Avoiding cigarettes in Wien/Vienna and other smoker-friendly cities
October 14, 2006 6:56 AM   Subscribe

Ideas for respectfully avoiding cigarette smoke when visiting a strong smoking culture (especially in Wien/Vienna, but advice for other cities is very welcome too).

From my previous travels, I know & respect that most European countries have very smoker-friendly cultures relative to where I live (NYC). I'm just asking this question for my own needs (as someone who physically can't be around smoke other than very briefly), with no desire to question or debate any of these cultures as they exist.

For my upcoming month in Vienna, I'll be sharing a non-smoking house, and I've made sure that all the places I'm committed to spending time in (classical music venues) are actually non-smoking inside. From what I've read, there are also laws against smoking in public transport and some indoor spaces, but they're often unenforced.

I'm looking for your experiences / suggestions, especially in Vienna but also in general, of issues I should think about, places and restaurants I should seek out (for example, all Starbucks branches in Vienna are non-smoking [double sacrilege :)]), and issues I should keep in mind. Please help me by sticking to practical discussion (not debates about smoking).

I'd also love to hear recommendations of any tools you've used that protect against smoke (from simple half-masks to the "air supply" necklaces I've seen). Thanks!
posted by allterrainbrain to Travel & Transportation (9 answers total)
I'm not sure what you mean by "physically can't be around smoke." Does inhaling smoke trigger a violent asthma attack, or what?

I live in New York too and I am "around" smoking on a daily basis -- outside businesses, on the sidewalk near a restaurant, even just walking down the street. Is this kind of exposure physically impossible for you, or is it more a matter of distaste?

If you really are so morbidly sensitive to smoke, then it seems like you need medical help, not suggestions on how to dodge smokers. If, on the other hand, it's more a matter of "I think smoking is disgusting," then maybe your attitude needs to re-examined along the lines of "when in Rome."

Wearing a "simple half mask" would seem to me very off-putting to anyone you met.
posted by La Cieca at 7:22 AM on October 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wien has some wonderful museums, and I'm positive those are non-smoking. (As for the cafes inside them, I'm not so sure.) Perhaps museum visits would be a good way to spend some of your leasure time?
posted by piratebowling at 7:35 AM on October 14, 2006

I personally doubt this is going to work for heavy concentrations of smoke, but in conjunction with other devices, perhaps it would help. As a necklace type device, it's less visible than any mask. But if your needs for isolation are greater (probable in many situations for severe asthma or allergy sufferer), you should at least take along a supply of P100 disposable masks. Lesser rated disposable masks will not be effective in filtering tobacco smoke from air, and even these masks will not stop cigarette smoke gas components below 0.3 microns. So, if your sensitivity is to formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, or other gases in cigarette smoke, you'd have to carry something more than a simple mask.

As you clearly understand, avoidance is your best strategy, but you can't count on even no-smoking policies to guarantee your environment in cultures with different smoking tolerances, particularly when people of many cultures may meet. And even if you do not have situations where people overtly smoke in your presence, a smoker coming into the area from outside, or from a smoking area, can continue to exhale smoke products in decreasing quantities for 1 to 2 minutes after their last drag. If you're in a high traffic area with lots of people coming and going, like a coffee shop, the resultant introduction of incidental smoke products can be significant for a person with high sensitivity. So, you've got to be prepared with appropriate filtration devices, and medications on your person, at all times. Might also be good to register with Medic-Alert, and wear a bracelet, before going on your trip.
posted by paulsc at 8:31 AM on October 14, 2006

I really appreciate the practical suggestions so far! Good point about museums (I will have some leisure time). And thanks for the CDC link, which is great for me to see since for me it is the gases rather than the smoke. Useful to know the half-masks won't work. My approach is to expect EVERY given space will be smoking-friendly unless I specifically know otherwise.
posted by allterrainbrain at 10:21 AM on October 14, 2006

You mention classical music venues... are you a singer, hence the extreme aversion?
posted by nathancaswell at 10:24 AM on October 14, 2006

I don't have a medical sensitivity to smoke, but I don't enjoy sitting in smoky cafes either. I believe that Wien has sidewalk cafes and outdoor seating areas (not sure about the season and all, though). When I've traveled around Europe, I've found that just sitting outside at a cafe or restaurant helps a lot. Unless you're sitting next to and downwind from a smoker, the smoke dissapates really quickly in the open air. Of course, YMMV.

And from the time I've spent with Central Europeans (mostly Czechs and Poles, but also Austrians and Germans), even though most of them seem to smoke, they also seem to be pretty considerate towards acquaintances who don't. A lot of my friends would not smoke around me because they knew I didn't smoke (and so assumed I was really sensitive to it). Maybe what I'm trying to say is, don't feel like you have to quarantine yourself, because people may be a lot more accommodating than you're expecting.
posted by mosessis at 10:44 AM on October 14, 2006

Good thoughts, mosessis! I do feel like removing myself is the best thing with strangers, since a good dose of smoke gets me really nauseous / disoriented / inarticulate (i.e., not at all able to interact with anybody like I normally would). I can't be articulate with the people who assume it's a preference or aversion, or my U.S. "attitude, when my body's telling me I'm about to drown, faint & throw up. :)

One great resource I've found is this listing by district of smoke-free businesses in Vienna. On that page is a link to a German-language site that also has a "nichtraucher" search option (the directions for that site no longer work, but I'll investigate more).

There's also a list on the Austrian page at Smoke-Free World (a great site, more comprehensive in some countries than others)

I think it could also be useful to ask a doctor what's going on and whether there's any kind of advance self-treatment (??). Since I'm uninsured / healthy / foolish, I haven't had that kind of general time with a doctor for a LONG time (but that's an issue for another thread :)).
posted by allterrainbrain at 11:45 AM on October 14, 2006

How uncouth can you get, La Cieca. I would have expected a more becoming answer from an opera aficionado.

In any event, as someone who does have a medical sensitivity to cigarette smoke, I can largely second mosessis as to Central Europeans general attitudes. That said, the easiest way to clear out smokers in shared space is to evince clear physical distress. If you appear calm and composed when asking someone to stop smoking, you run the risk of your need being mistaken for snobbery.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 11:52 AM on October 14, 2006

It's okay, StrikeTheViol, I'm reeeeeeeeally used to hearing responses like that... no matter what approach I take or how gracefully and invisibly I try to get away from smoke. My approach is to accept that everybody's different and let it go... let it be funny. Cause it is, if you think about it. :)
posted by allterrainbrain at 4:55 PM on October 14, 2006

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