Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reggie's Rules for Those Who (Still) Smoke

As readers of this blog may remember, Reggie is no stranger to the pleasures of smoking cigarettes.  I was for many years a sometime social smoker and only gave up the evil habit after more futile attempts to do so than I'd care to admit.  Fortunately I succeeded in my efforts to quit smoking once and for all more than five years ago, and today I am what I consider to be a former smoker.  Not a non-smoker, mind you, but an ex-smoker.  Once a confirmed smoker, I believe one can never regain one's status as a non-smoker, but will always (at least if one is successful at it) be an ex-smoker.  It's like drinking: once a drunk, always a drunk, whether wet or dry.

Reggie in his younger days, enjoying a restorative smoke

Even though I gave up smoking cigarettes regularly years ago, I'm not immune to lighting one up every once in a great while at a party (whether in my own house or someone else's) if a pack is brought out and offered 'round.  But I generally need to be fairly soused and among the company of other smokers, a rarity in the circles I run in these days.  I'm the type that needs a ring leader to bring me into the fray: you know the kind, the ones who slyly bring out a pack at a dinner party once the dishes have been cleared and says "Mind if I smoke?" and everyone else at the table responds "Mind? Not if I can have one, too!" and then happily settles into an evening of boozing and smoking, having an absolutely lovely time of it.

Until the next morning, that is, when one awakes with a cigarette hangover and wonders "What was I thinking?"

Not all that long ago, it was considered socially
acceptable to smoke at dinner parties

So, for those of you who may question under what authority Reggie speaks when it comes to the behavior of and rules for smokers, I believe I have the smoking credentials to spell out what I believe are the rules by which smokers should abide in today's increasingly rabid anti-smoking world.  I'm not expecting you to agree with all of these rules in all cases, Dear Reader, but please do read them and give them some thought.  I'd be interested to hear from you, too, as to whether you think I've missed one or two, or am wide of the point in one or two cases.

Bars, booze, and butts: a match made in Heaven

Before I get to the rules, however, I'd like to share that I think the whole anti-smoking thing has gone too far here in America, and more recently in Europe.  Sacré bleu, that one cannot light up a cigarette in a restaurant in Paris anymore!  As far as I'm concerned, people should at least be allowed to smoke in bars and nightclubs, and even in certain grown-up restaurants that are large enough and well-ventilated enough to be able to support having a smoking section.  I'm fine with there being non-smoking restaurants for those that can't abide secondhand smoke, but I think there should be some choice in the matter, too—what's the harm in allowing a restaurateur the choice whether or not to have a smoke-free place?  I don't buy into the view that it isn't fair to non-smoking employees and other patrons of such establishments to be exposed to secondhand smoke.  Vote with your feet.  I don't know all that many people who are exactly forced against their will to work in or go to a bar or club that allows smoking, who don't have any other employment or entertainment choices available to them.  Smoking is the least of the vices available in some of those establishments—at least it was in more than a few of the choicer places I found myself in the wee hours of the night in my younger days.  If you don't want to inhale secondhand smoke, folks, then don't go to or work in a bar!  It's as simple as that.

Needless to say, Reggie does not countenance
encouraging young people to smoke

Now that I got that off my chest, here are my rules for thems that still smokes:

1.  Confine your smoking only to areas and places where it is explicitly allowed

Even though you may find the present-day restrictions on cigarette smoking inconvenient, if not annoying, you must heed such restrictions.  Rules are, after all, rules.

2.  Ask first, before lighting up

Whether in public or private.  It's common courtesy, thank you.

3.  Don't get shirty if someone objects to your smoking

Their rights trump yours.

4.  Take it outside

Unless explicitly condoned, confine your smoking to the great outdoors.

5.  Don't smoke while walking on the street

It is rude to the other people who are out and about, particularly those walking downwind of you, who have no choice but to inhale your secondhand smoke.

6.  Watch it with those ashes!

If you must walk around in public smoking a cigarette, don't do it holding it in such a way that there is any risk that you could brush against someone, leaving ashes on them, or even possibly burn them.  This is a particular pet-peeve of mine when walking along the sidewalks of New York, where I have on more occasions than I care to recollect found myself with someone's cigarette ashes deposited on my sleeve.  And if you do accidentally ash someone, you should apologize profusely for doing so, particularly if the person you've ashed objects to it!

