A smokeasy (also spelled smoke-easy or smokeeasy) is a business, especially a bar or drinking venue, which allows smoking despite a smoking ban enacted as a criminal law or an occupational safety and health regulation. The term is also used to describe locations and events promoted by tobacco companies to avoid or evade bans on smoking.[1] The word was added to the New Oxford American Dictionary in 2005,[2] although it was used as early as 1978.[3][4] It is a portmanteau of smoking and speakeasy.


  • Background 1
  • Operations 2
  • Tobacco companies and smokeasies 3
  • Examples 4
    • New York City 4.1
    • Hawaii 4.2
    • The Netherlands 4.3
    • Elsewhere 4.4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


Smoking bans have been pejoratively described as a type of sumptuary law, a law that attempts to regulate habits of consumption, like the prohibition of alcohol and drug prohibition.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15] Such prohibitions tend to trigger underground economies.[16][17][18][19] For, when a sector of the population is prohibited by law from consuming a certain good, or consuming a certain good in a certain way, inevitably, some will flout that prohibition and provide the good or the means of consuming the good in a black-market fashion.[17][19] Thus, just as prohibition in the United States led to the speakeasy (an establishment in which alcohol was sold in contravention of the law), so too have smoking bans led to the smokeasy.[16][17][18][19][20]


Some smokeasy operators simply operate openly, calculating that the fines they will pay are merely a cost of doing business. Others employ stealth tactics; for example, in Philadelphia, where it is illegal to have an ashtray in the workplace, smokeasy bartenders sometimes will use cups filled with some water to serve as ashtrays.[16] A visit from the city inspector then merely requires getting customers to extinguish their smoking materials and disposing of the cigarette butts.[18]

Because smokeasies are breaking the law, usually locations are spread by word-of-mouth; they even may involve the swearing of secrecy.[18] Although some smokeasies are underground establishments,[21] others are ordinary bars that covertly permit smoking in the evening.[18]

Sometimes, businesses have simply had enough and choose to openly defy existing smoking bans due to loss of business. There are cases in which establishments risk closure and heavy fines to draw attention to the issue, which includes being documented in the press as a smokeasy.[22]

Tobacco companies and smokeasies

Tobacco companies have used a variety of tactics to encourage the sale and consumption of cigarettes in the presence of smoking bans, and the term smokeasy has commonly been used to describe events and establishments of this kind. Imperial Tobacco hires public venues to promote its Peter Stuyvesant brand.[1][23] In Chicago, RJ Reynolds established an "upscale smoking lounge" serving alcohol and food, but classified as a retail tobacco store.[24]


New York City

Within one month of the passage of New York City's smoking ban in 2003, smokeasies were quickly predicted.[25] Shortly thereafter, some bartenders began to hear word of smokeasies and theorized that some former regulars who were smokers had switched to the smokeasies.[26] Today, both covert and overt smokeasies exist throughout New York City and the whole state of New York.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35][36][37][38] As a result, New York City unexpectedly had to begin a campaign of enforcing its smoking ban: in 2005–2006, the city issued 601 citations to smokeasies, including 232 in Queens, 158 in Manhattan, 126 in Brooklyn, 73 in The Bronx and 12 in Staten Island.[19]


In Hawaii, a large number of establishments openly defy the statewide smoking ban, one of America's strictest, which went into effect on November 16, 2006.[39][40][41] Several bars have disclosed their defiance in local newspapers and have invited television stations to film the unlawful smoking.[42] As of 2010, no bar has been fined, and open defiance continues.[42] Up to half of the bar owners in Honolulu have signed statements claiming losses averaging 30% and expressed open concern at the anti-smoking lobby claim that it would not affect business, a claim that was later reinforced by the Hawaii Department of Health's air quality study and Honolulu Liquor Commission sales data.[39] As a result, proposals currently are before the Hawaii Legislature to exempt bars from the statewide smoking ban by creating a new type of liquor license which permits the licensee to allow smoking.[43]

The Netherlands

With the passing of a 2008 smoking ban, many Dutch cafes had become smokeasies despite facing fines up to 18,500

