“Smoke” was slang for a deadly drink served in the poorer parts of town, like the Bowery in New York, and in speakeasies that catered to the lowest segment of the population. It consisted largely of methyl alcohol (fuel alcohol0, which is poison, and water. It was cloudy, hence the name. Deaths from drinking methyl alcohol were common; in some places like New York, averaging one a day. If you’re wondering why on earth anyone would drink this stuff, so was I.
Evidently, drinking smoke didn’t always kill you. It might just make you really sick. Some people drank it without knowing what they were drinking. Others were too drunk to know or care. The most desperate must have figured they’d just drink it and hope it didn’t kill them this time.
I’ve used smoke in the book I’m writing now. (I haven’t thought of a title yet so I just call it #4.) I’ve killed off someone, a minor character is in the story because her death sets off a chain reaction that bears directly on the plot. Her body is found in the dockside area of a port city where sleazy speakeasies abound, and the police can’t identify her at first. The medical examiner–and there were medical examiners in some cities in 1925, although it was a fairly new concept–finds that methyl alcohol killed her, and it is assumed she was a prostitute working the bars along the docks. Not so. A few days later she is identified, and it comes out that she was murdered, forced to drink the stuff in order to make her death look like accidental poisoning from drinking smoke.