7.  Don't walk around with a cigarette butt hanging out of your mouth, like some kind of Bowery bum

It looks disgusting and down market.

8.  Don't throw a lit cigarette butt onto the sidewalk or the street

It is thoughtless and dangerous, and can burn the feet of those you share the sidewalk with, such as my dear little Pompey.

9.  Dispose of your spent cigarette butts in proper receptacles

Don't just toss them on the streets or sidewalks, or into the bushes, assuming that someone else is going to pick them up after you.  And don't even consider depositing them in a potted plant or planter.  Your spent cigarette butt is litter.  Always dispose of cigarette butts in a trash can or in one of those public ashtrays set out in front of buildings.  If none of those are around, put the damn cigarette butt in your pocket, and dispose of it properly later.

10.  When taking a smoking break from your place of employment, do not hover around the entryway of the building, but rather walk a discrete distance away from it.  

It is decidedly unpleasant for those entering and exiting a building to have to walk through a haze of cigarette smoke in order to do so.  Besides, there's nothing that looks more depraved than seeing a gaggle of smokers sucking on cigarettes outside of a building.

11.  Don't smoke in the car

It is dirty and leaves a vile smell, and is unpleasant for other non-smoking riders trapped in the car with you.

12.  Be thoughtful of the people around you who may not share your love for smoking cigarettes

At the end of the day, this is what it is all about.

And there you have it, Dear Reader, Reggie's rules for those who (still) smoke.  If you must smoke, I suggest that you follow them, both for your sake and for the sake of others.

All photographs courtesy of LIFE Images


  1. Hello Reggie:
    Well, although we do not smoke ourselves,we would say that most smokers in Britain would feel that, much as you describe in America, the ban on smoking is going too far. Smokers are the new pariahs and are hounded from everywhere except the most despicable of 'dives' or the wide outdoors in all weathers.

    However, in Budapest, we can report that smokers rule. Cigarettes are inexpensive, Hungarians love to smoke [second heaviest smokers in Europe]and smoking rules are lax if applied at all.In spite of this, those who do not wish to smoke can avoid the effects of the dreaded weed and a truce if not a peace co-exists reasonably successfully. Our only complaint is that there is absolutely no recognition that cigarette butts are litter!!

  2. Oh dear. How clever...this is a real hornet's nest! As a former smoker myself, (from at least 20 years ago), I have to say that I do not like being in the "waft" of those who smoke. This view is perhaps aided by the sad demise of my mother from lung cancer, caused by indulgence in the habit that was de rigeur for people of her generation. For those of us who know the consequences of the habit, there really isn't any excuse to think it's OK, surely?

    There is a bar here that does not properly adhere to the laws of the country vis-a-vis smoking in public/airconditioned spaces. But I love the barman and owner, and I love my friends who go there. I shall, probably die of lung cancer too. What to do lah? Mr Debrett needs to advise urgently.

  3. I am incredibly jealous that you can smoke ONE cigarette. If I went there, I'd be a pack a day smoker again the very next day. I loved smoking. I'd still be smoking if it wasn't going to kill me.

  4. I agree with everything except one point. I would be taken aback, I must say, if someone said after dinner, "Mind if I smoke?" Unless there are cigarettes on the table, you know everyone smokes, or you are in a foreign country, I feel that is a question unsuitable for the dinner table and should wait until withdrawing, at the very least. Otherwise, I agree with you Reggie, completely.

  5. Oh Reggie, your post makes me sigh. As a former smoker myself (who finally quit after many, many attempts), I find that I DO often miss it. I have so many fond memories of good times in my younger years that were accompanied by smoking. The long, leisurely dinners that included various courses, drinks and smokes peppered throughout. The carefree nights of "clubbing" with drink and smoke in hand. The long summer spent in Europe expanding my cigarette repertoire with French cigarettes.

    Maybe it's just the free and easy days of youth that I miss, but cigarettes were involved in those times and I do look upon smoking fondly. Too bad it's such a horrid, smelly and, ultimately, life-threatening indulgence.

    I do love your blog. Although I'm a little bit younger (44) and female, I do share so much of your perspective and find it refreshing to reach your civilized and cultured posts on so many different topics of interest. Keep it up!

  6. My mother would certainly agree with #7—she is especially vehement about the slatternly look of women with dangling cigarettes dangling.

