the time, and this bitch in line next to us just puffing away and giving me dirty looks for coughing. Well, I was probably giving her dirty looks too.

One whole wing in my high school reeked from the smoking teachers' lounge. I seem to recall the nonsmoking lounge was like a broom closet, the smoking lounge was where it was at. Once or twice had to go knock on the door to give something to a teacher and the air inside was blue.

Worst part about going out anywhere at night is how your hair smelled the next morning.

Maybe it was "fish in water" for people who smoked but it was pretty unpleasant for some of us.

I find it absolutely fascinating how the car cigarette lighter (into which we all plug our electrical devices) was described up above like something out of a history show or something.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 7:38 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


High-rise apartment and office buildings used to have ashtrays in the elevators. Yes, people smoked in *elevators*!
posted by trip and a half at 7:59 PM on April 15, 2016


because smokers were entitled
I remember talking to a guy in the late 1980s. He worked as the safety officer for an oil refinery. They wanted to make a rule that you could not smoke in the oil refinery. They had to confer with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to get a judgement that, no, people do not have a right to smoke.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 8:01 PM on April 15, 2016 [8 favorites]


I find it absolutely fascinating how the car cigarette lighter (into which we all plug our electrical devices) was described up above like something out of a history show or something.

The thing is, it is history, or at least it is with cars we buy in the US. I asked this question in a Metafilter thread sometime in the past year or so -- do youngish people still refer to it as "the cigarette lighter"? And apparently no, they don't -- it's now the phone charger thingy.

Which, even though it makes me feel old, is kinda neat. We don't often notice so sharply the dividing lines between old and new, history and present. It's startling when we do, but also pretty fascinating. Evolution is usually carried out on a much slower and longer scale.

This makes me wonder if someday ashtrays from the 20th century will be as collectible or as valuable as snuff boxes or bottles from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Maybe something to start investing in, eh? Every antique store has tons of them they can't get rid of.

Yet.

posted by mudpuppie at 8:14 PM on April 15, 2016 [7 favorites]


You can still get the cigarette lighter in your car -- it's an optional upgrade. Or at least it was on my minivan five years ago.

In 1989 I ate Thanksgiving dinner with someone who smoked through a tracheotomy opening.

I was in college in the late 1980s and people could still smoke in dorms then. During class there'd be a break and I learned to go the smoking area, as that's when the teachers told their really good stories (I studied political economy).
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:24 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


> And tin ashtrays make excellent Christmas decorations and/or frisbees

Ooh! I forgot about those! They were on the tables at McDonald's.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:28 PM on April 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


College in 1985: Alternate floor common areas were smoking/non-smoking. I landed on a smoking floor. Dorm rooms themselves were up to the room-mates. My roomie and I both smoked.

Grad school, near tobacco country in the Southern U.S., in the early 90's: smoking was allowed inside buildings, in the hallways. Graduate seminars would vote on whether to allow smoking during class. It ended up about 50/50 on that. Professors could smoke in their offices.

I remember visiting my mom in the hospital, early 70's, after her appendectomy. She smoked in her hospital room.

When I was in the hospital in the mid-70's, I walked down the hallway to the staff lounge to find a nurse. The lounge didn't have any doors so open to the hallway. It was filled with smoke.

At diners, it wasn't unusual for the cook to be slaving over a hot grill with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth the whole time.
posted by yesster at 8:39 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Grew up in the 80s/90s and many of my family smoked.

It was not a case of fish in the water for me, I definitely noticed the smell at the time and would worry about it getting into my clothes (as the shared living space was quite small).

We still have a number of pretty ornamental cut glass ashtrays now used primarily as decoration because no one in our family smokes anymore.

I actually like the smell as it reminds me of my childhood and makes me feel safe.
posted by Ziggy500 at 9:25 PM on April 15, 2016


I want to complicate the history lesson here, and point out that the popularity of smoking was not universal until it was banned, but swung back and forth in waves.

