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College Smoke-In: 1956

Candid photo in a college classroom at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 35mm Tri-X negative taken in 1956 by my brother. View full size.

Candid photo in a college classroom at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. 35mm Tri-X negative taken in 1956 by my brother. View full size.

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Grain Nostalgia

The Tri-X grain on plain backgrounds looks like all of the thousands of 35mm indoor college pictures I took in the early 60s.

Plus-X had a finer grain but not the required film speed.


As a non-smoker, I’ve always rather disliked the phrase non-smoker. It implies that the default setting is to smoke, and that we people who don’t care to engage in a disgusting and unhealthy pursuit are the freaks. I recall sitting in restaurants, trying to eat while people at neighboring tables smoked over their coffee or between courses. I remember the smell in my clothes after going to a restaurant or bar or party. I remember people sometimes asking if I minded that they smoked then getting upset when I said that I did. I recall the smell of ashtrays, of lingering smoke in curtains, of orange slime on windows. And I remember smoking relatives who died in middle age of lung cancer. Nah, I’m the regular person. They’re the smokers.

The Times Have A-Changed

Boy she wouldn't try that today. She'd be rugby tackled.

Attitudes towards smoking were changing while I was growing up in the 80s. By the time I got my first job on a military base, the building I sat in was designated "non-smoking"... except for 1 room.

You could definitely see the dividing line between the older generation smokers and the younger generation non-smokers: those who had grown up thinking it was cool and those who were conditioned to believe it was a disgusting habit. No non-smoker would set foot in the smoking room, largely because a permanent haze enveloped it. If you wanted to fetch somebody out of there, you stood at the entry, pointed and gestured. Eventually one of my coworkers convinced management to install a telephone in the room so we wouldn't even stand at the entry after that. Also I remember a certain amount of bitterness among the non-smokers about all the time the smokers spent smoking and not working. Whether it was fair or not, we associated "smoking" with "slacking".

This lasted until '97 when Clinton banned smoking in federal buildings and a immediately a phalanx of smokers took up permanent residence just outside the main entrance. Rumor had it the colonel in charge of our building didn't like how this looked so he quickly agreed to set up a fenced area there. We dubbed it the "smoker's cage" and while it was being built, one friend said it was the fastest he ever saw the smokers work.

I'm grateful the smoking rate has dropped 67% since 1965 but in retrospect I think we could have been a little kinder along the way.

We All Smoked

I grew up near Winston-Salem, North Carolina (guess what was made there!), in the second half of the 1950s. Smoking was part of the culture. We smoked on the school buses going to and from junior high. Winstons were 15 cents a pack, a dollar a carton. I was a pack-a-day smoker when I was 12. There was a little dairyette beside the junior high where the owner would open a pack of Winstons in the morning and sell them to us for a penny each, in case we didn't have 15 cents for a pack. I walked away from cigarettes when I was 32. The hardest thing I ever did.

Smoking in class

Our high school had designated smoking areas until 1978. In college we could still smoke in class up until 1980. I much prefer it smoke free.

She's a rebel.

It's interesting that she's openly ignoring the no smoking sign at the top of the blackboard. I wonder, was it the intent of the photographer to show that? She must have noticed the sign.

If you got 'em

This photo reminds me of a female fellow student around 1970, who smoked in class -- but wouldn't light up when class was dispersing because ladies didn't smoke when standing up. Another world.

I can remember people smoking in classrooms into the 1980s, but by that time, I think, only when around a table.

Seemed to be the cool thing to do

In the late '60s and early '70s I had some professors who would let you smoke in class. It seems so strange now, but you could smoke damn near anywhere. You could smoke in airports, on planes, in some areas of hospitals, in theater balconies and of course in bars and restaurants. The only places I can think of where it was banned was church, most public transportation, elevators, public schools (except for the teacher’s lounge), high school sporting events and some stores. I remember people smoking in the grocery store at times. There were ashtrays all over the place. How bizarre compared to today’s norm.

No smoking

Back in the 70s I worked at a “major federal health care agency”. Everyone who smoked fired up wherever they were except in the operating rooms and ICU, I suppose. When moves were made to limit smoking except in certain designated areas, smokers were slow to adapt, instead grinding their smokes out on the “No Smoking” signs. Amazing!

When you don't know what else to do ...

Spark one up! As a former smoker who came up in the '50s and '60s, I can recall that almost every house had cigarettes, ash trays, and even fancy lighters displayed on the coffee table, even if the occupants themselves did not smoke, and it was routine to enter a stranger's home and light up without even thinking to ask permission.

My own nicotine addiction almost surely stems from a car trip, in winter with windows closed, with my mother (Viceroy) and aunt (Old Gold) in the back seat, and uncle (Pall Mall) and father (Luckies x 5 packs/day) on either side of me in the front. My eyes were watering for six hours, to say nothing of the sneezing and coughing, but no one thought to curb their joyful consumption of the vile weed.

Now, the merest whiff of tobacco smoke evokes myriad memories for me, a few even pleasant, but none of them healthful.

Smoking in class

I started university in 1975 and could still smoke cigarettes in class for the first year or two. If someone actually coughed or shot you a dirty look, you could say, filled with righteous indignation, “What? – I’m at the far end of the table!” or “The window’s open!” Many non-smokers have no idea how good they’ve got it nowadays.

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