    As abominable as tobacco is considered now, collectors owe much to smoking history: Cigarette cards, silks, cases, boxes, and holders; cigar bands, boxes, and cutters; pipes, tobacco tins, tags, lighters, matches and ashtrays—and this list is only a start.
    --Road to Parnassus

  7. Living in California is what helped me to quit in 1993. Californians treat you like you are a drug addict. The social pressure to conform was overwhelming. I still live here, and agree with your rules, but I don't treat smokers like drug addicts.

    That said I'm awfully glad that I was able to quit, even if it was social pressure that got me to take action.

  8. Both my parents, both my grandfathers, and at least two great-grandfathers died from having been smokers, so I never started. I knew all too well that the odds were stacked against me. (I will admit to having smoked every cigar that was given to me in honor of a new baby, but nobody does that any more.)

    One of the things I've always found curious, as a non-smoker, is the seeming allowance by employers for extended smoking breaks. It always appeared to me as though smokers got, or took, more time for their breaks than others. And so I wondered why I didn't deserve equally extended breaks for certain bad habits of mine, which I won't bother to mention here.

  9. Both of my parents died from cigarette smoking related complications, having started smoking unfiltered Lucky Strikes in their early teens, and only quitting their one-plus-pack-a-day habits after undergoing the surgeon's knives in their sixties. That's why I quit...to avoid such a fate. My Doctor says a cigarette here and there once or twice a year won't kill me. I hope he's right!

    But as I wrote earlier, i keep the silver cigarette boxes and the ashtrays from the Stork Club and Georges V still, as I can't part with them, they have such happy memories of days gone by.

  10. You said it well, Reggie.

    I was a smoker for years and quit. I quit because I knew how bad it was for my health and the health of anyone around me who lived with me and my second hand smoke. The word addict would be appropriate here. Hence I understand the need to smoke and the need to be considerate.

    I have one minor point of disagreement with what you said above. At first, I was stunned about them prohibiting smoking in bars and restaurants, but I have a friend who has such severe asthma that I understand it fully now. It could well put her in the hospital. She loves to dine out and frequent bars with friends and family. So I have changed my mind about smoking in public facilities, even well ventilated ones. It might not be well ventilated if the violater is sitting next to you. It's so unpleasant whether you have asthma or not.

    That being said, if the table at a dinner party all want to smoke in a private home, go right ahead! The problem for me would be if I picked up that first cig, I would be done for.


  11. Wonderful essay Reggie, and I think you've pretty much covered it all, in terms of rules. I was pleased to read Rule Number 9, a habit by which my ex-smoking husband always followed. If out and about, and no ashtray was available, the butt would be extinguished and placed between the cigarette packet and plastic wrapper until a bin was available.
    Times have certainly changed in terms of smoking habits. As a child growing up in England, I do recall my own father sending me to the local newsagents for "twenty Benson & Hedges". Oh, and you are correct. No more smoking in Paris restaurants, but the locals (as of this past summer) have found the outside tables of bistros and restaurants most useful. This plays into breaking Rule Number 10 (sort of), but of course, these are places of leisure and not workplaces per se.

  12. I've never smoked, but I do own a gorgeous antique British case that happened to bear my own initials. I had to have it. But for the rest of it, I think it all goes back to what you've posted here time and again - be courteous and respectful of those around you. Good advice. On the flip side, it is NOT acceptable to go berserk and attack someone for smoking. A polite request is the way to go.

  13. I agree that bars should be one of the last places left that you can smoke in public. As someone said to me when the bans first came into effect in L.A., "you don't exactly go to a bar to get healthy"

  14. I love telling my children that on flights one used to be able to "light up" and I remember traveling and the smoking light going on and many flocking to the "back" of the plane to have a smoke.
    I still have ash trays for those that are social smokers.
    My Mother says that she smoked when it was glamourous, before cancer. She is a lung cancer survivor, now that is glamourous.

  15. Love smoking though i quit twenty years ago. Plan to resume on my85th birthday just as i plan to take up gin drinking again on that very day. Hope to sit by the sea without a drop of sunscreen. We have gone too far.

