Worried about Significant Others Smoking
February 3, 2014 2:39 PM   Subscribe

I often stay over at my girlfriend's condo, she lives with her mom. Both she and her mom are chronic smokers. Her entire family smokes. They both smoke inside the condo. My girlfriend will at least leave the room and go to the washroom to smoke. But when I go to take a shower I can smell the smoke strongly. Her mom will smoke in the living room while watching TV. I can feel the smoke in my lungs after leaving her place. I have a history of lung cancer in my family as many of my family members have passed away from lung cancer after smoking for years. My dad is also currently battling colon cancer. My dad's battle has made me realize that this kind of situation is very bad for my health long term. I don't know what the solution is as my girlfriend doesn't drive, so cannot come to my place often and we live 30 minutes apart. I want to ask her to quit smoking but I know how hard it is to do. It isn't my place so I cannot tell them what to do but I'm just worried about my health from second hand smoke as well as her health. She doesn't seem interested in quitting smoking as it seems like something the entire family just does. I love her but this is a concern for me.
posted by Jack V to Human Relations (28 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sorry, what kind of advice or information are you after? How to talk to her about quitting? How to deal with the smoking? If you should break up?
posted by Lardmitten at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I couldn't live this way. This isn't to tell you what to do, just that if you're not sure it's a good enough reason to break up, I think it is. I used to have chronic sinus infections and bronchitis when my parents smoked in the house. They quit, I got better. It's a huuuuge quality of life thing for me and probably a lot of people! (And I've even smoked before-- but smoking indoors really changes things.)
posted by stoneandstar at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2014 [6 favorites]

This is going to sound harsh, but I would break up with her. To me smoking isn't quite a deal-breaker, but if you have to be around it all the time, than yeah, it kind of is. If everyone who lived there went outside to smoke, that might be different.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:43 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

This sounds like a deal breaker for you, but you don't even mention if you've discussed it with her. This is something you will have to work out sooner in the relationship rather than later. Just talk to her about it.
posted by Roger Dodger at 2:45 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

Don't stay there. It's their place, not yours. You are in charge of your own decisions about where you stay.
posted by bearwife at 2:45 PM on February 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

I mostly have a lot of followup questions, but with some advice peppered in.

1. How old are you guys, and is your girlfriend likely to move out of her mother's house anytime soon? As a corollary to the first part of that question, I would say that if you are high school students, you are waaaaay overthinking this question as you are basically 100% not going to get cancer from seeing your girlfriend for the short period of time you will inevitably date.

2. How long have you guys been together? I think that if your relationship is serious, you absolutely have the right to encourage her to quit. If this is a new relationship, I think you have to ask yourself whether you really want to date a smoker or not. You absolutely have the right to make your feelings about her smoking known, and to talk about it.

I have dated a few smokers. My tactic in general is to not ever be positive about the habit. If they want to stop and buy cigarettes when we're together, and it's inconvenient, I'll grumble and they can deal with it. If they are in a bad mood because they're craving a smoke, so what? If they roll down the car windows to smoke and I'm cold, I will complain that I'm cold. If their apartment stinks like cigarettes, I'm not going to pretend it doesn't. If they want my opinion on any smoking-related topic, the party line is "smoking is dumb, and I wish you would quit."

I'm not willing to pretend I'm OK with something that is, at best, a tiresome habit, and at worst going to kill someone I love eventually.

I think that if you can't be honest with your girlfriend in this way, you should really ask yourself why you're with her in the first place.
posted by Sara C. at 2:48 PM on February 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

For many people, smoking is a deal-breaker. Is it for you? Its okay if you thought it wasn't and changed your mind now that you're around it more. But you need to have an honest conversation with your girlfriend telling her that. She gets to decide what to do with her body and health but so do you. Have a talk, be honest about your concerns while also acknowledging, like you do here, that quitting is hard and its not your place to ask.

