Smoking could finally become a thing of a past, thanks to new legislation that bans smoking outside hospitality venues in a bid to make Britain smoke-free.
Newcastle City, Manchester City, Durham County, Northumberland County and North Tyneside Councils have all banned smoking on pavements with tables.
Meanwhile, Oxfordshire is set to be entirely smoke free by 2025, also looking to ban smoking outside office workplaces.
Of course, smokers and non-smokers alike know how bad it is for us. Smoking is thought to kill around 78,000 people in the UK each year, and so I can respect the efforts being made from local authorities to try and help us all stub it out.
The eradication of public smoking spaces will save a lot of lives, which is only a good thing. But it could subsequently result in something else ending up on its deathbed – the humble smoking area.
They’re often not pretty, particularly when they’re those small, designated cages – mainstays of dingy nightclubs – which see you thrust up against the metal bars, blowing smoke between the gaps like a pathetic captured dragon. But whether you’re a regular smoker, a part-time smoke-puffer or never touched a cigarette in your life, it should be more widely acknowledged that trips to the smoking area are the best part of any night out.
Outside of their intended purpose, smoking areas provide a safe space from some of the staple horrors most people face when out for an evening. Find yourself trapped on a godawful Tinder date with a terrible man who keeps saying he’s “only playing devil’s advocate” when he says Trump was a great president? Just say you’re heading off to the smoking area for a second (before bolting out the door).
Having drinks with pals at the pub when an uninvited friend of a friend decides to launch into a tirade about her new wellness regime? Make your polite excuses to nip to the smoking area. The DJ has started playing Darude’s “Sandstorm” as the beat was about to drop? Time to head to the smoking area until something notably less embarrassing comes on.
The smoking area is somewhat of a “pause” on a night out, somewhere you can escape to without calling quits entirely and grabbing an Uber home. It gives you the space for a breather – somewhat ironically, considering what tobacco smoke does to your lungs.
But the best part of the smoking area is the collection of characters you meet while cordoned off from the rest of the party. There is an instant affinity between smokers, and strangers can become best friends over something as trivial as a shared lighter. I would regularly feel an odd form of jealousy towards the smokers huddled together in the gardens opposite my university room, and the prompt camaraderie struck up.
Rapport between the nicotine-addicted can only be rivalled by the stereotypical drunk girls in the toilets, who will brush your hair and tell you you’re beautiful before stumbling out into the night.
Perhaps I mourn the loss of the smoking area so openly because it holds such a special place in my heart. I’m reluctant to admit I’m the worst kind of smoker, asking for cigarettes from strangers and only having one when I’ve had a drink; a lipstick-stained cigarette in one hand, a glass of rose in the other. A terrible habit, on top of the one I formed smoking in the first place.
Having moved to London five years ago, I was excited to experience the city’s rich and eclectic nightlife. But I can say with complete honesty that my memories of the best nights out are not in the confines of the club, but the smoking areas.
When I was quietly crying about breaking up with my ex-boyfriend, it was a warm-hearted girl in the smoking area who took me under her wing, stroking my hair and giving me a pep talk (before offering me her number). On a wild night out with one of my best friends, we found ourselves stumbling into the smoking area – where she caught sight of her now-fiancé for the first time, having detached himself from his group of mates.
The smoking area was the backdrop to the moment I realised I was madly in love with my boyfriend, a roll-up hanging from his lips, which curled into his signature tight smile as he slid his arm round my waist, his fingers gently stroking my hips. It was such a tiny, yet perfectly formed, tender moment of intimacy that may have never happened otherwise.
We may no longer see smokers huddled together on nights out. And though I understand the very good reasons why, am I allowed to miss the sanctuary, peace and memories the smoking area has provided?