I was born in the mid-'60s, and although adult smoking was common and the older "hippie" generation also smoked (not just cigarettes), my sub-generation mostly didn't. In high school in the Eighties, although there was smoking in the stairwells and a smoking patio for students, it was the "burnouts," the "tough kids," kids who were a bit "lower class" that mostly had those areas staked out. The bulk of us preppies, nerds, college-trackers, regular students tended not to. (Although it was also associated with anyone putting on a European affectation at university, like my (American) French T.A. who smoked Gauloises in the hall before class, or my friend who came back from a semester in England rolling his own "fags.") There was no real reason for that change, so far as I remember -- maybe we just got the brunt of the '70s anti-smoking message, and every generation likes to distinguish itself from the previous one.

But I read this comment by cotton dress sock above:
(I smoke, it's awful, I'm quitting this week, am glad for the bans and for the stigma I personally bear so that fewer young people will wind up with that monkey on their back, but it was honestly socially fine for most people at the time. [Except for the accelerated dying, but that's a separate question.] People who complained were seen as overly sensitive. Born late 70s.)
...and the last 3 words totally shocked me; I was expecting "50s".

But CDS is right: smoking increased in popularity in the mid-Nineties. I was past that time of my life, and seeing it made me feel old and uncomfortable. I remember being stopped on the street of my old college town and asked for a light by a Sorority girl! A decade earlier, the Greek system crowd would be the last people you could imagine as smokers at my school, second only to geeks/nerds. They were clean preppy pretty types. I associate the return of smoking with the popularity of Grunge, when being more "working class" dressing & acting was in style.

If you pay attention to the dates on the stories here, especially birth dates, you'll notice this pattern. Those in college in the 80s saw smoking as already on its way out; those in college in the 90s portray it as omnipresent, "I can't believe how fast it's disappeared." This is an overgeneralization, but it's worth paying attention to the pendulum of popularity...
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:39 PM on April 15, 2016 [12 favorites]


I was born in the early seventies: my mother was encouraged by her doctor to smoke throughout her pregnancy so as to avoid gaining weight. Both of my parents smoked, seemingly incessantly, my entire childhood. I remember sitting in the back seat of the car with all the windows closed while they chain smoked. I got into trouble for opening the back window a crack because the aircon was on.

I remember that the interior of their house and office always smelled sort of dusty - that soaked in old cigarette smell, and my mother's house still smells the same. I remember people seemed to smoke all the time, mid meals, in bed, using the toilet, everywhere! but never really noticing the smell particularly, and I think what everyone else has said is true, we all just filtered that particular smell out.
posted by glitter at 10:18 PM on April 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


Smoking has a whole characteristic set of behaviors that go along with it. There's the ashtrays, the ashes in the trays plus the crushed butts. There's the open packs of cigarettes, and the lighters and matches that go along with it. When you go to the movies (back in the day) many of the characters are puffing away in big long sensuous drags that leak smokey whirls up their faces, very sensuous looking. The billboard were full of these people with giant cig packages with marketing messages aimed at your identity or your crotch or both.
When my parents came back from the store, they'd have a cartons of cig in with the groceries, which have their distinctive aroma. Unfiltered Camels for my dad, Salems for my mom.
There's the cig with coffee, the morning cig, the cig with the newspaper, the cig standing outside.
There's the flicking of cigs, and the bits of burning ashes that float around or get on clothes. There's the car ride cig, where you casually flick the cig out the window or flick the butt out into the world.
By and large, as a kid, you get a bit hypnotized by it all and do not see it as strange or unusual. Along with all the social coolness associated with smoking, I'd taken up smoking by the time I was an independent adult. A decade later the sight of an ashtray full of cig butts and ashes revolted me beyond all reason. Still goes make me gag a little thinking about it.
I once went in to paint an apartment of a guy who'd been a heavy smoker in there for 10-15 years. The originally white walls were dingy brown with whitish spots where the pictures had been hanging.
posted by diode at 10:35 PM on April 15, 2016 [6 favorites]


I forgot something until now:

I swear there was a big Public Service kind of campaign to encourage people to stop smoking in bed.

Not to stop smoking.

To stop smoking in bed.

Because mattress fires were a big thing.
posted by yesster at 12:22 AM on April 16, 2016 [11 favorites]


At my mother's college in the 60s, the school ran a dating matchup game where you filled out questionnaires and matched you up based on your answers. A devoted non-smoker who had hated growing up in a house of smokers, smoking was a dealbreaker for her. To her dismay, she was matched up with a heavy smoker.

She discovered that there were different questionnaires for men and for women. On smoking, the women's one asked: Do you smoke? The men's one asked: Do you prefer women who smoke? Both had answered honestly so the system marked it as a match. There was no consideration for the women's preference.
posted by mochapickle at 1:25 AM on April 16, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm watching Flashdance on DVD tonight and omg, everyone is smoking. Even during a dance audition! I was too young to see it when it came out, I'm sure back then I wouldn't have been shocked.
posted by kitten magic at 3:14 AM on April 16, 2016


Grew up in the 80s/90s...
It was not a case of fish in the water for me, I definitely noticed the smell at the time


Same. As a student, after a night out at a club/in the pub the next morning your clothes would reek, REEK of stale cigarette smoke. It was awful. I fully welcomed the ban on smoking in pubs/clubs/restaurants in the UK in 2007, as it meant I didn't have to do so much laundry ;)
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:19 AM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


There's a semi-regular patron at the library I work at who smells so strongly of cigarette smoke that I know he's in the building even if I'm on the second floor and he's on the first, and the materials he returns have to be cleaned before they're put back out on the shelf. If he comes up to the second floor I can only sit near him for a few minutes before I start getting a headache. It blows my mind to think that a few decades ago everyone probably smelled like him to varying degrees.
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:27 AM on April 16, 2016


My mother and stepdad were heavy smokers, and as a child, I suffered from migraines and allergies and transport illness when I was with them. But I wasn't always. Much of the time, I was with my grandparents, and my grandfather had very early on seen an x-ray of smokers' lungs and quit. My grandmother had only started smoking late in life and was a bit later quitting her two cigarettes a day, but basically, their home was smoke-free and I always recovered completely there.

One of the things that was really special about my grandparents was their sophisticated, almost modern, views on food: always local and seasonal, never very spicy, often very delicate tastes. Now I wonder if that was because they didn't smoke.

Strangely, like others above, I can sometimes get a nostalgic pang when I meet a whiff of smoke. I always hated it, but there are also good memories, like college parties and Sunday mornings.
posted by mumimor at 8:36 AM on April 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


Art college in the early eighties: we smoked in the halls and in class. Teachers smoked while teaching and one of our life models actually smoked while posing. He was an older, heavy guy who held the cigarette under his lower lip. He'd grab it with his tongue, take a few puffs and put it back under his lip, again -with his tongue. When it burned down to the filter, he'd take a last puff and then spit it out onto the floor. I remember one sailing past my head.....which reminds me that even though there were ash trays everywhere, smokers were often too lazy to use them; stepping their butts out on the tile, terrazzo, and even carpet.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:18 AM on April 16, 2016 [4 favorites]


My parents did not smoke (and did not allow smoking in their home), but my paternal grandmother chainsmoked and often had other smokers visiting their house. My brother and I often spent weekends at our grandparents', and I remember finding their house horribly stinky when I got there, not noticing the smell after a few hours, and then going back home, my mother opening my suitcase (full of clothes that my grandmother had washed before repacking!), and getting hit with a wave of the overpowering stench of cigarette smoke that had become "re-smellable" to me. I also get pleasant flashbacks to my grandparents' house when I smell Crest toothpaste, since that's what we used there but not at home, and so I certainly was able to smell other things despite all the smoke.
posted by lazuli at 12:54 PM on April 16, 2016


At diners, it wasn't unusual for the cook to be slaving over a hot grill with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth the whole time.
And barbers! There was an old-timey barber in the town where I grew up. He would smoke while he was cutting your hair. He had this habit of holding the cigarette in the very centre of his lips, so the ember would bounce up and down several inches from your head while he cut your hair and talked non-stop about politics. It seemed like a dust explosion waiting to happen.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 2:45 PM on April 16, 2016


I was born in 1978, graduated high school 1996, so college age in the late '90s.