I couldn't date a smoker. That's just a rule for me and I don't think its a bad thing.
posted by GilvearSt at 2:50 PM on February 3, 2014 [5 favorites]

Is your girlfriend on the pill? Make her read the warnings about taking the pill and smoking, especially for older women. It can dangerously up the risk for blood clots, heart disease, and stroke.
posted by quincunx at 2:54 PM on February 3, 2014

I think the obvious ice-breaker for the smoking conversation is to say, simply, that you're not comfortable coming over to her place anymore because of the smoke. The worry about second hand smoke is not irrational (leaving health issues to one side, the stench of the smoke in one's clothes and the personal discomfort of breathing it in are sufficient reasons to say that that's just not something you're willing to do). I think offering to come pick her up and take her back to your place (where she can smoke outside if she wants to) would also be fair.

Then the ball is pretty clearly in her court. If you find that you don't see enough of each other to sustain the relationship under those rules it tells you something about the relationship, I think. If you do, she'll certainly know that you'd prefer her not to be a smoker and you'll have to decide if her choosing to continue (or being unable not to continue) is a dealbreaker for you.
posted by yoink at 2:55 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think the obvious ice-breaker for the smoking conversation is to say, simply, that you're not comfortable coming over to her place anymore because of the smoke.

This is a reasonable and dispassionate way of opening the topic with her. It's not anything negative about her, it's the environment.

If the relationship can't work without you hanging out at her place 100% of the time, then the relationship is just not going to work, and that's got nothing to do with the secondhand smoke.

Though honestly if I were you, the living with mom and the not driving and the not taking an active interest in stopping smoking for her own health would be red flags enough for me.
posted by phunniemee at 2:59 PM on February 3, 2014 [10 favorites]

Tobacco use is a definite deal-breaker for me, and it sounds like it might be for you, if you've had a front-row seat to see the effects of cancer. She can quit if you want a smoke free existence with her in the future, or you can cut her loose if she chooses to endanger herself and those around her.
posted by SillyShepherd at 3:30 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

You first have to isolate what you're trying to do here:

-decide about the fate of the relationship?
-manage your anxiety about smoke exposure*?
-find some way of being exposed less often, given the restrictions involved?

Once you figure out what you want the outcome to be, the path to that outcome will be clearer. Right now you have all the issues muddled together.

*A quick look at your question history suggests you have a serious tendency to obsess about health issues; however, there is no question that smoking is unhealthy even secondhand, and many people would consider it a dealbreaker in a relationship.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:41 PM on February 3, 2014

I was a smoker when my husband and I met. Once we started discussing the idea of marriage, he mentioned, almost in passing, that he really wanted to be with me for as long as possible and he worried that my smoking would take me from him early. That was it. No big ultimatum, no "I can't be with a smoker" just a simple, "I love you and want our lives together to be long."

I quit two months after he proposed. I've slipped from time to time, but he doesn't give me grief. And I know if I fell off the wagon for good tomorrow, he would be disappointed but would still love me. I just made the decision that life with him was more valuable than smoking.

All that said, if I hadn't wanted the same thing (a long life with him) I would have never quit. If he'd had an issue with the smoking early on in the relationship before we were serious, I would have thanked him for the wonderful fun times and said "Bye."
posted by teleri025 at 3:42 PM on February 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

In the meantime, you can get an air purifier. You can get really good ones used for around $40 or so. You can ask your girlfriend to run the air purifier and open the windows for a significant time before you arrive.

2. You can float the idea to the mother of buying her an e-cigarette and ask her if she would be willing to do you a favor of using the e-cigarette while you are there if she wants to smoke in the living room.

3. When your GF smokes in the bathroom ask her to smoke out the window and run the exhaust after she is done. If there is no exhaust she can wait 30 minutes then open the window.

4. Once a week, you can wash the walls of the condo if they are just basic paint over plaster. This does not need to be some kind of insanely difficult and time consuming job. Just wet a rag and wipe them down. Most relatively fit people should be able to cover a room in 5 minutes, if you're going for speed.

