Miss Manners, Judith Martin, Published January 26 2013
Miss Manners: E-cigarette or not, it’s impolite to smoke in publicDEAR MISS MANNERS: Where is it impolite to e-smoke? Does modern etiquette differ from historical smoking etiquette, when it was common and socially acceptable to smoke? In particular, is it improper to e-smoke when giving a large speech?
I am quite fond of my electronic cigarette. It has a white light and cannot be mistaken for a real cigarette. It is odorless, but I exhale a visible gray vapor, which can be confusing to people who haven’t discussed it with me yet.
I am open about my use of this device. I use it on the subway in front of police officers and in bars. I already use it during informal business functions (essentially any business function where it is acceptable to wear jeans).
Does it hurt one’s public image if I e-smoke when I do speaking engagements? I normally dress up for those, but I’m in technology, where mores are quite lax and jeans are quite common.
Will it hurt my image if I were to e-smoke while giving an engaging and riveting talk? I’m already seen as a bit of a provocateur, but I don’t want to cross the line into gauche.
Historically, when smoking was common and socially acceptable: Would professors smoke pipes during lectures? Have any presidents been known to smoke during speeches?
GENTLE READER: While sharing your interest in history, Miss Manners apparently reads more of it than you do. The smoky society you describe existed only in the middle decades of the 20th century; before that, it was not tolerated.
In the preceding decades and centuries, smokers, also known then as gentlemen, did not smoke in the presence of nonsmokers, then known as ladies, without their express permission, which could be politely withheld. For the most part, the smokers did not even venture to inquire, but withdrew to smoking rooms and put on smoking jackets, so as to isolate the effects.
When ladies began to smoke openly, the rules were regrettably abandoned. Even so, an occasional professor might have clutched his pipe, but it was not the rule. It was not then known that smoking caused cancer, and President Franklin Roosevelt was rarely seen without his cigarette holder, but by the time presidential speeches were televised, his successors refrained. It was only when the medical dangers were widely known that nonsmokers, whose discomfort from smells and dense smoke had been ignored, finally rebelled.
Historical precedent doesn’t much help when you cite a comparatively brief period when etiquette was generally suspended. What about the fact that you are not smoking real cigarettes?
You ask about your public image. To those who recognize electronic cigarettes, you would appear to be someone struggling to give up smoking and therefore relying on a crutch. We have come to the point where that is considered pathetic, at best.
But not everyone does distinguish the real from the imitation, particularly at a distance from a speaking platform. Such people would not consider you pathetic, you may be relieved to hear: They would consider you evil. The now-accepted rule against smoking near nonsmokers is perhaps the most dangerous one to break. People will excuse heinous crimes before condoning that.
But here is the crushing part: Everyone will be thinking “He’s smoking,” rather than paying attention to your riveting words.
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