Smoking in the boys (or girls) room?
May 9, 2010 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Back in the days when people commonly smoked inside their offices, and everywhere else, was it common/acceptable/possibly even polite? for people to smoke while sitting on the toilet? If so, was there a gender divide?

More idle curiosity than anything, but this has been bugging me for some time - and no, I have no idea why.
posted by Ufez Jones to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Acceptable enough that I recall female public restrooms with ashtrays built in next to the toilet dispenser.
posted by NoraCharles at 3:19 PM on May 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

When I started work in the 80s, we were first allowed to smoke at our desk, and then we had a smokers table we could take work to, before the building went smoke free. There were no ashtrays in the toilet, and it was an unwritten rules, I guess, that nobody smoked in there (women's). However, in pubs and clubs at night, it was not uncommon to light up in the bathroom, and take your cigarette in with you, keeping it balance between your lips while you wrestled your stockings/underwear down and your skirt up. It was not uncommon for people to put their cigarette out on the floor.

I'm also pretty sure that my mother smoked in the toilet at home and would flush the butt when she was done, just for convenience, you understand, not to hide her smoking habit.

Oh, this is Australia.
posted by b33j at 3:21 PM on May 9, 2010

There are ashtrays in most commercial airplane restrooms. They must be there for a reason...
posted by decathecting at 3:24 PM on May 9, 2010

I worked in plenty of offices (in the UK) and the 'no smoking' signs started appearing less than 20 years ago. But I don't ever remember seeing ashtrays in the toilets (mens), but people did throw butts into the urinals and I'd see burns regularly on top of the paper holders where people had balanced their cigarettes while they were busy.

Acceptable? Yes, it was... 'smoke where you want'. The attitude would have been similar to 'chew gum where you want, don't worry if someone doesn't like the smell of spearmint'.
posted by selton at 3:26 PM on May 9, 2010

It was common enough in Chicago that I hated going to public restrooms because I wouldn't be able to shake the lingering stench of cigarette smoke from my clothes.

Acceptable? *shrug*, not to me.

Polite? No. Certainly not. I've yet to be in a public restroom with good ventilation.
posted by FlamingBore at 3:36 PM on May 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yes, back in the day it was common and acceptable for people to smoke in public restrooms. They also smoked in restaurants, airplanes (the flights to Asia where practically EVERyONE smoked was particularly lung-cancer inducing), taxi cabs, and just about everywhere else if I remember correctly.
posted by MsKim at 3:41 PM on May 9, 2010

When I first joined the US Navy in 1989, you could smoke anywhere aboard ship except for the head (restroom) and the messing area during meal hours. Something about the possibility of hydrogen sulfide gas, if I remember right.
posted by ctmf at 3:45 PM on May 9, 2010

Still happens, at least in the men's rooms, here in Seoul, Korea. Men smoke anywhere they gotdang like, it seems. Even in the men's room at my doctor's office. Jackasses.

Women smokers are far rarer than men, and if they smoke anywhere, it would be somewhere in the ladies' room.
posted by holterbarbour at 3:58 PM on May 9, 2010

A ton of public buildings in Indiana built between 1950-1970 have built-in ashtrays in the women's restrooms. Some older building have sitting rooms with built-in ashtrays.

(My father smoked through a screening of Grease in 1978 in the theater - there were built-in ashtrays where the cup holders are now. It's really weird to have that memory lodged in my brain now when smoking is frowned on in most public places.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 4:18 PM on May 9, 2010

People smoked EVERYWHERE, I mean everywhere. Restrooms, hospitals, elevators, restaurants, buses (but not subways in NYC), streets, stores, it was all over. There was no place people did not smoke, restroom stalls were no exception. When I was a child I was constantly in danger of being burned by smokers on sidewalks, stores, theaters, you name the venue. Smokers were all over and very nonchalant about their dangling cigarettes. When I started working in the mid-1980s people still smoked everywhere, at anytime.
posted by fifilaru at 4:21 PM on May 9, 2010

In the late 90s I worked in an older office building, and was confused by strange little shelves in each stall of the ladies room. The shelves each had a single hole them...and it only took me a few days to realize that was where the ashtrays used to be.
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:45 PM on May 9, 2010

Worked in an set of three office towers built in the 70s in Montreal, Quebec, and in the men's room we had ashtrays over the urinals in all three towers. Am I the only one who remembers seeing butts in the bottom of urinals all the time?
posted by furtive at 4:52 PM on May 9, 2010

People liked smoking in their home bathrooms too. In the early 1960s Hall-Mack sold home bathroom accessories that included ashtrays and, my favorite, a relaxation unit which had room for cigarettes, matches, and an ashtray, in addition to a magazine rack and TP. The copy on this ad says it was "designed with a man in mind," but I'm sure men weren't the only ones smoking on the john.
posted by radiomayonnaise at 5:30 PM on May 9, 2010

Even in the 80s/early 90s I can remember smoking in public bathrooms (half the time, it's where you went to smoke discreetly anyway), and I can recall joking conversations among my male friends about yes, enjoying a smoke on the toilet.

