This is the scene from The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020):

enter image description here

Did they allow smoking in the USA Courts?

  • 26
    People smoked in public buildings and inside their office until maybe 20 years ago. Just saying. Stuff changed dramatically in a relatively short time.
    – Polygnome
    Dec 3, 2020 at 23:44
  • 18
    A better question is why is only 1 person smoking? It should have been at least 5 or 6 out of the dozen in that shot. But, as this Q shows, that may have been too distracting. Plus they're probably using it to highlight that 1 individual Dec 4, 2020 at 1:56
  • 8
    Was there anywhere smoking wasn't allowed in the 1960s? As mentioned in another comment, the only thing unrealistic in this scene is that many more people should be smoking. Dec 4, 2020 at 13:44
  • In WW2 and Korea, (US at least) soldiers were issued cigarettes because they were thought to be beneficial. The Surgeon General's report, most people's first clue they were bad, was in 1964, and it took some time for people to modify their (addicted) behavior. Dec 4, 2020 at 21:58
  • 1
    @JörgWMittag inside armouries, surgical operating theaters, service station forecourt, during satellite assembly, in a gunpowder factory or grain/flour silo. Socially, I don't remember ever seeing anyone smoking in a funeral or church either.
    – Criggie
    Dec 5, 2020 at 1:27

4 Answers 4


Now? No. Back then? Most likely. I am old enough to have had a job where we could smoke at our desk. Smoking was just a part of life, it was allowed on airplanes even. So, while I can't say for certain if it was allowed in courthouses, I can say based on my personal recollections that it most likely was in 1968 (when the events in the movie took place).

  • 2
    IIRC airplanes had designated non-smoking areas.
    – Barmar
    Dec 4, 2020 at 14:27
  • 5
    -1 Sorry, "most likely was in 1968" isn't really an answer. I'd like to see a citation/reference.
    – camden_kid
    Dec 4, 2020 at 14:37
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    @DarrelHoffman: I don't know about arm rests, but the FAA specifically requires an ashtray in the lavatory (so that when the flight attendant begins knocking on the door after you set off the smoke alarm, you (hopefully) don't panic and flush the cigarette down the toilet or something).
    – Kevin
    Dec 4, 2020 at 21:12
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    @camden_kid - you don't need citations for things still in living memory. You just need people who were there at the time.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 5, 2020 at 11:21
  • 4
    @camden_kid You’re just making it sound like a kid questioning the recollection of his grandparents. You don’t need to have been in any particular place at that time to know that it’s very likely true, you really just need to have lived through those times.
    – Tetsujin
    Dec 5, 2020 at 15:09

Given that you could smoke even in hospitals at around that time, this is an accurate depiction of courts of the era:

In the 1960s and even into the 1970s and ‘80s smoking was permitted nearly everywhere: smokers could light up at work, in hospitals, in school buildings, in bars, in restaurants, and even on buses, trains and planes

The Changing Public Image of Smoking in the United States: 1964–2014

The laws have gradually changed since then, from allowing smoking everywhere to allowing it only in designated spaces to not allowing it anywhere indoors in public places, but this hasn’t always been enforced. Even as late as 1989 (alt link), one Florida courthouse had a haze of smoke in its hallways from all the smoking done inside it, against the rules.

  • 4
    The latter link isn't accessible from the EU.
    – Polygnome
    Dec 4, 2020 at 16:41
  • 1
    @Polygnome Does this work for you? archive.is/kknsz
    – Laurel
    Dec 4, 2020 at 17:02
  • 1
    Also high schools. My older brother's high school had a smoking area for the students to use in the late 1970s.
    – shoover
    Dec 4, 2020 at 18:30
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    This is a better answer than the accepted answer, because (1) it cites evidence, and (2) the evidence is about courthouses in particular.
    – user82818
    Dec 6, 2020 at 17:00

As far as I recall, the mere idea of "can't smoke in here" didn't exist in the 1960s.

There were "No Smoking" zones, but for reasons.

I remember smokers in hospitals (including patients), airplanes (later, the back N rows), at the community pool, at the dinner table, everywhere.

  • 11
    In 1960, the only place you couldn't smoke was a gas station.
    – Mazura
    Dec 4, 2020 at 3:23
  • 4
    @Mazura You could smoke at a gas station, As I recall, the signs only said not to do it when you were pumping gas. Because when you got out of your car, you were holding the cigarette you were smoking while you drove up. Dec 4, 2020 at 6:59
  • 1
    @OwenReynolds - The signs I remember were just "No Smoking," full stop. Separately there were signs warning that smoking during pumping could end badly for you (I paraphrase), but the big bold sign was a blanket prohibition. Dec 4, 2020 at 8:22
  • 3
    One other exception was the computer room. In those days the computer (rarely more than one) was large, expensive, and delicate, and got its own special air-conditioning with particle filtering, while people often didn't. Dec 4, 2020 at 22:04
  • I still see people smoking at gas stations while pumping gas in 2020.
    – jesse_b
    Dec 5, 2020 at 15:24

The Chicago 7 were tried in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, a federal court, in 1969.

In 1972 the US Surgeon General proposed limits on smoking areas, but it wasn't until 1997 that President Clinton banned smoking in federal buildings via Executive Order 13058.

I worked in federal government buildings in the mid-90s and smoking was already not allowed indoors, though I'm not sure by what mandate. Society had changed by then and it was no longer considered acceptable to smoke in a crowded building even if there were no explicit rules prohibiting it.

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