My mom smoked non-stop, and I remember her cracking the car window on cold days. It was never enough. I *hated* the smell of direct smoke, but thankfully this was before A/C for us (both at home and in the car) so at least in nice weather we'd have the windows open and would spend a lot of time outside.

Random little things I remember:

I used to play a game when my mom would leave a lit cigarette in the ashtray on the kitchen table. The stream of smoke ALWAYS seemed to come right at my face, so I would move around the table slowly to see if it followed me. Occasionally, it would. It was the weirdest thing. Maybe I have super strong inhaling lungs?

There is a photo of me at 2.5 years old (1981) meeting my newborn sister in mom's hospital room. On the nightstand is an ashtray filled with cigarette butts and a 2-liter of Pepsi.

We went to the beach all the time (my mom was a nurse (!) who worked 3rd shift, so she'd take us there in the summer and smoke while she relaxed after her shift...it was really nice being there early/having the beach to ourselves). She always buried her butts in the sand. (This would drive me insane today! But now I'm the type of person who carries actual garbage home with her from vacation because they don't recycle it where I'm vacationing.)

Once, when I was 9 or 10, I was playing and running around the house with some friends, and as I rounded the corner of the couch, I put my hand on the armrest to get some leverage as I turned right. Except, I put my hand right onto a lit cig that my mom had in an ashtray on the armrest. (I didn't see it, obviously.) When it happened, it felt like I was jamming my hand into a hairbrush. My mom still feels guilty about that one. (I never bring it up.)

My father rarely smoked. Maybe a cigarette or two at a cookout or something.

Growing up, I always told myself that I'd never smoke, but I guess I got caught up in the 90s/grunge thing that someone mentioned upthread. I started sporadically in high school, when I was probably 16. I really did enjoy it (especially after eating...good god a Marlboro was de-fucking-licious after some french fries), but I stopped when I was 22/23ish. (I noticed that when I laid down at night I had the teensiest wheeze, which gave me pause. And then a friend bet me that I couldn't quit smoking and since I'm so damn stubborn, I did. (So he won. :/ I'm not about to start smoking again, but the stubborn side of me is annoyed that he did that.)

My husband and I were in New Orleans last week, and we spent a couple nights at a cigar bar. (He'll have a cigar maybe once a month.) I forgot how shitty you smell after a night in a smoky bar. While I'll always say that people can do, smoke, or drink whatever they want to, I'm glad things are the way they are now.
posted by AlisonM at 5:04 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


I never smoked, never wanted to, and can only think of once that I tried. *gag*

My biggest peeve was working in factories or cafes and my fellow cow-orkers taking their damn smoke breaks. Us few non-smokers had to fight for a 15 minute break, and we were the ones called back to the floor or the till if there was a problem. The smokers got their breaks, because they were "dying' to light up, plus an extra smoko every 45 minutes to an hour. They also got extra smoke breaks if it got busy, because it was stressing them!! No one who smoked got called up before they were done, because the managers were sympathetic about not wanting to "waste one." If a non-smoker was the cause of a smoker having to pinch out or throw away a cig, they got dirty looks the rest of the shift.

I was tickled pink when I was paying for gas and heard the manger at a truck stop running the smoking crew away from the front door so that customers didn't have to run the fume gauntlet.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:34 PM on April 16, 2016 [3 favorites]


Harvey Kilobit's right, I was into "alternative" stuff (and was full of affectations) in the 90s.
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:54 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Phyllis Diller: I used to date a guy who liked to smoke after sex. One time he asked me for a light and I told him to climb up in the front seat and get it himself.
posted by John Borrowman at 11:51 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


In the early 90s I worked in a printing shop with a couple guys in their 50s. They told me that they used to have ashtrays on their desks and would smoke the whole work day.

