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"Smoko" is also the name of a small settlement in the Victorian Alps.
File:AWLA smoko time.jpg
A painting titled Smoko time with the AWLA

"Smoko" (also "smoke-o" or "smoke-oh") is a term used in Australian English, New Zealand English and Falkland Islands English for a short, often informal, cigarette break taken during work or military duty, although the term can also be used to describe any short break such as a rest or a coffee/tea break. Among sheep shearers in Australia, "smoko" is a mid-morning break, between breakfast and lunch, in which a light meal may be eaten.[1] Within New Zealand the term has generally altered to include coffee breaks and outdoor rests. The term is used primarily in New Zealand amongst the building and manufacturing communities.[2]

The term is believed to have originated in the British Merchant Navy,[3] and was in use as early as 1865.[4] The term is still in use in the British Merchant Navy today. The tradition of a smoko in the Australian sense seems to have begun amongst sheep shearers in the 1860s.[5]

Although a slang term, the word "smoko" has been used in government writing and industrial relations reports to mean a short work break.[6]

Smoko as an Australian institution

The smoko break in Australia has become an institution symbolic of working culture and even of workers' rights. The Australian Industrial Relations Commission has arbitrated cases of industrial action over workers' entitlement to a smoko break.[7]

There are, however, considerable health and productivity concerns about smoke breaks, and non-smoking workers are sometimes concerned that their smoking colleagues take more time on breaks.[8]

In 2006, the Australian government's Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources banned the "smoko" from its Canberra offices,[9] prompting then Health Minister Tony Abbott to declare that the "smoko has had its day".[10] In January 2010 the Health Department announced a ban on its employees taking cigarette breaks.[11]


  1. McDonald, Roger (1992). Shearers' Motel. Sydney: Picador. ISBN 0-330-27351-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "What does Smoko mean?". SMOKO.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lind, Lewis James (1982). Sea Jargon: A Dictionary of the Unwritten Language of the Sea. Sydney: Kangaroo Press. ISBN 0-949924-22-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Ayto, J. & Simpson, J. (eds.) (1992) The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  5. The Australian Tobacco Timeline, University of Sydney
  6. Glossary of common industrial relations terms, Department of Employment and Industrial Relations (Queensland)
  7. Application to Stop or Prevent Industrial Action, Australian Industrial Relations Commission, 17 October 2002.
  8. Workplace 'smoko' unfair, The Sydney Morning Herald, 22 October 2003.
  9. Ban the smoko? No way, gasp diehard smokers, The Age, 7 October 2006.
  10. Abbott says smoko has had its day, The Age, 6 October 2006.
  11. Health Department bans staff smoke breaks,The Sydney Morning Herald,11 January 2010