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A smoking section is an area designated for the use of people who want to be able to smoke. Smoking sections can be seen in bars, restaurants, and a variety of other facilities. They are subject to regulation and in some areas, smoking sections are not allowed because smoking is unilaterally barred. Areas designated for the use of smokers tend to be clearly marked so that people can seek them out or avoid them, depending on their needs.
Historically, smoking was permitted in all public areas. Safety restrictions on smoking started developing in response to concerns about health and air quality, leading to the development of separate smoking sections on aircraft, in restaurants, and in other facilities. This allowed people to choose between sitting in an area where they could smoke or selecting a non-smoking section, where some exposure to smoke would occur as a result of air circulation, but people would not be smoking in close proximity.
In a smoking section, it is common to see ashtrays provided so that people can dispose of ashes and butts neatly. Some smoking sections are also stocked with matches for the convenience of visitors, and may have vending machines for cigarettes and other tobacco products. The smoking section may be entirely closed off to keep smoke as contained as possible, or it may be partially open for better air circulation, leading to some inevitable spread of smoke into other areas.
The legality of using smoking products other than tobacco in a smoking section varies. In nations where products like hashish and marijuana are legal, people may be able to smoke these in a smoking section. In other regions, smoking illegal drugs in public can be associated with criminal penalties. People who are not sure about the prevailing laws may want to consult someone before they light up to avoid running afoul of the authorities. Other smokers can often provide information on what is allowed in a smoking section as they are typically familiar with the rules.
Increasing regulation of smoking in many regions of the world has led to the disappearance of smoking sections because smoking may not be allowed, period, even in designated areas. Smoking is categorically banned on aircraft in many nations, for example, and smoking in bars, restaurants, and other public facilities is also heavily regulated in many areas. Some regions ban smoking in such facilities altogether, while others may permit it only in certain circumstances.
When I was a host for a restaurant that allowed smoking in a designated smoking section, my first question to guests was the number of people in their party. The second question was always "smoking, or non-smoking?". I could tell some people really wanted to sit in the non-smoking sections, but they didn't want to offend the smokers in their party. It was harder for a smoker to refrain from smoking than for non-smokers to put up with cigarette smoke, apparently.
My boss told me one time that smoking sections in restaurants were really useless, anyway. There's really no good way to prevent cigarette smoke from reaching the non-smoking areas, but it did make some non-smokers feel
better that we provided that option. He said the only way to guarantee all smoke would be pulled out of the air would be to install massive fans and new duct work. The noise would be unbearable, and the fans would draw in a lot of other things besides cigarette smoke.
I'm so glad my city passed an ordinance that banned all smoking in public buildings. I grew up with parents who smoked, and I worked in restaurants with popular smoking sections. I am a non-smoker myself, and I have always hated the smell of smoke, especially when it gets in my food and clothes.
Obviously the smoking ban was not a popular decision at first, but the city did allow people to smoke outdoors as long as they remained ten feet away from any public building. The restaurants and bars basically set up new smoking sections on outdoor patios. The air inside the buildings smells so much better, and I don't have to worry so much about the effects of secondhand smoke.