It IS bizarre to remember how common indoor smoking was (and such a good example of widespread behavioral change in a relatively short time period) I remember the little ashtrays on elevators too.
posted by Miko at 6:50 PM on May 9, 2010

I remember when the switchover happened in the office. It was not OK in the offices & cube areas, but it was OK in the bathrooms for a short while.
posted by Drasher at 6:58 PM on May 9, 2010

Ashtray on top of the toilet tank was a given in any smoker's home. Not so much in the powder room, though.

It was largely taken to be a "man thing," much like the stereotype of the man of the house openly carrying the newspaper to the toilet for his daily, manly pooping, but of course was used by both genders. Women, of course, needed to smoke while doing their makeup, or while relaxing in the tub.
posted by desuetude at 7:20 PM on May 9, 2010

I'm here to chime in with fifilaru, in the 60s everyone smoked everywhere. I'd add libraries, museums, courtrooms, doctors offices--including by the doctor. Pregnant women smoked, parents smoked around babies, sick kids. Linoleum in any public building was covered in singe spots all from butts stamped-out on it. Ashtrays were everywhere--or you'd just flick the ash on the carpet and kick it in a little. In grade school art class if kids were making something out of clay it was inevitably an ashtrays for their parents. People gave fancy ashtrays as wedding presents. And even people who didn't smoke kept ashtrays around for their friends who did; NOT having the ashtray would've been considered somewhat rude, and asking someone NOT to smoke, even in your own house---well, you would have been considered rather fussy and stern.

The only place I can think of where my mom didn't smoke was church.
posted by tula at 7:22 PM on May 9, 2010

I'm a smoking child of the early 90s (as in I was young and didn't want my mum to know I smoked) and public toilets were the only place I could smoke freely when I was out with the family - I could blame the smell on someone else smoking while enjoying my own fag in peace. Girl in Australia if you're looking for demographics.
posted by goo at 8:15 PM on May 9, 2010

And where places like public loos used to smell like smoke, now they just smell like fart. Nightclubs and pubs especially - particularly where there is a large number of people partaking in chemicals (which have a definite physical reaction most indulgers ignore). Smoke wasn't great, but it's better than stinky ecstasy/ beer fart.
posted by goo at 8:39 PM on May 9, 2010

Toilet? Oh yes. What else were you going to do with that five minutes?

And I recall well the smoking sections of movie theatres -- there two chains in Canada when I was growing up and in one you could smoke only outside the aisles and in the other, only in the back ten rows.

I have noticed many times that airplanes still have the no-smoking light next to the fasten seat belt light although I have not been on a flight with smoking on board in a couple of decades. I wonder how long those lights will remain a feature on airplanes.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:45 PM on May 9, 2010

Yep, people smoked everywhere regularly, including in bathrooms, though it was not considered very nice to throw the butts in the toilets or on the floor (hence the ashtrays people recall in bathrooms).

At my first job in a museum in the early 1980's, staff were smoking around the artifacts, including behind the scenes, and I remember a co-worker with cigarette in hand and an ashtray on the counter right next to archaeological artifacts he was cataloging into the museum collections.

Woe to anyone who asked a confirmed smoker to refrain in those days, even for health reasons. I got (and still get) motion sick easily, especially as a kid, and cigarette smoke really exacerbates that in moving vehicles. It was a major victory for me to get my parents to agree not to smoke in the car, but I had to suffer in misery on buses, trains, and airplanes, because no one was willing to refrain for a couple of hours, even though I was obviously miserable. I can't tell you what a difference it made when smoking was outlawed in public vehicles and planes.

I don't think this has been mentioned yet, but nicotine is a stimulant and has long been known to have a laxative effect on some people. (It affects the bowel in much the same way caffeine does.) So, some of the connection between smoking and the bathroom is because of that effect.
posted by gudrun at 9:00 PM on May 9, 2010

Smoker here. I remember being able to smoke everywhere, and yes, there were ashtrays in hotel bathrooms, public bathrooms, airplanes.

And you could smoke in the movies. God, I miss those days.
posted by sdn at 5:02 AM on May 10, 2010

I have noticed many times that airplanes still have the no-smoking light next to the fasten seat belt light although I have not been on a flight with smoking on board in a couple of decades. I wonder how long those lights will remain a feature on airplanes.

I was recently aboard an Embraer 190 (on Midwest/Frontier/Republic, or as I like to call them "MidFrontLic") and I noticed that the "No Smoking" light you typically see overhead was replaced by a "Turn Off Electronic Devices" light. "No Smoking" was printed on each seat back, just above the tray table latch. According to Wikipedia, this model of airplane began production in 2002.
posted by theBigKahuna at 12:21 PM on May 10, 2010

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