My office smells like a casino.
February 28, 2011 8:21 AM   Subscribe

The group that works right outside my office are chain smokers. After the first smoke break of the day, my office reeks of menthol cigarettes. Any ideas on how to solve this? I'm willing to try anything at this point.

I grew up around smokers and I even enjoy cigars, but for some reason the smell of cheap menthol cigarettes is unbearable to me.

I've been looking at activated charcoal air purifiers and they all seem to be expensive (>$500) and have mediocre reviews. Will these help? The little plug-in air fresheners do nothing.

I tried buying everyone snus, hoping they'd move to a form of smokeless tobacco, but they ended up using the snus and continuing their smoke breaks. These are serious heavy smokers.

I'm sure I'm not the only person to be facing this problem, but this is becoming a serious quality of life issue. It would almost be better if they smoked indoors, so I would at least acclimate to the smell. Right now it seems like a regular 2 hours assault on my senses.
posted by geoff. to Work & Money (23 answers total)
 
Escalate this up to your supervisor and the HR department. If it's a QOL issue then the burden is on them to address it diligently. Don't enable them with snus, for goodness sake.

One big problem, though, is that people tend to reek of cigarettes after they smoke them, so short of either banning smoking on the whole property or mandating hazmat showers after each smoke break, there's not much that can be done to keep them from smelling. Perhaps having management suggest that they take staggered breaks so there's 1)not so much of a huge wave of stench, and 2)there are less people away from their workstations during a break.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:26 AM on February 28, 2011


I don't think you're out of line in asking them to, at the very least, wash their hands before coming back. It will make a big difference. When I smoked, someone asked me to do that and they said it helped a lot.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 8:29 AM on February 28, 2011


Can you describe the setup more? These people are outside right?

I'm willing to try anything at this point.

I would try to get rid of the people, really just long enough that they recalibrate their habits. What, like 3 weeks for that, isn't it? Can you plug a fan in? Can you dump some dirt there and make it muddy? Dump some dog crap there (it's gonna stink up your office initially but if it keeps them away after the funk dies down, hey...)? Put something out that attracts bees? Squirrels? Pigeons?

You don't want these poor nicotine addicted bastards to suffer, you just want to be able to breathe in your own office, right? Put up a fake notice saying they have to go elsewhere. Put up a fake temporary notice that says for the next few weeks the area is off limits due to paint drying, or some other excuse. I wonder what would happen if you lined your windows with Bounceā„¢?
posted by cashman at 8:49 AM on February 28, 2011


Yeah, I was thinking it was people who had desks outside your office and you could smell their bodies. Is the smoke that is bothering you actually outside the building but making its way inside to your office? If that's the case then management should make the designated smoking area much further away.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:51 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you describe the setup more? These people are outside right?

I have a physical office with a door and everything, and a group that sits outside in an open cubicle type of setting. I didn't mean office as in office building.

I have a small desk fan that I've placed near the door, but it does nothing to prevent the smell from coming in. I could close the door, but having my door closed all day would be weird.
posted by geoff. at 8:55 AM on February 28, 2011


So, are they actually smoking outside your office or is it just the smell that lingers on their clothes/bodies that is the issue?
posted by Burhanistan at 8:57 AM on February 28, 2011


They need to move somewhere else to smoke. Ask nicely, but firmly.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:58 AM on February 28, 2011


It is the smell that lingers on them after they come in after a smoke break.
posted by geoff. at 8:58 AM on February 28, 2011


but having my door closed all day would be weird.

I don't think so, but it depends on your office. Seems like you have an excellent reason. Keep it unlocked and put a "I'm here! Come in!" sign on it. If anyone higher up has a problem with it, tell them they have to do something about the human ashtrays first-- moving them farther from your office would be a good place to start.
posted by supercres at 9:00 AM on February 28, 2011 [4 favorites]


how are you able to distinguish menthol smokes from non? If anything, MENTHOL smokes would smell halfway decent...
posted by TeachTheDead at 9:23 AM on February 28, 2011


I agree with Burhanistan that this is a matter for HR. Is your supervisor aware of the situation? If not, perhaps you could time a meeting in your office to coincide with the end of a smoke break.

Also, you might prepare a list of a few possible solutions HR could enact. For instance, could the smokers' cubicles be moved to another part of the building, or could you switch to an office further from their desks? Could your supervisor/HR purchase some kind of fancy air purifier? Could your facility management person examine the ventilation system to see if there's a problem with the vents in your office, or a way to enhance their effectiveness?
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:38 AM on February 28, 2011


So really, you are dealing with people that smell bad -they could have nasty saurkraut or durian fruit eating habits, heinous BO, and it would affect you similarly. Granted, cheap cigarette smell does linger on coats & hands.

My step one might be having hand sanitiser or hand wipes by the door that the smoke break gang comes in through. They may or may not get the hint. In the "didn't get the hint" case, can you discretely speak with one, and that person could maybe lead by example of washing/cleaning hands after the smoke break?