5. You can also have the carpets steam cleaned periodically. This will help too. You can get a handheld steam cleaner (for less than $50) and steam the couch every week.
posted by cairdeas at 3:43 PM on February 3, 2014

She doesn't seem interested in quitting smoking

This means that she will not quit. To quit smoking you have to really want to - believe me - and she doesn't. You can't make someone want something, it has to come from them. Maybe at some point in the future she will want to, but right now no amount of pointing out how bad it is for her (she knows) will have any effect.

So your girlfiend is a smoker. Your choices are to accept that, which means putting yourself at risk - your comfort at best and your health at worst - or to break up with her. If you're going to accept it you have a right to put boundaries in place to protect yourself, such as have been mentioned above, like picking her up, not staying at her Mum's, going to smoke-free places etc. If you can't accept it then you need to let her know that while you love her, this is an issue that you are both incompatible on and while it's no judgement on her as a person she is not the right person for you right now.
posted by billiebee at 3:49 PM on February 3, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have the same issue, so I know exactly where you're coming from. For years I suffered through visits to my parents' house even though almost everyone there was a smoker and had been for DECADES. The entire house reeked, everything felt dirty, the air felt like cancer-air. I would basically spend the entire visit recoiling viscerally from everything around me. Unfortunately, I have a great Dad and can't break up with him.

Now I'm older and more financially stable, and I deal with this by only visiting home once a year and staying in a hotel when I have to be there overnight. I buy cheap clothes at Target before I go and I throw them away before I leave, showering and washing my hair and putting on NEW cheap Target clothes before I get on the plane to go home. If you're trying to minimize your own exposure and contact-grossness, I would suggest doing something similar when you know you'll be at her house. Never wear any clothes there that you would wear anywhere else, and keep those clothes completely segregated from everything else you wear at all times. The smell is insidious, so you're looking at what amounts to quarantine procedures for STUFF.

(Also keep in mind that your clothes and your hair and your YOU are not the only things that will pick up the smell. So will your wallet, your computer, your phone, your phone case, your credit and ID cards, your keys, your shoes, your eyeglasses if you wear them, your jewelry, your watch... whatever. Everything.)

Smoking is a total deal-breaker for me. I would not date someone who smokes, any more than I would date someone who lived in some other form of filth. I can tell you, if you smell it when you shower after a visit, other people smell it on you, too, and probably think you're a smoker. If you're coughing while you're there or after you leave, you're getting second-hand smoke in your lungs; no matter how minuscule the danger of dying might be, it's still endangering your health in other ways, and it will still make you feel like crap. So, if you're looking for permission to break up with this girl because of the smoking, I hereby give it to you, free of charge.

If you're both young, and you DON'T want to break up with her, I would say just tell her it grosses you out and ask her to try quitting. It's probably a good thing she hears it when she's young and not completely hooked. If she gives it up, she'll be better off for it. And if she doesn't, it sounds like you already know what you'll want to do.
posted by kythuen at 3:50 PM on February 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Short term solution: Pick her up and hang out somewhere else other than her home (movies, dinner, whatever).

Long term solution: have a serious discussion about what her smoking means to the future of your relationship. Maybe you could compromise with you getting a place together and her agreeing to only smoke outside. Or maybe she'll decide that she'll quit. Or you break up.
posted by greta simone at 4:20 PM on February 3, 2014

I'm not sure what you're asking us for in terms of advice, but here are my best guesses, and some fast answers.

Am I being unreasonable by worrying about this?
No. I watched two grandparents die thanks to a lifetime of smoking- one from horrific emphysema, and the other from mouth and lung cancer. I've seen two friends my age begin to develop breathing and respiratory problems thanks to their constant smoking habits. I would feel the same way you do.

Is it OK if smoking is a dealbreaker for me?
Yes. It's a dealbreaker for me, and for lots of people out there. I could never date someone who smokes. It's fine if you feel the same way.

Can I tell her to stop smoking?
You can't tell her what to do, but you can tell her how much her habit affects you, and that you're not interested in dating her anymore if she won't quit. That doesn't make you an asshole or pushy, it just makes you honest. Be forewarned, though: she may see it as you being an asshole and pushy... you're criticizing her habits, after all, and the odds are that she'll take it personally. Even though she shouldn't, she's human.