I have a 2012 car that actually has stickers with the no smoking (cigarette with red circle) sign next to the lighter holes - power sources I guess they are now.
posted by bendy at 1:10 PM on April 18, 2016


Let me just reverse the question: when I quit smoking (having smoked since High School with smoking parents) the thing I noticed was how stinky the real world smelled when I gave it up. I noticed every garbage can. I found public toilets shockingly aromatic. I flinched at the stench of bad Chinese restaurant oil. Sure, there are trees and flowers and fresh bread smells, but don't non-smokers ever complain about the rotting garbage reek outside your homes? Ever?

Of course, I live a four hour drive away from Serbia, where hotels still offer ashtrays in elevators.
posted by zaelic at 2:12 AM on April 19, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks, everyone. I was born in the early 70s, so certainly remember smoking being around, but my parents and their friends did not smoke. The context provided here was helpful.
posted by OmieWise at 6:35 AM on April 19, 2016


My earliest recollection of adult smoking was the volunteer firefighter from next door. He was visiting my parents one night, and was standing there dangling a smoke from his hand when I brushed by and burned myself on it. My parents weren't terribly upset, because that kind of thing just happened. He continued to smoke and I was sent to my room after a cursory examination of the burn.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:44 AM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh folks, in the 70s we used to get candy cigarettes for Halloween. "Just like dad!"
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 6:55 AM on May 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


Born in '77. Growing up, I had a friend who, like me, had frequent ear infections. His mom would take a nice, long drag on her cigarette and blow warm smoke into his ear to soothe it.
posted by xedrik at 9:56 AM on May 1, 2016


Born in the early 70s, parents didn't smoke, but we had ashtrays in the lounge room for guests. I vividly remember the smell of dinner parties my parents held when I was very small (3 or 4?) -- it was a wonderful mixture of fancy food, aftershave/perfume and cigarette smoke. It remains a very exotic smell in my memory.

I still remember going out (late teens, early 20s, so during the 90s) and leaving my clothes out to air over night after a night out. Some clothes (knits usually, from memory) needed a wash and airing didn't quite do the job.

I generally can't stand the smell of cigarette smoke with two notable exceptions:

-- an elderly friend of my parents (who has long since passed) smoked the most delicious smelling tobacco in his pipe
-- I used to really enjoy the smell of cigarette smoke when I was drinking a coffee -- the two flavours/smells went really well together. That's not easily replicated these days.
posted by prettypretty at 9:08 PM on May 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember that when I went to college in PA in 2002 that smoking was allowed in the frat/sorority lounges (and the lounge of the floor I eventually lived on which wasn't one of those). There was also a smoking section at most restaurants (including the local college pizza joint but that wasn't a section--it was the entire restaurant). That restaurant also had a cigarette machine.

It was something like 2004-2005-ish when the college finally banned the indoor smoking lounges. My floor used to smoke outside our front door but that got banned too after the floor above us complained (since they had a window right above our door that led to the hallway of their floor so all the smoke would get sucked in) and we wound up having 'Smoker's Exile' which was out some fire door in the back that we would get yelled at for propping open.
posted by sperose at 6:37 AM on May 2, 2016


Mid 1980s, Cambridge MA (one of the PC capitals of the universe): every Sunday after church, there was a reception in the upstairs auditorium. I remember a woman who was in a wheelchair and had a neck brace due to some advanced form of arthritis. She smoked. (There was also no elevator, and every Sunday someone carried her up the 15 stairs. Nowadays even mostly healthy people take the elevator because effort.)

One day, the staff sent out a very apologetic letter: "sorry, the city of Cambridge has declared that all public buildings must be smoke free, no exceptions for churches etc., so there will be no more smoking. Our apologies, we hope you can cope."