Another thing -could you face a fan *out* of your office? Otherwise create negative pressure in your office? That may be more effective than an air purifier.
posted by kellyblah at 10:03 AM on February 28, 2011


Does it help if you put the fan behind you, pointing towards you and towards the door? It might dilute the smell just enough to be bearable.
posted by FreezBoy at 10:03 AM on February 28, 2011


Avoid the fan unless you have an open window in your office. If there's only one inlet, any movement can only bring smoky smelly air into your office. A fan pointing out the door creates negative pressure, and the air has to come back in from somewhere.

Ideally, you'd want an open window with a box fan pointed into the room. That should create air movement from outside, into your office, then into the smokers' space.
posted by supercres at 10:10 AM on February 28, 2011


Light some scented candles in your office, your cue would be to do it as soon as they step outside. I use them for heavy-duty bad smells, like in the kitchen and bathroom. Even just cheap unscented tea-lights work well.
posted by lizbunny at 10:30 AM on February 28, 2011


I don't think you're out of line in asking them to, at the very least, wash their hands before coming back.

This improved things significantly! I got a bunch of eye-rolls, but so far they seem to be doing it.

Avoid the fan unless you have an open window in your office.

This is true, I learned this the hard way.

Thanks all! Any other tips will be appreciated.
posted by geoff. at 10:38 AM on February 28, 2011


for what it's worth, if i had a coworker who asked me to wash my hands more, i'd think they were crazy pants. i also don't see HR doing much for you here. as distasteful to you as it might be, they are allowed to smell like smoke. they aren't breaking any health codes.
posted by nadawi at 10:50 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I personally have some environmental sensitivities----specifically cigarette smoke, chlorine, and most perfumes. Thankfully I work in a non-perfumes/harsh smells office.

Talk to HR. New research indicates that 3rd hand, residual smoke may be as or more dangerous than second, specifically because you're picking up junk that isn't otherwise inhaled. Specifically it's awful for infants, but it isn't GOOD for anyone. I'd ask my doctor to write you a note saying you shouldn't be exposed to it.

It is absolutely NOT asking too much to be able to breathe in your workplace. Smoking may be a right, but so is breathing. You may not make any friends, but I'm with you that it's beyond effing disgusting and impedes work.

We have a rule at my personal home---when my parents (both smokers) come to visit, they can do whatever they want before they get there. Once they come, if they've smoked in the car or in the clothes they're wearing, they have to change clothes. Once they're there, they can go well away from the door and smoke, but regardless of weather they have to wear a smoking jacket, which stays outside for the duration of their stay. Then they have to wash their hands.

But, then, I'm a dick.
posted by TomMelee at 11:02 AM on February 28, 2011


for what it's worth, if i had a coworker who asked me to wash my hands more, i'd think they were crazy pants.

I was hoping for a solution that didn't involve asking them to do something extra, but this helped a ton. I don't know if it was hand washing that's directly helping, or a combination of hand washing and not coming back to their desk 5 seconds after their last draw.

I bought the group a carton of their favorite brand as a peace offering, which seemed to help ingratiate myself.
posted by geoff. at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


> or a combination of hand washing and not coming back to their desk 5 seconds after their last draw.

Yeah, probably equal parts both. Judging by how gummy a smoker's keyboard can get, a fair amount of the stinky particles are on their hands.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:16 AM on February 28, 2011


I bought the group a carton of their favorite brand as a peace offering, which seemed to help ingratiate myself.

This is a good thing.

Smokers these days tend to understand the impact they're having around them, so there's frequently a guilty defensiveness about their habit. Treating this situation as a negotiation rather than a "fuck you, stinky" helps a lot to alleviate that.
posted by fatbird at 11:52 AM on February 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think you are right about it being hand-washing and the extra time. We had my MIL living with us for a few months. It was agreed that she take her smoking outside on the lanai, which she did. But she would always take the last drag, stub out the cig and open the sliding door and exhale as she was stepping back into our home.

I had to have the awkward conversation with her: "Stay outside another couple of minutes after the cigarette to allow the rest of the smoke to clear your lungs" Most of the time she remembers, but if we are out shopping and she smokes on the way to the car? I'd have to tell her to not get back in for a minute or two. I'm sure I come off highly dramatic.

I wish I had the stones to demand a hand-wash, and to not put butts into the kitchen trash, but it's a dicey DIL/MIL talk to have. "It's my house, and my rules!?"
posted by Jazz Hands at 1:39 PM on February 28, 2011


I don't like to smell like smoke, so I usually wash my hands, then spray a couple of squirts of Febreeze on my shirt. You should install an automatic Febreeze spritzer on the door. Nobody will complain about that*.



*I lie.
posted by tacodave at 3:37 PM on February 28, 2011


« Older Under Armour for tall but not big guys?   |   Life after art school Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.