Bring Back Smoking Sections

Smoking a cigarette indoors—particularly at a bar or strip club or other adult establishment—is one of God’s little divine offerings.
naomi campbell smoking cigarette smoking section
Dave Bennet / Getty Images

I love America. I love air conditioning, dryers, and ice in my drinks. But if there’s one thing Europe has us beat in, it’s their undeniably chiller attitude toward cigarette smoking. I thought I was in the land of liberty—you’re telling me France, a country where I have to pay to use the public restrooms, is cooler about me lighting up a cig on the patio?

We’ve become prudish about a lot of things, but few shifts are as stark as our contemporary attitudes towards smoking. Vapes are generally considered fine in public spaces, but tobacco smoking has been sacrificed in the process. Case in point, footage of Timothée Chalamet smoking at a Beyoncé concert in Los Angeles on Monday has been met with shock and disdain. “i fear i have entered my timothee chalamet ick era because WHY ARE YOU SMOKING IN AN ENCLOSED SPACE,” one person wrote on X


Let’s put aside the fact that his name is Timothée Chalamet and naturally, smoking is in his blood. Yes, he is “breaking the rules” of the venerable institution that is the SoFi Stadium, which prohibits all drug use and smoking, including vape products. Yes, there were children in the VIP section with him at an unknown distance away. I don’t wish to litigate whether or not a Beyoncé concert is an appropriate venue to smoke a cigarette, regardless of the specific policies surrounding it. I’d prefer to propose a solution.

It’s time to bring back the smoking section. 

Chalamet is apparently one of an estimated 28.3 million American adults who smoke cigarettes. I am one of them, too, albeit rather casually, maybe one or two a week. 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.


Vaping, as experts increasingly suspect, could be all of these things, too. A study from the Department of Population and Public Health Science at the University of Southern California last year found that secondhand vape smoke was associated with an increased risk of bronchitis symptoms and shortness of breath in young adults. Vapes are generally considered safer, and this may well be true. But as mixed as the research is, it seems obvious that inhaling any of these substances, be it in smoke or vapor form, might negatively impact your health. If I’m in a situation where I’d prefer not to inhale smoke (like say, a movie theater or an airplane), I am no more interested in inhaling vapor, either. And yet with vapes, these rules about when it’s appropriate to partake have become blurred. It’s fine, culturally, to vape almost anywhere. But I’m not sure that’s a fair or worthwhile trade. 

Smoking a cigarette indoors—particularly at a bar or strip club or other adult establishment—is one of God’s little divine offerings. These are sacred spaces in which to partake in an ancient pasttime. While the era of smoking sections at restaurants precedes me, I have many memories of my father ensuring the dingy motel rooms we booked on our family vacations to places like Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, would allow him to light up without penalty. Oh, and just so it’s clear that I am not being glib about the risks of smoking, my father now has advanced COPD. Still, I acknowledge that it is not only his right to smoke but his right to join his fellow man in doing so in various smoker-friendly spaces. 

Your local coffee shop doesn’t need to set up a vaping and smoking section (though it would be a lot cooler if they did…) but a massive stadium and music venue? Why not? SoFi stadium is only partially enclosed, plus they probably installed some type of air filtration system after COVID. There are some spaces in which we should still expect to be able to smoke, or at least not have to leave the premises entirely and risk being unable to re-enter in order to do so, and most places that sell alcohol for immediate consumption probably ought to be included. Smoking and drinking are two things that can be enjoyed in moderation together, and are both notoriously unhealthy. If we sanction spaces for one, there ought to be room for the other. Restaurants, I’ll admit, are a fair exclusion. While I’d enjoy the return of smoking sections here, too, sit-down dining may be an appropriate boundary for spaces that serve alcohol and prohibit smoking. 

Where exactly does this cultural crackdown on smoking get us? Cigarette use is indeed down, but nicotine consumption hasn’t actually gone away thanks to the proliferation of vapes—in 2022, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 7 teens had vaped in the last month, and more recent studies suggest vape use among teens rose 20 percent this year. There’s some evidence that cigarette use is once again on the rise, too. As I reported for the New York Times last month, new-ish cigarette brand Hestia has been banking on the idea that smoking has become cool again by virtue of its transgressiveness. No matter how hard people try to eradicate smoking, it will always persist. 

But it’s not my desire here to see a renewed rise in cigarette smoking while vapes meet their demise. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all come together? And where better to do that than in the goddamn smoking section? I will happily refrain from lighting up a cigarette in venues with prohibited sections, so long as the vapers do the same with their product. We can meet in some designated square and enjoy the fact that we’re all adults who are capable of making our own health decisions, weighing the risks against the pleasures we experience much as we do the food we eat or the time we spend in the sun. Being a little drunk at a Beyoncé concert sounds like an incredible time. Being a little drunk at a Beyoncé concert with a cigarette in hand sounds even better. I bet they’d let me do it in France.