And within a year, smoking became so evil that if you had even been near secondhand smoke, you were a leper. The turnaround was so abrupt that I wonder if God was just bored for a few months or something.
posted by Melismata at 8:29 AM on May 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also: check out the scene in the movie "Jaws" when they're smoking in the hospital. No one gave it a second thought.
posted by Melismata at 8:34 AM on May 2, 2016


Around 1964 I was an usher in Philharmonic Hall (now Geffen) Lincoln Center NYC. The waiting areas outside the auditorium doors had leather benches with an ashtray at each end. The ashtrays were brass, about 30 inches in diameter and 6 inches deep, on foot-long legs. They were half-filled with sand, and were cleaned after every performance. There was no smoking in the auditorium, and the intermission crowd couldn't generate a real stink in the alotted time.

However, intermissions had to be at least twenty minutes long to accomodate smokers--a shorter intermission would end with large numbers of people still intermitting and not returning to their seats, despite the gongs. This was time for the crowd to exit the hall and smoke one cig, and perhaps get a drink (Real drinkers came pre-loaded, another thing that made the job more entertaining)

The waiting area was also where latecomers were forced to cool their heels until the concert had its first break--generally 10 to 15 minutes. Celebrities&such were immune to this--they were typically seated on arrival no matter what. But this took coordination, as the usher in charge of the area (loge left) where celebrities sat was, well, a red. He had to be warned that so-and-so was coming or he would not let them in. This sometimes led to real blow-ups -- many people are extremely full of themselves. But there was a notable exception: At one concert, Mrs J Kennedy and her sister Lee arrived late, unwarned, and unaccompanied. Asked to wait, they sat demurely on the leather bench between two ashtrays until the seating interval.
posted by hexatron at 4:27 PM on May 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


The Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) a commuter line from Long Island to New York City, had smoking cars through the 1980s. There was generally one such car per train, and it was also the bar car during rush hour.

The stench was unthinkable. Most smokers preferred to do without rather than stay in that car. The smoking cars could not be used as ordinary cars because of the pervasive odor. Butts covered the floor. Off rush-hour in the 1970s, it was also one of the few places where tatoos were common, and not the arty stuff you see nowadays, but crudely drawn thin blue line scrawls that do not seem to be present in google.
posted by hexatron at 4:46 PM on May 2, 2016


Born in 1972.

In grade school, we were presented with two wet objects sealed in plastic. One was pink and full, while the other one, tarry brown, was gnarled and looked hard. They were, of course, a healthy, non-smoker's lung and a smoker's lung. This was a very effective deterrent. Unfortunately they were left in our classroom for quite a while (days? weeks?), off to one side, and I quickly learned to avoid that side of the room.

My grandparents house had a blue-white Formica kitchen counter with regular brown fringe along the edges. Then they replaced it with tile, you see, because it wouldn't burn the way the old one did. (As it turns out, the "fringe" was the marks of cigarettes left dangling over the edge, every inch or so, from one wall to the other. *gag*)

Pipe smoke still makes me think of one room in our house where my mom confined my dad's smoke. The sweet smell of tobacco yanks me back there, decades ago, every single time.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:40 AM on May 3, 2016


Also, at University of Minnesota hockey games in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was one door through which smokers could pass to go outside to have a butt between periods of play.

It was...well, it was hockey season in Minnesota, which is to say damn cold, but out they would all troop to huddle in a group, and dragdragdrag until their cigarette was gone, and then decide either "time for one more" or "too damn cold!" and duck back inside.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:44 AM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wow, this thread should have come with a trigger warning. I haven't had a cigarette in 12 years, and I swear to you, there are times that I really really want one still. I don't think that will ever go away.

I missed the pervasive era of smoking (up to the 60s) when everyone smoked, but I definitely got caught up in the 90s rebellious era of smoking, when it was beginning to be socially unacceptable.

My kids are fascinated by the little ashtrays in the door handles in the back seat of the car, along with the lack of cup-holders. Back then, you could SMOKE in the car, but heaven forbid you have a drink with you.