  16. Dear Reggie,
    I absolutely agree with all your rules. I would however say (as a non smoker) that a separate smoking section in a restaurant is about as helpful as a separate peeing area in a swimming pool.
    I am not a party pooper - going to bars where people smoke is not a problem for me, but trying to enjoy a meal at a restaurant with a smoker adjacent is not easy.

  17. Dearest Reggie,

    I don't know if you remember from our shared school days, but I too am an ex. Your column awoke recollection from high school days with a bang....junior year I was strolling along with a girlfriend after hours smoking away IN UNIFORM when our headmistress and her dear friend the middle school head drove by, reversed the stationwagon and drove by again, and reversed the stationwagon and drove by again. Affixed was I with four Evil Eyes. Next morning I was hauled into the headmistress' office where she berated me for smoking in uniform (didn't bother me, it was after school) and said that "smoking and walking" made me look "cheap!" Ah, my heart was pierced!

    To this day, Reg, were I to smoke anything, I wouldn't take a single step holding it. I remember once making my mother stop and lean against an ancient wall in Ephesus when she wanted a cigarette because I wanted one too and I couldn't allow us to Look Cheap. How we laughed! But you can bet we stopped.

    Cheap is vewy, vewy Bad.

    xo Bits

  18. If only someone as sensible as Reggie ran this country! All of these rules involve good, common sense...something that's often lacking in American society today. I do recall my pediatrician, who was extremely obese and had trouble getting up from a chair, examining me while a lit cigarette dangled from his lips. That was a bit much, I suppose:)

    More recently, though, a friend and I decided to go see a baseball game. As usual, after the Mets had been soundly defeated, we decided to wait in the parking lot until the traffic thinned out a bit before venturing home ourselves. An older couple in the car parked next to us had the same idea, and we ended up talking to them for a few minutes. Then the old man announced that he couldn't put off smoking for another minute, so he got out of his car and lit up a cigarette. Within five minutes, this lone cigarette had incited not only a series of disapproving faces and angry car horns, but also a verbal bashing by a number of Mets fans and, eventually, security guards. Sol (the old man's name was Sol) extinguished his cigarette and apologized and before too long the angry mob dispersed. And all the time I could only chuckle at the idiocy of this crowd of strident health advocates being terrified of contracting lung cancer from smoke (pre-filtered by a cotton filter as well as Sol's lungs) of a single lit cigarette while standing amidst about five hundred idling automobiles and their oh-so-healthful exhaust pipes.

  19. Enjoyed your post and very good advice; courtesy is key for those who (still, sigh) smoke. May I add my own bit to this?

    -After a smoke, wash your hands and have breath mints handy. Especially if you're around other people, but even if not. Hand-washing is key for me, I cannot stand myself if I don't, after smoking- and my keyboard appreciates it as well.

    Lovely blog, by the way!

  20. I read these delightful rules as I am struggling (yet again) to stop smoking this very week. I stopped smoking for a few years and made the mistake of having "just one" during a period of extreme stress. How I wish I could enjoy just one cigarette on occasion.

  21. Reggie,
    This is a good one! Both my husband and I grew up with smoking parents and all died of cancer, related to smoking except for my mother...who ridiculously, still smokes!

    It may have once been glamorous, but these days I simply can not get past the smell and the headache that always ensues whenever I am around smokers. When smoking used to be allowed on planes I thought flying made me feel sick and I was always so anxious to depart the aircraft. It wasn't until it was banned that I realized it was the smoking of passengers, not the actual flying and cabin pressure. So I am for the bands especially in restaurants. Bars should probably be fair game,but a seperate room would be best. I must admit in my twenties, I had the occasional cigarette in the bars of Georgetown.However, I fear Lord Cowell's example (which made me LOL!)is true.

    I agree with all your rules with the exception of the "may I smoke" when you are in someone's home. TDC above, said it best. So appreciative that you took the time to outline the proper etiquette of being a smoker.

  22. When I was a teenager in the 60's, my parents were part of a "Gourmet Club", a group of 12 couples who met once a month and put on rawther fabulous dinner parties. I remember one night they came home fuming because their hostess had not placed ashtrays on the table for the smokers. Oddly, they never smoked, but were ticked that their hostess had unilaterally made this new rule, and their smoking friends were put out by it.

    I still have my mother's sterling cigarette box she kept on the coffee table for guest smokers. It probably holds 100 cigarettes. I think now they were probably pretty stale ones, most of the time!


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