This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is not supported by advertising, it's supported by the generosity of my patrons on Patreon. Thank you!

Smoking in old-time Phoenix


As someone who has never smoked, and dislikes the smell of tobacco smoke, I often think that I'm lucky to be living in the time and place that I do. And when I imagine visiting old-time Phoenix, I do realize that there's going to be a LOT of smoking.

The use of tobacco products became common worldwide after Europeans discovered it in the "New World" in the 1500s. It was like tomatoes, hard to imagine the world without it, but it was a relatively new discovery for the human race, and it became wildly popular right away. Up until the 1970s there was virtually no restriction on the use of it in public places, except hospitals. People smoked on airplanes, they smoked in restaurants. The fancier restaurants restricted cigar smoke, but that was about it. When smoking sections of restaurants began to appear, there was no physical barrier, just distance. The smoking areas were much larger, and non-smokers got jammed back where they could fit. I used to go to "Kiss the Cook" in Glendale, and always had to sit way in the back. I never got to sit up front until the entire restaurant became non-smoking. And if I ate at Parsons I could barely breathe, and felt as if I needed to go burn my clothes to get the stink out of them after just an hour in there.

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Speaking for myself, as someone who was born in the 1950s, I know that my mother smoked during her pregnancy with me. She often told me that the doctor recommended that she "continue her regular habits". Convincing medical evidence linking tobacco with various types of cancers, including lung cancer, wasn't widespread until the 1960s, and in places like Arizona smoking was allowed in public buildings through the 1980s, and only until very recently in bars.

So old-time Phoenix would have been a hazy, smoky place wherever you went, and for someone like me it would have had an awful stink, and I would barely be able to breathe. And I often wonder if I would be choking and gasping? And if I could time-travel, I probably would. But if I lived there at the time I probably wouldn't. I would have probably been a smoker, and no one would have thought about it at all, the same way that no one condemns me now for drinking a beer, or drinking coffee. Future generations may wonder what we were thinking?