Whatever Happened to Car Ashtrays?

Published by Nadeem Muaddi on April 28th, 2012

When was the last time you worked on a new car that came equipped with a stock lighter and ashtray? If you’re anything like me, you don’t even know. That’s because automakers started to silently phase them out sometime in the mid 90′s. By the 2000′s, most cars only offered them as optional features. Today, many cars don’t even do that.

In the course of researching why that is, I came across two articles that are definitely worth a read.

In November of 2000, The Nevada Daily Mail published an article titled “Automakers Drop Ashtrays, Lighters from New Cars” that explained the disappearance of these one-time automotive staples on a change in consumer demands.

Honda and other manufacturers are designing ashtrays and lighters out of many new models, both to please consumers and cut costs. […]

“You respond to consumer demand,” said Art Garner, a spokesman for American Honda Motor Col, the Torrance, Calif., subsidiary of the Japanese manufacturer. “Consumers say, ‘I don’t need an ashtray. What I would like is a little storage place here. I don’t need a lighter. What I would like is a place to plug in my cell phone.’”

Eliminating lighters and ashtrays as standard equipment on millions of cars also saves money for automakers, most who now sell optional “smoker’s packages” for $15 to $100 for items once included with every new car. […]

The changes reflect a continuing evolution in dashboards and interiors, said Jeffrey Rose, vice president of technology at Textron Automotive Co., a Troy, Mich., company that is one of the leading providers of interior components for new cars.

Travelers in the 1950s and ‘60s were never far from an ashtray – many cars came with both lighters and ashtrays fitted into every door. But that was before the arrival of multiple cup holders and storage spaces, switches for power windows and door locks, outlets for cell phones and amenities like garage-door openers fitted into sun visors.

Australia’s The Daily Telegraph, however, attributes the disappearance of cabin lighters and ashtrays to a better social and legal understanding of the health risks associated with smoking, as well as a clamp down on distracted driving. In a 2007 article titled “No Ash Therefore No Tray“, the newspaper reported:

The phasing out of cigarette lighters and ashtrays is expected to pick up pace as rules tighten around the world on smoking while driving.

Since the introduction of Queensland’s smokefree workplaces in 2002, there has been a ban on smoking in work vehicles when more than one person is present.

In July, Health Minister Stephen Robertson foreshadowed a prohibition on smoking in cars carrying children during the review of tobacco legislation expected to start soon.

But Queensland is not alone in a clamp down on smoke-driving.

Earlier this month, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill to come into effect in January banning anyone smoking in a car with a person under the age of 18 present. The fine is $US200.

Cyprus and three other US states have similar bans, while several countries including Ireland and South Africa plan to introduce the smokefree cars with children reform.

South Australia implemented a ban on smoke-driving while children are present in May and since then, police have issued 29 on-the-spot fines and 11 cautions.

Tasmania will introduce the ban in January and NSW has flagged smoke-free cars carrying children as the next area of reform. But the issue is not just a matter of health.

Last month, the new UK Highway Code declared offenders could be charged with driving without due care and attention and New Delhi has a total ban on smoking while driving as a road safety driver-distraction issue.

Personally, I like the fact that cars no longer come equipped with lighters and ashtrays. With all that we know about the dangers of second-hand smoke, I find it irresponsible of folks to smoke in cars that carry passengers who don’t.

There is one major downside though: without ashtrays, I often find myself having to leave screws and clips on a car’s floor where they either get lost or stepped on.



11 Responses

  1. Great article Nadeem, I hadn’t given ashtrays much thought until I read this. Thanks

  2. 1208bug says:

    Good idea-cut costs and let buyers make their own choices.Wanna talk about distractions, how about kids in the car!Not to mention audio systems, GPS, and fiddling around with that drive-thru piping hot coffee in the cup holder.(What a distraction when spilled in the lap!) Oh yeah, about that second hand smoke.Let’s be clear on what that “new car smell” is all about in four words,toxic carcinogenic off gassing.(see Vinyl chloride.com,for starters)Maybe it’s safest for all if we sit in metal seats on the public transportation?

  3. Nacho says:

    Very interesting, I barely noticed that my last car to have an ashtray was my 92 honda civic (i guess i had the “smoker” package lol) hmmm… food for thought, in a females eyes, Sunroofs are good to dry their nails and lighter plug is for cell phones… I guess ashtrays went up in smoke lol…

  4. John says:

    Funny how they say cut costs, when they are adding back up cameras, gps, and other more expensive options as standard! I’m sure an air bag cost more than a ashtray or lighter.

  5. Tara says:

    Here in Canada we still have those options….not that i am a smoker but the ashtray keeps my change.

  6. My 04 audi came with an ashtray and lighter standard

    • Ed says:

      My 2010 Mercedes also came with both. I hate to say “nanny state” but we all know govmt knows what’s best for us. Won’t be long until we won’t be able to think for ourselves!

  7. Joh says:

    I have to wonder about smoking in cars, having driven a work colleague’s – who was a smoker – car which overall smelt like an ashtray, or what a pub here in NZ was like prior to the public bar smoking ban here.

    As for cars not catering for smokers, my 2005 Mitsubishi 380 (an Australian version of the 9th gen Mitsubishi Galant) does not have any ashtray, nor is there provision for them (apart from if a cupholder was used). There is no cigarette lighter, a 12v power outlet is used instead.

  8. Erin says:

    As an environmentalist, I lament the loss of ashtrays in cars because it encourages smokers to toss their butts out the window.

    Cigarette filters are made from thousands of plastic fibers smushed together. This means that all the nasty chemicals in the cigarette get absorbed into the fibers, then leech into the ground and our water supply once they are discarded as litter. Fish and other wildlife eat these little tiny fibers unwittingly, and the chemicals get in to their systems- then we eat the fish. Yeah, ew. No. (The same problem occurs with plastic microbeads in facial scrubs. These tiny plastic fibers, whether they come from degrading plastic bags or cigarettes or what have you, are hard to filter out in water treatment plants. They resemble the food of small fish, which are eaten by larger fish, which are eaten by us.)

    • K-dog says:

      I’m an environmentalist myself and work in the Environmental Health field. Not only can the wildlife choke on these butts, but the butts that people toss out their windows are rinsed off the roads by each rain event through storm sewers then to creeks,streams and lakes where people (kids) swim. All those chemicals right into the waterways.


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