What should I do about visiting?
If it bothers you that much to stay there (and I would be bothered that much too, trust me), then you've simply got to find somewhere else to stay. I don't care how nice someone is and how much I love them, I can't go stay in their house if it smells like that. It's fine if you feel that way too- but you should go ahead and make plans to stay in a hotel, or find a way for her to take a bus or a train for her to come visit you next time. If I were you, I would not stay there again. It's obvious you are very bothered by it (and like I said, I would be too).

Is she ever going to quit on her own?
I doubt it. You may spark an interest by giving her an ultimatum, but it sure seems like she has no interest in doing that. As others point out, smoking is not something most people just wake up and stop doing one day blithely.

What if I can't talk to her about this?
Then you have a bigger problem than her tobacco habit.
posted by Old Man McKay at 4:38 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I lived with a smoker for 20+ years, and this was a factor in our breakup.

Basically, if the issue causes you problems at this end of your relationship, it will be a much bigger deal with time.

Save yourself a lot of grief later by breaking up now. There are lots of other (non-smoking) fish out there ...

Don't ask her to change, she has already voted on that option, and people who make these changes under duress do not normally carry through with it, so that is not a good long term solution.

Your decision is clear, I think you know it. The tough bit is doing it, but knowing you are doing the right thing by YOU should be a big help.

Good luck.
posted by GeeEmm at 5:03 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's definitely worth trying to have the conversation, but in the end this becomes the same thing as so many relationship issues: if you can only see yourself having a happy long-term relationship with someone if they change X, then you should not be in a relationship with them, because they are not necessarily going to change X. And, more than that, even if she quits smoking, you have no guarantee she will never start again, no matter how much you love her or she loves you.

Lots of people do eventually quit smoking, but, for example, a lot of them stop and start multiple times over the course of their lives, and what're you going to do if she goes through a stressful patch after you're living together and picks it up again? If you think you'd be able to cope, even if you wouldn't be thrilled, then that's one thing, but you don't sound like that sort of person.
posted by Sequence at 5:06 PM on February 3, 2014

Also want to add that even if science proved second-hand smoke wasn't dangerous in these doses and you will be fine (which maybe is the case, idk, I am not one to get all paranoid about the occasional cigarette smoke), it is so unpleasant that I could never commit to being with someone long-term if it meant I would be living in it. cairdeas's suggestions are good, but probably the furniture will still reek, your hair and clothes will reek when you leave, &c. When my sisters and I visit relatives on holidays we all put on junky clothes so we can throw them in the washer/dryer immediately when we get home and then shower, it really blows. We are kind of, idk, sensitive to it (watery eyes, red skin, &c.), so we have to kind of plan our lives around it.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:48 PM on February 3, 2014

The woman I married smoked when we met. When it looked like we were going to make it past a few dates, I warned her I wouldn't be willing to get serious if she kept smoking. It took her a couple of tries, but she stopped, stayed stopped. It can happen, but she's got to want to, and that's her choice.

Don't make a big deal about it, but set your boundary: if it's a deal-breaker, say so; don't say it isn't and then decide it is. It's okay to pass on a relationship for something like this, just as it is to pass on a relationship for any other reason. No harm done.
posted by davejay at 7:10 PM on February 3, 2014

Frankly, I have a lot of trouble seeing this relationship lasting. I don't even know that many pairs of best friends where one is as hardcore a smoker from a hardcore smoking family as your girlfriend and the other is as committed a nonsmoker as you.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:41 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think as long as she lives in that environment, she hasn't got a chance at quitting successfully. The cues are too strong and the people in her world think it's fine. If she were to, for example, live with non-smoking roommates in a strict non-smoking household, she might change her attitude towards quitting (and she'd definitely smoke less). (I once quit for almost two years in such a setting - there was also a new smoking ban in the city I'd been living in. That helped shift my motivation and understanding of myself quite a lot. I've since slipped - new environment with the wrong cues and people, lots of stress... I am planning another quit and believe a new environment will help tons.) All that's to say, I thunk she'd have better luck if she moved out, which obviously involves other changes.

