Class & Smoke

Earlier this year, the State of Washington signed off on cigar rooms:

The bill establishes a special license endorsement for up to 100 cigar rooms, which would each pay $17,500 for a state endorsement.

Up to 500 tobacco shops would have the option to pay $6,000 each to allow indoor cigar and pipe smoking.

Any place where cigar smoking is allowed would be physically separated from places where smoking is banned by law. Cigarettes would not be allowed. Applicants also would need a valid liquor license.

This is a win-win. A little extra revenue for the state and a place that cigar smokers can go where they are unlikely to disturb others. What I find interesting – and telling – about this bill, however, is that cigarettes are not allowed. Because really, who wants to stink up cigar rooms with cigarette smoke. That is, of course, ridiculous. This isn’t about clean air or consumer preferences. Rather, it’s about this: Cigars are classy, but cigarettes are for poor people.

Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the anti-smoking campaign has been the placing of the class marker on it. Cigarettes used to be something cool people did. Moreso than any law, in my opinion, it’s the changing of that which has lead to the reduction of smokers. People don’t want to be associated with cigarette smokers anymore. At some point, it turned personal*.

There was actually a golden age, of sorts, when smokers were pushed out of the office and to a designated smoking area outside. At one of my previous jobs, there was a deck by the smoking dock where we used to go. Everyone from dockworkers to vice presidents (okay, one vice president) would all go out there. We’d talk sports, talk work, and so on. The dock was one of the few places of camaraderie between a vice president and his underlings. We had Hispanic dockworkers, a black driver, a redneck, multiple software developers (some who smoked, some who didn’t but wanted to chat with those of us who did), and me (software testing). All chatting and sucking on poison together.

It was during my time there that things really started to change. The smoking ban expanded from restaurants to bars. And the cycle had really begun to take hold. Smoking became something proles do. And so one by one, the vice president, the developers, and everybody but the dockworkers and driver quit. Our access to the higher-ups became limited to official, and ineffective, channels. Then they banned smoking on the dock and we had to go somewhere else. And without a really designated area, everyone sort of went their own way. One of the great social equalizers in a very hierarchical organization was destroyed.

Which is not to say that it wasn’t for the best, of course, as now a vice president and developers now have healthier lungs. And non-smokers have access to the docks, even if no real reason to actually go there. And the war on smoking has had its successes, with drops in the number of people doing it. But make no mistake, as this transition has occurred and accelerated, it has been increasingly fueled by the demographics of those who smoke and those who do not.

* – Yes, I’m perfectly aware of how things used to be before the smoking bad. Nothing here should be construed as a desire to return to those days. If or when EDK and the others deem fit to give me front-page access, I have a broadeer post on the subject.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. “If or when EDK and the others deem fit to give me front-page access, I have a broadeer post on the subject.”

    Couldn’t you just cross post?

    • I’m going to double down on what I said above, or failing that encourage you to just send the post to Erik and have him post. I’d really like to see this post; plus, I have a bunch of stuff I want to add in comments for whenever you get it up.

    • I was not given access to crosspost.

      (This isn’t a complaint, merely an explanation. I realize the above comment on my part may come across as a complaint. It wasn’t meant to be. I’m honored to be on the subblog.)

      • Just remind him, he forgot to do that for me, as well.

  2. I don’t know that I’ve thought about my mama every day for the last three years… but I’ve thought about smoking every day for the last three years.

    • As someone that hopes to quit, that’s very depressing.

      The good news for me, I guess, is that I did quit for a while and did not think about it every day.

  3. Let me suggest that this isn’t win-win at all. It’s lose-lose.

    Who gets to smoke in the cigar rooms? The privileged upper class. It’s like the old nobility getting to wear their largely ceremonial swords in public — they do it mostly so they can show they’re better than the common folk.

    Or better, cigars are the red-heeled shoes of the New-Old Regime:

    The “Louis heel”, as they came to be known, reached as much as 5 inches but no one was allowed to be higher than the King. Louis XIV began decorating his shoes with intricate detail, even depicting battle scenes on the heels. Materials such as lace, silk, satin and brocade were used and decorations like buckles and rosettes were added to the toes. The exact date of when the first red heel was seen is unclear, however Louis XIV was painted wearing them and an edict was issued in 1673 declaring only nobility could wear the coveted colour.

    According to historian Philip Mansel the colour red was chosen to “demonstrate that the nobles did not dirty their shoes”. The use of red is also synonymous with blood and the heels are also thought to have shown that the nobility “were always ready to crush the enemies of the State at their feet.”

    As a marker of power, cigars do basically the same.

      • A woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a smoke.

    • This was more or less my point. Cigars are viewed differently than cigarettes not because they’re substantively different, but because a better class of people smoke them.

      It still seems win-win in my book, though, allowing those who choose to smoke cigars the ability to do so while allowing those who would rather not smell it the opportunity to do so. Outside of pure spite, or class derision, I seriously cannot think of a reason why this should not be extended to cigarettes.

      • So we make special laws that only allow the rich to do what they want, while controlling everyone else more tightly. And that’s a good thing?

        Are you sure you don’t see a downside here?

      • By “better class of people”, do you mean people who have more money or what you construe as better morals?

        • I was referring to the perception that cigar smokers are high class and cigarette smokers are not and the pretend-make moral distinction on this behavior based on which group of people we are supposed to value and which people we are not.

    • “Who gets to smoke in the cigar rooms? ”

      Anybody who can afford it.

      “class” is not about money. There are hereditary nobles in England who are so impecunious that they’re letting tourists wander around the houses they live in, but they’ll be allowed into places and social circles that the world’s most successful truck drivers or farmers wouldn’t be allowed into, no matter how much money they bring with them.

      Americans can certainly be snobbish and stuck-up and clique-y, but nobody would suggest that a millionaire mechanic would not be allowed into a cigar-smoking room.

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