  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ "New Words," Chicago Tribune, June 5, 2005.
  3. ^ Melinda Beck, "No Smoking," Newsweek, October 2, 1978
  4. ^ Wordspy: Smoke-easy
  5. ^ Johns-Manville Sales Corp. v. International Ass'n of Machinists, Local Lodge 1609, 621 F.2d 756, 760 (5th Cir. 1980)
  6. ^ People v. King, 102 A.D.2d 710, 712 (N.Y. App. Div. 1st. Dept. 1984) (Carro, J., dissenting)
  7. ^ John C. Fox, "An assessment of the current legal climate concerning smoking in the workplace," 13 St. Louis U. Pub. L. Rev. 591, 623-624 (1994)
  8. ^ William de Wiveleslie Abney, Colour Vision, p. 140 (Wood: 1895)
  9. ^ Wilhelm Georg Friedrich Roscher, Principles of Political Economy, p. 248 (New York, Holt: 1878)
  10. ^ Herman F. Selvin, The University of California and California Law and Lawyers, 1920-1978, transcript of interview by Anne Brower, p. 35 (1976 and 1978)
  11. ^ "Summary," The American Architect, Vol. XCII, No. 1650, p. 2 (Aug. 10, 1907)
  12. ^ Harvey W. Wiley, in H.S. Gray, "The Boy and the Cigarette Habit," Education, Vol. XXX, No. 5, p. 298 (Jan. 1909)
  13. ^ Lewis Lapham, "Notebook: Social hygiene" Harper's Magazine, July 1, 2003
  14. ^ Barbara Amiel, "Good luck if you've got nasty underclass tastes," Maclean's, September 10, 2007
  15. ^ David Brooks, Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There (Simon & Schuster: 2000)
  16. ^ a b c d Stu Bykofsky, "'Smoke-easys' ignore the tobacco ban", Philadelphia Inquirer, March 27, 2007
  17. ^ a b c Taras Grescoe, The Devil's Picnic: Around the World in Search of Forbidden Fruit (Bloomsbury USA: 2005)
  18. ^ a b c d e f "Smokers find refuge in secret nicotine dens",, May 31, 2006
  19. ^ a b c d "Cig-ban Scofflaws light up Ash-Toria," The New York Post, May 8, 2006.
  20. ^
  21. ^ a b "Warning over 'smoke-easy' lock-ins", The Scotsman, August 29, 2006
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^ Smoking Ban NYC Profile - 28 days.
  26. ^ "Sidewalk Soakings," The Villager, June 25, 2003.
  27. ^ "Cig ban? What cig ban? City hot spots smoking again," The New York Post, May 27, 2007
  28. ^ Empire State Smokeasies, Funkypundit Blog, April 2, 2007
  29. ^ "Waiting to inhale", The New York Times, January 4, 2004
  30. ^ "Lighting-up time: Big Apple meets Big Smoke," The Times, April 1, 2005.
  31. ^ "Gangsters will be the real winners in smoking ban," Scottish Daily Record, January 7, 2005.
  32. ^ "Smoked out?" The Buffalo News, February 18, 2004.
  33. ^ "N.Y. restaurants cutting trans fat from menus," The Washington Times, December 6, 2006.
  34. ^ "The Guide to the Guides," The Observer (United Kingdom), January 30, 2005.
  35. ^ "A year after New York smoking ban, debate still rages over effects," The Philadelphia Inquirer, March 31, 2004.
  36. ^ "Late Night Cracks in City's Ban," New York Post, March 4, 2004.
  37. ^ "On The Run," The New York Times, June 8, 2003.
  38. ^ "Even for V.I.P.'s, Sometimes A Cigar Is Just Illegal," The New York Times, August 14, 2004
  39. ^ a b Dean Carrico, "Thank you for [not] smoking: Bartenders and bar owners continue to ignore smoking ban," Honolulu Weekly, June 27, 2007
  40. ^ Mark Niesse, "Smoking ban openly defied by some bars," The Honolulu Advertiser, February 18, 2007
  41. ^ Laurie Au, "Smoking-ban rules, enforcement coming: Bar owners OK with patrons defying smoking ban," The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, June 30, 2007
  42. ^ a b "What smoking ban? Some bars defy new law," Pacific Business Journal, February 16, 2007
  43. ^ Mark Niesse, "Bill would allow smoking in bars: Some establishments ignore the ban and are going unpunished," The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, February 21, 2007
  44. ^ [1]
  45. ^ MSNBC
  46. ^ Collette Derworiz, "City to enforce smoking ban: Bylaw officers will charge bar owners flouting rules," The Calgary Herald, January 11, 2007