As far as what you can do - see her at yours. It'd be fair to ask her to smoke outside, too. Knowing you're serious about it might help shift her. Or it might not, but you'd feel better about your own health, at least.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:41 PM on February 3, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's perfectly reasonable to consider smoking a deal breaker in a relationship. Your health is at stake. Even if someone could guarantee that you'd never die from exposure to second hand smoke, you mention that it irritates your lungs, smells bad and reminds you of people you've lost to lung cancer.

I think the inherent reminder of losing people to lung cancer will serve to make your relationship with your girlfriend fraught, even if you chose to stop spending time with her in her home. You have to decide what you want, what is a deal breaker for you, if you can live with things as they are NOW because ignoring your concerns–both valid and real–will only serve to create resentment and stress in your relationship later on down the line.

I understand this from two different perspectives. I quit smoking a few years ago and have since become very sensitive to second hand smoke (it's mental and physical = due to the associations I have with smoking, the pain of quitting, fear of relapse, etc and that it makes me physically ill, nauseous headache, choking, coughing).

These days, the only place where I must go that is indoors where I'll be exposed to second hand smoke is my mother's house. As awkward and difficult as it was to do, I had to decide to only go to her house on Christmas from now on. Otherwise I'd never willingly go anywhere indoors where people smoke.

Pertinent to your case is the low likelihood that anyone who is currently comfortable smoking in their own house will ever later become an 'outdoor only' smoker. As well, the possibility that your girlfriend might quit smoking can't realistically factor in any decisions you make about your relationship. You can't ask a person to quit smoking. People have to want to quit and have high relapse rates when they quit under duress or for other people.

You girlfriend would have to already truly want to quit pretty badly–as in, has already taken steps to quit or is currently making attempts to quit (is she reading books on the topic, using gum or patches, reading about quitting online?)–for any discussion brought up by you about her quitting to work.

Ultimatums never go over well (not that you have suggested using an ultimatum, only that asking a person addicted to nicotine to quit smoking as a condition of the relationship boils down to being an ultimatum from the addicted party's perspective).

If I were you, I'd spend some time seriously considering what I want while viewing her smoking and her smoking indoors as unchangeable factors. If it is a deal breaker for you, move forward with your life.
posted by marimeko at 8:47 AM on February 4, 2014

You can't ask a person to quit smoking. People have to want to quit and have high relapse rates when they quit under duress or for other people.

Ah, I completely disagree with this. I was a smoker when I met my husband. He can't stand to be around smokers. I liked my husband more than I liked smoking, so I quit. I wanted to quit precisely because I wanted to be with him. I've only smoked once in the 9.5 years we've been together. I don't miss it at all.

You won't know how your girlfriend feels until you ask, and you are perfectly within your rights to ask. She might refuse to quit. She might try to quit and fail. She might try to quit and succeed. Or fail a few times and then succeed. This affects her health, your health, and your relationship, so it's worth taking the risk to ask.
posted by desjardins at 12:29 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whether or not your girlfriend quits doesn't seem to be the crux of this problem. Even if she quits, her mom and the rest of the family will still be smoking in the house and the secondhand smoke will still be there.

I think the solution lies in getting away from that home situation, whether it be finding other places to hang out or encouraging your girlfriend to get her own place if possible.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:36 PM on February 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am an occaisional smoker. My husband hates smoking and says so. That has been a big part of my motivstion to quit. I used to smoke every day, now I smoke a few cigarettes every couple of months or so (outdoors only). The more time that goes by where I don't smoke the less I am tempted by cigarettes. I'm fairly certain that someday soon Ill be an ex-smoker for good.

I would not have been able to do this, I am CERTAIN, if I lived with other people who smoked.

Everyone is an individual so take advice saying "She will never quit," with a grain of salt. But I bet you guys would have a much better chance if she wasn't living with a bunch of hard core smokers.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:32 PM on February 4, 2014

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