Should Smoking Sections In Coffee Shops Make A Comeback?


There are two things about smoking cigarettes that I know to be true: they make you look incredibly cool, and over time, they cut an ugly grave. The latter fact limits the former. When you are young and invincible, sucking down the casual heater only reinforces that devil-may-care youthfulness. But eventually, the mortality of it all catches up to you, like your own personal globe whipping double time around the sun to stay out of reach of that cowboy killer on the pale horse, dodging the fella in the brite nightgown.

For better or worse, cigarettes are one of coffee’s best friends and vice(s) versa. There’s an entire movie about it. Maybe its their shared position as a drug, but the pairing of a coffee and a cigarette just kinda makes a little bit of romantic sense. Most wannabe intellectual types worth their performative salt have, at some point in time, brooded moodily over a double dose of caffeine and nicotine. (Though coffee has been shown to help with early morning nicotine cravings.)

People used to do this in cafes. Smoking bans have changed this, and that’s inarguably been a net positive. For all its cool factor, smoking is harmful not only to those who choose to partake but anyone with prolonged second-hand exposure to it, and as such, it is pretty much banned at all public indoor spaces.

But should it really be banned everywhere? Is there room for the occasional smoking section for those who choose to indulge? Does the cigarette smoke diner, the smoky coffee shop, or ashtray espresso bar really deserve to be relegated to the dustbin of the 20th century?


A recent Vice article titled Bring Back Smoking Sections argues that adult-oriented venues like bars and strip clubs should set up indoor smoking sections. Coffee shops, they note, don’t need to set up such sections due having outdoor seating, “though it would be a lot cooler if they did.” This story dovetails with some other recent cigarette coverage in the media, including profiles of the artisan brand Hestia—the first new cigarette brand with FDA approval in the 21st century—in The New York Times and Air Mail. (Boing Boing rightly points out that Vice has connections to the tobacco industry, which feels relevant to mention.)

The Vice story is pretty unspectacular, argumentatively speaking, employing logic like “vaping is allowed inside, so why not smoking too?” There’s also a part about how indoor smoking bans were initially implemented. From the story:

I get it: Smoking and secondhand smoke is bad for you. It’s said to be a danger to others—though more recent studies show that much of the science used to support smoking bans due to secondhand smoke impacts was dubious. Still, this narrative has shaped the consensus around smoking to the point that it might as well be relegated strictly to the center of an open field.

Those studies, for those not looking to follow the link, deal mostly with secondhand smoke in relation to cardiac health, which is by no means the only way though which passive smoking can affect someone’s health. The referred-to article mentions as a smoking bullet another study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute titled No Clear Link Between Passing Smoking and Lung Cancer, failing to note the part of that very article where the author states, “Passive smoking has many downstream health effects—asthma, upper respiratory infections, other pulmonary diseases, cardiovascular disease—but only borderline increased risk of lung cancer.”

Everyone is playing with a funny deck here, cherry picking anti-smoking claims they can point to as dubious, making leading statements like “said to be…” and “this narrative has shaped” that imply some malevolent untruthfulness on the anti-smoking side, and completely disregarding pretty much the rest of human information on smoking. Which is undeniably bad for you. As are many of the things we enjoy daily in the course of this all-too-short life.

We all know that smoking is bad for you and we don’t really need to litigate that fact. Trying to gerrymander the results otherwise isn’t a great look. Nor is it really necessary to explore a far more fascinating notion. The much more interesting question to pose here in 2023 is this: should society, under select circumstances and with the consent of all parties, ease up on its total ban of indoor smoking sections? If you choose to partake, then I say go with God, live your truth. We’re all adults here who can make our own decisions. So should a coffee shop accommodate those choices, even if they are deleterious?

Can cigarettes and coffee ever be joined again inside the walls of a chic cafe?

We want to hear your thoughts, so sound off loud and proud. On Twitter, on Instagram, shouted from on high. Let us know where you stand on the issue. Smoking or non-?

Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.


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