  47. ^ "Tempe wants to wipe out its 'smoke-easies,' The Arizona Republic, August 8, 2002
  48. ^ "Where there's smoke," Boston Magazine, May, 2005.
  49. ^ "California's Ban to Clear Smoke Inside Most Bars" The New York Times, December 31, 1997
  50. ^ "The Land of Smoke-Easies, $500 Barfs". The San Francisco Chronicle', May 15, 1998
  51. ^ "Suck It Up," SF Weekly, January 22, 2003
  52. ^ "Bars rebel against smoking ban," The Colorado Springs Gazette, March 28, 2007
  53. ^ "Tickets add heat to ban on smoking," Columbia Tribune, March 3, 2007
  54. ^ "Smoking bans burn businesses," Delaware News Journal, December 15, 2002
  55. ^ "Beware of complacency as 'smoke-easies' appear", The Irish News, June 12, 2007
  56. ^ "'Nazi' claim as Germans rebel over smoking ban" The Observer, January 20, 2008
  57. ^ "German Don Quixotes Tilt against Smoking Ban", Der Spiegel, January 11, 2008
  58. ^ "Three South Beloit Bars Fined for Smoking Ban Violation", WREX-TV, May 20, 2008
  59. ^ Eric Petersen, "Three Schaumburg businesses violate new smoking ban," The Arlington Heights Daily Herald, March, 2007
  60. ^ "Smoking ban holds up, despite opposition", The Telegraph, February 23, 2008
  61. ^ Michelle MacAfee, "Manitobans smoke it up," The Canadian Press, October 31, 2004
  62. ^ David Schmeichel, "Smoke cops strike: Treherne hotelier vows to fight 'fascist law,'" The Winnipeg Sun, November 13, 2004
  63. ^ G.R. Anderson, Jr., "Busted: The rumor and truth of one club's struggle against the smoking ban," City Pages, February 17, 2006
  64. ^ Tracy Wheeler, "Smoking ban leaves some bars smoldering," The Akron Beacon Journal, November 18, 2007
  65. ^ Elaine T. Secora, "Smoke and fire," Cleveland Scene, January 31, 2007
  66. ^ "smoke-easies, altoid tins, blue moon, janis joplin and vivid imaginations" Yellow Is The Color Blog
  67. ^ "Smoking ban fines about to get bigger", The Marion Star, December 27, 2007
  68. ^ "Underground smokehouses open amid crackdown on smoking, strip clubs", Cleveland Plain Dealer, February 3, 2008
  69. ^ "Columbus bar challenges enforcement of smoking ban", Associated Press, May 20, 2008
  70. ^ "New vice, same solutions," Philadelphia Daily News, March 26, 2007
  71. ^ "Smoke-easies", Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, March 28, 2007
  72. ^ Natalie Pompilio, "Ban hardly a crushing blow," The Philadelphia Inquirer, November, 2006
  73. ^ "Ban on smoking openly flouted", The Gulf Times, December 27, 2007
  74. ^ "Law or no law, Seattle bars still smoking," UPI, June 1, 2006
  75. ^ "Snitches silent about county's 16-month-old smoking ban", The Beaufort Gazette, May 10, 2008
  76. ^ "Speakeasies? Nah, smoke-easies", The Toronto Sun, May 25, 2006
  77. ^ "Defiant bar owner finds 'loophole' to flout smoking ban". The Daily Mail, August 3, 2007
  78. ^ "My local smoke-easy," The New Statesman, February 7, 2008
  79. ^ "The Big Smoke-easy," The Publican, February 21, 2008
  80. ^ Thailand Night Fever. Dave The Rave’s Thailand Go-Go Bars & Bargirls Guide
  81. ^ "Everyone Head for the Smoke-Easy", Utah Statesman, December 12, 2006
  82. ^ "Smoke-easies offer cover from puff police; Aficionados just want a place to light up, relax," The Washington Times, November 20, 2003


See also

Smokeasies have become a noted phenomenon in most jurisdictions with a ban on smoking in bars and/or restaurants, including Alberta,[46] Arizona,[47] Boston,[48] California,[49][50][51] Colorado,[52] Columbia, Missouri,[53] Delaware,[54] Dublin,[21][55] Germany,[56][57] Illinois,[58][59][60] Manitoba,[61][62] Minnesota,[63] Ohio,[64][65][66][67][68][69] Philadelphia,[16][70][71][72] Qatar,[73] Seattle,[18][74] South Carolina,[75] Toronto,[76] the United Kingdom,[77][78][79] Thailand,[80] Utah,[81] and Washington, D.C.[82]


After two years of continued opposition by bar and cafe owners, in the fall of 2010 the Dutch government repealed the ban for smaller bars and cafes which had complained loudly about loss of business.[45]