Ashtrays: The Appendices of Public Space

Last week I was giving a talk at my alma mater, the University of Victoria. The talk was in the University Centre, one of the older buildings on campus. It was built in 1978, and looks it (as it happens, there are renovations underway).

I went to a bathroom up on the second floor, and noticed this little fixture attached to the side of the counter.

It’s an ashtray, glued or welded permanently shut (here’s a broader view for context). It made me think about what this small, poorly ventilated space must have been like in 1980 if a couple of men were smoking in the bathroom. It’s funny how far we’ve come in thirty years.

Then I thought about all of the vestigial ashtrays in our public spaces. For example, I still occasionally find them in the armrest of airplane seats. I was going to suggest that they’re still common in cars, but this article from 2000 (!) informs me that they’re not. I don’t ride in cars often enough, obviously.

Where else do you spot unused ashtrays?

1 comment

  1. When my wife and I stayed at the Tigh-Na-Mara Resort in Parksville over the weekend, I was surprised to see a couple of glass ashtrays on the ocean-view deck of our room. All rooms are non-smoking, as hotels tend to be these days, and I haven’t seen a hotel-provided ashtray (even outside like that) in a private room for some time. The facility isn’t even old, so that’s not the reason.

    I do keep an eye out for ashtrays, but I rarely see the classic built-in ones anywhere anymore. (My dad, though never a smoker, used to repair cigarette machines, so I have lots of memories of such things.)

    In cars, you can now get a “smoker’s kit,” which includes the cigarette lighter to plug into what is now known as the “power socket,” and an ashtray that usually slots into a cupholder. Our 2001 Ford Focus came with one for free (I think I chucked it in with the spare tire, and it’s probably still there), but I believe newer cars require you to pay a bit extra for it.

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