Also, there's a thing that's now either missing from business culture, or I'm too old and stuffy to have ever been brought into its replacement; In the 90's, when everyone had to go smoke in the outdoor smoking area, we had excellent cross-team awareness of things. So much stuff got done in the smoking area (because hell, everyone needed their fix, and then you'd "get stuck" out there having another one because someone else you needed to talk to showed up. On pleasant days, you could easily spend half the day out there.) How in the heck do people stay aware of things they're not actually responsible for anymore?
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 12:00 PM on May 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


Despite never actually seeing the movie - aside from bits and pieces of the edited TV version - I was super into Ghostbusters in the late eighties when I was eight or so. I had the movie book and was a big fan of the cartoon. We were big on imaginative(Read: Inexpensive) play, so I drew a Ghostbuster symbol badge on a hunk of denim and sewed it on a hand-me-down vinyl jacket, made a proton pack and blaster out of a homemade denim backpack and paper towel tube, a PKE meter out of milk carton cardboard and drinking straws, and a trap out of one of the styrofoam soup bowls with the tight plastic lids we got Chinese takeout in. One day while I was playing my mom, who was visiting with company in the dining room, called me over. She took a drag, pulled up the edge of the lid of my trap, blew some smoke into it, and resealed the container. She told me to wait a minute before opening the lid, and when I did, WOW! A little gray plume of a ghost escaped from the trap! Great fun! You kids don't know what your missing nowadays with your XBoxes and pink virgin lungs!

My mom quit in the mid-nineties and would probably kill me for telling that story and/or deny to high hell she did it.

- Greyhound busses had smoking sections (In the back! Like second-class citizens!) until the late eighties-early nineties.
- Arcade video games had the built-in ashtrays.
- Manitoba instituted an indoor smoking ban in the fall of 2004(!). The 24-hour restaurant I worked in lasted a couple months before closing from 11PM to 7PM because the after-bar crowd dissipated like smoke in the wind; in fact, before the ban, we sat patrons exclusively in the smoking section, and only rarely had people ask to be seated in the non.
- The cloudy water in which we swam for sure. The change in social attitudes and mores is pretty astounding when you think about it.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 3:33 PM on May 3, 2016 [1 favorite]


Pennsylvania didn't get an indoor smoking ban until 2008 and it still has exceptions for bars that don't serve food and casinos. I was in our local casino two weeks ago and I swear that 75% of the slot machine users were puffing away. I was there for a dinner upstairs but you have to run the gauntlet of smoke on the gambling floor to get to the staircase and I did my best to not breath until I got past.
posted by octothorpe at 11:40 AM on May 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember the big house my grandparents had in Northern Ireland, a region which even by 1970s European standards was rife with smoking.

Those ashtrays on stands that brought them up to arm height if you were sitting, about 3 in every room. My nana smoking Player's Navy Cut (no filter) and spitting little bits of tobacco out. My grandad spending his Saturday afternoon in the front room, in a three piece suit, watching the horse racing on television with a glass of Powers whiskey in one had and a cigarette in the other.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 12:55 AM on May 5, 2016


I drive a 2002 Park Avenue. No cup holders in the back seat - but I do have 2 ashtrays in the back seat - one on each door.
posted by COD at 5:08 PM on May 6, 2016


I was just on a Lufthansa flight and thought of this thread when I noticed the airplane bathroom door had...an ashtray built in! It wasn't labelled as such, but I definitely recognized it as one--the kind you pull out and then push back in so it lies flat against the door. Very strange since it was a new plane.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:35 AM on May 7, 2016


Also, at University of Minnesota hockey games in the 1970s and early 1980s, there was one door through which smokers could pass to go outside to have a butt between periods of play.

Minnesota's first smoking ban laws came into effect in 1975. My earliest memories are thus of restaurants having no-smoking sections. The old Mariucci Arena where the U of MN hockey team played also had really old wood flooring, and the thought of that catching on fire was terrifying.
posted by ZeusHumms at 10:36 AM on May 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


Best answers all.
posted by OmieWise at 11:08 AM on July 14, 2016


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