The most important smoking etiquette rules. The appropriate behavior for smoking in public places without annoying others.

What smoking etiquette is

Smoking etiquette is the set of rules to smoke in public venues or in presence of other people. Such rules include when and where it is best to avoid smoking, and the appropriate behaviors to avoid incidents or conflicts.

If you smoke, respect smoking etiquette to avoid annoying or offending others. 

If you do not smoke, follow smoking etiquette to politely deal with smoking people at work, in your house, or in public.

General smoking etiquette principles

Smoking etiquette is based on two main principles.

  • Respect non-smokers, preserve their health, and appropriately address their concerns.
  • Avoid hazards.
smoke break rules, how to smoke without annoying others

Smoking etiquette rules

1) Respect no-smoking rules

Strictly respect no smoking rules and signs. Never smoke in locations where smoking is not allowed. 

In some countries, regions, or cities, smoking may be completely forbidden in some circumstances. Such as in public venues or in the presence of children. Thus, before smoking, you should learn the local rules and restrictions.

2) Avoid smoking in places with no air circulation

Even where smoking is not expressly forbidden, avoid smoking in places with limited air circulation. Such as cars, elevators, small rooms, or any place where smoke is likely to saturate the air.

When you smoke indoors, open the window or allow as much air circulation as possible.

3) Ask for permission before smoking 

When you smoke in the presence of others, always ask for permission first. It is good etiquette to do so even in places where smoking is allowed or with people you do not know. 

4) Avoid hurting people or damaging items

When we smoke, we hold a burning item in our hands. Thus, it is good smoking etiquette to apply extra care to avoid hurting others. 

Hold cigarettes, cigars, or smoking devices in a way that prevents harm or damage. If you wave or gesticulate with your hand while holding a cigarette, you risk burning someone, or damaging furniture or other objects. Thus, you should limit your movements while smoking. If you are smoking while walking, keep the hand with the cigarette in front of you and at a safe distance from others.

5) Dispose of filters and ash appropriately

Dispose of the ash in an ashtray or in another container. Do the same with cigarette filters. Filters are often made of plastic, pollute, and can be toxic. 

Before disposing of filters, make sure that they are completely exhausted. Otherwise, you risk generating a fire. Be careful at home and in public venues too. Cigarettes are one of the major causes of fire and home and of wildfires in natural areas or parks.

6) Do not smoke in the presence of sensitive people

Avoid smoking in the presence of people that may be particularly affected by passive smoke. Never smoke in the presence of children. Avoid smoking in front of seniors, people that are ill, or anyone who could experience difficulty breathing.

It is tactful and good etiquette to avoid smoking in front of anyone who quit smoking or is trying to limit it.

7) Avoid smoking during a meal

Avoid smoking during a meal, as it could be disruptive for the restaurant staff and the other guests. 

Restaurants usually prepare the food to serve every course in a timely manner. Thus, if you take a smoke break in between courses, you risk disrupting the timing of cooking and serving your own food. Similarly, a smoke break can force other guests to wait for you, and thus it risks being annoying and rude. To stay on the safe side, smoke only after the meal.  

On some occasions, such as long dinner parties, a short smoke break could be allowed. In such cases, you can leave the dining table between courses to smoke. Avoid smoking at the dining table even if the host provides ashtrays, as passive smoke may annoy other guests. If the meal consists of the standard 3 to 5 courses, wait until the meal is over.

8) Apply the appropriate smoking etiquette to each place

The general smoking etiquette rules apply to any situation. However, some occasions or venues call for additional rules or extra care.

Smoking etiquette at someone else’s house

Always ask your hosts if smoking is allowed in their homes. Never pressure your hosts. Unless they explicitly allow smoking, assume that they prefer to avoid it.

If the hosts allow smoking under some conditions, such as going outside or opening a window, strictly respect such conditions. Conditions are also a sign that smoking is not fully welcome. Thus, you might want to limit it.

Smoke breaks at work or in the office

While smoking in the workplace or the office is often forbidden, smoke breaks at work are usually allowed. However, it is best to follow a few additional etiquette rules to look professional and avoid annoying coworkers, customers, or business partners.

Limit the duration and frequency of your smoke breaks. A 5-minute smoke break is an acceptable duration. Avoid smoke breaks longer than 10 minutes. Otherwise, your coworkers or managers might think that you are working less than other team members. Similarly, it is best to limit the frequency of your smoke breaks. One smoke break in the morning and one in the afternoon are acceptable. One break every two hours is borderline, while one every hour is too much.

Take some measures to limit the smell of smoke. Otherwise, you risk annoying coworkers, managers, customers, or business partners. Wash your hands after a smoke break to limit the smell on your fingers. Brush your teeth or eat chewing gum to freshen your breath up.

Smoking in public transportation

Smoking in public transportation is usually forbidden. However, even when it is not explicitly forbidden, you should avoid smoking while in transit. Public means of transportation are usually crowded environments, with limited air circulation. Thus, the risk of annoying others and creating conflict is higher.

Smoking etiquette in hotels, bed & breakfasts, and hostels

Some hotels, bed & breakfast, or hostels allow smoking on their premises. Make sure to follow their rules. Never smoke in a non-smoking room. You risk a fine and even legal action in the case of damages.

Restaurants, cafes, and bars

Every venue has its rules for smoking. Some venues completely forbid smoking. Others allow smoking outdoors, while some may allow smoking indoors too. You should follow the rules of the venue.

In addition, it is perfect smoking etiquette to ask nearby guests permission to smoke. 

Schools, hospitals, and care houses

It is best to altogether avoid smoking in such venues, as they host children, seniors, or ill people, who may be particularly affected by passive smoke.

Smoking in public open-air venues 

Before smoking in a public open-air venue, make sure that it is allowed. Some beaches or parks forbid smoking. Others allow it but under some conditions. Respect the local rules.

Etiquette to deal with a careless smoker

If someone does not respect smoking etiquette, it is often sufficient to make them aware of the appropriate behavior. However, be understanding and speak in a non-threatening, neutral tone.

In your home, ask your guests to please refrain from smoking, or to smoke under the appropriate conditions. Such as going outside or in the kitchen. As a considerate host, it is best to accommodate your guests and their preferences. So, you should allow smoking under some conditions. However, if you are in the presence of children or ill people, or if it is not possible to smoke without annoying other guests, you can ask to avoid smoking.

In public venues, it is best to avoid any conflict. You may make the smoker aware of the smoking rules. However, if this is not enough, do not try to reinforce the rules by yourself. Instead, notify the appropriate persons, such as the train manager or the restaurant staff.

smoking etiquette mistakes

Smoking etiquette: the worst mistakes

The Rude Index identifies and ranks negative behaviors. 

A high score (8-10) means that the behavior has the potential to trigger a conflict with others. A medium score (4-7) means that the behavior risks making you look inelegant and unsophisticated. More about the Rude Index and its methodology here.  

Avoid the worst smoking etiquette mistakes. 

  • 10/10. Smoking where it is not allowed.
  • 9/10. Not asking your hosts for permission to smoke. 
  • 9/10. Making ample gestures with a cigarette in your hand.
  • 9/10. Being careless in disposing of filters.
  • 7/10. Smoking during a meal.
  • 7/10. Taking long or frequent smoke breaks at work.


  • More evidence on the risks of passive smoking: