Are we inhaling second hand smoke?
August 10, 2008 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Are we inhaling second hand smoke?

For the past 2.5 years, we have lived next door to a smoker. And when I say next door, I mean, on the other side of the wall. The house is a duplex with us on one side and the neighbor on the other. Neighbor is a heavy smoker and we smell the smokey smell almost every day. Could this second hand smoke could be effecting us? Or are we just smelling the smell?
posted by rglass to Health & Fitness (15 answers total)
all odors are particulate

I don't think that's true. Ether fumes, for example, are very smelly, and are not particulate.

I'd worry about the gaseous components as well as the particles. Can you get a case of silicone sealers, and just run a bead of sealant along the joints of every shared wall?
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:56 AM on August 10, 2008

You're not going to get sick because you can smell someone's cigarette smoke every now and then. Don't have paranoia about lung cancer, but do feel free to be bitchy about the smell. I don't believe this is a health issue, but it's certainly a quality of life issue.
posted by incessant at 12:02 PM on August 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

We had this same problem and I found the leaks were coming from the electrical outlets and switches and the cut outs around the sink pipes. Getting foam insulators (designed to weather proof exterior walls), mono foam around pipes and safety covers over open sockets stopped the smell. Not sure if you are breathing smoke in or not.
posted by saradarlin at 12:06 PM on August 10, 2008

Don't have paranoia about lung cancer...

It's not paranoia and it's not just lung cancer. Inhale these nuggets compiled by the American Lung Association (citations at the bottom of the linked page).

- Secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 deaths each year from lung cancer in non-smokers.
- Secondhand smoke has been estimated to cause 22,700-69,600 deaths per year from heart disease in adult nonsmokers.
- There are an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 cases every year of infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia in infants and children under 18 months of age who breathe secondhand smoke.

If you can smell the smoke, then yes it's putting you at risk.
posted by 26.2 at 12:18 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you can smell the smoke, then yes it's putting you at risk.

What the hell are you basing this on? This isn't obvious to me at all.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:26 PM on August 10, 2008

I agree with mr_roboto: I don't see any basis for a "if you can smell the smoke, then yes, it's putting you at risk".
posted by Justinian at 1:00 PM on August 10, 2008

With every breath, you are also inhaling auto exhaust, dead skin cells, dust mites, pollen, bacteria, mold, and an array of chemicals emanated by everything from your carpeting to your computer printer.

Paranoia will be more detrimental to your life than your neighbor smoking in the privacy of his or her home.
posted by rentalkarma at 1:27 PM on August 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Those statistics are not telling you what you think they are. For example, 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in non-smokers... What percentage of those have lived in a tiny apartment with a chronic smoker for 40 years and rarely opened the windows? What percentage shared an office with a dozen smokers for decades before workplace smoking bans were even dreamt of? What percentage lied when the doctor asked if they smoked? And what percentage of those deaths were people who lived next door to a smoker for a couple of years and occasionally caught a slight whiff when the wind was blowing the wrong way?

The contribution made by this smoker to the total amount of air pollution you inhale every day is miniscule. Certainly far less damaging than what you breathe in every time a car passes your house.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:35 PM on August 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I certainly believe that smoking causes cancer and sickness, and I'm sure that there's some risk due to second-hand smoke, but I'm very put off by the amount of self-righteousness that many people display while talking about smoking or second-hand smoke. I'm also skeptical because I've never seen anything that compares second-hand smoke exposure to the amount of expose we get from all of the other chemicals and pollution in our environment or an explanation of how they're controlling for that in the studies.

Out of curiosity I Googled for other sources of the carcinogenic chemicals listed at the top of 26.2's ALA link:
  • formaldehyde is used in the adhesives in plywood and carpeting
  • benzene is present in motor vehicle exhaust and soft drinks
  • vinyl chloride is in PVC plastic (which actually stands for polyvinyl chloride. Water pipes, anyone?)
  • arsenic was used in most pressure treated lumber until recently and is in gallium arsenide, which is used in lots of electronics
  • ammonia is present in rain water, is excreted by fish, and is given off by rotting vegetables and meat
  • hydrogen cyanide is used in some plastics and dyes and is given off by cherry and apricot pits and apple seeds
Here's a comparison - a page on a New Zealand government web site gives these numbers (from differing sources) for benzene exposure:
  • air pollution 220 micrograms per day
  • filling up your car 32 micrograms
  • second-hand smoke 64 micrograms

posted by XMLicious at 1:43 PM on August 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Do the two sides of the house share a furnace/AC unit?
posted by jon1270 at 1:45 PM on August 10, 2008

Response by poster: we each have our own furnace/ac unit.
posted by rglass at 2:09 PM on August 10, 2008

Actually, you're correct. There are 4,000 chemicals in second hand smoke and 50 or 59 or 60 (depending on who's count you believe) are linked to cancer. Not all of those cancer linked chemicals have a smell. It's possible that you can't smell smoke and it's still a danger to you.

Unfortunately separation doesn't effectively counter smoke drift - it's why non-smoking sections of restaurants and airplanes don't work. Here's a position paper (pdf) from American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers that concludes the if you can be 100% sealed off from the smoking area, that would contain the smoke. However, no other approaches including ventilation and filtration work. ASHRAE members are engineers that profit from recommending, designing and installing building mechanical systems. If one really worked, they'd be all over it. The paper has a list of citations for further research.

Here are a few resources for the OP:

Infiltration of Secondhand Smoke into Condominiums, Apartments and Other Multi-Unit Dwellings (pdf, from a Tobacco Control Organization)
From the British Columbia Ministry of Health Drifting Second-hand Smoke in Multi-unit Dwellings(pdf)
When neighbours smoke Exposure to Drifting Second-hand Smoke in Multi-Unit Dwellings (pdf and published by a non-smokers rights organization)
posted by 26.2 at 2:30 PM on August 10, 2008

Here are a couple of previous AskMe questions involving smoking neighbors:
Stinky Sickly Secondhand Situation
How to stop neighbors second hand smoke?
posted by XMLicious at 2:40 PM on August 10, 2008

Well you definitely are smelling it. Now you need to decide just how much you are willing to let this affect you?

Are you willing to break your lease, with penalties, to move to another location? It seems to me this is where the rubber hits your road, no matter what some sources say about second hand smoke.

If it worries you that much, then move, and take the financial hit. Personally and more practically, I would recommend that you read as much as you can about what is worrying you, both pro AND con, and then those in between. Keep an open mind in the meantime.

While I understand your concern for your family's safety...just to keep this conversation in perspective....

There is NO greater danger than being born. The statistics are brutal on this. One hundred (100%) percent of us born, will die.

Pick your "battles" with THAT wisdom, and I suspect that smoke smell is getting a lot less annoying.
posted by LiveLurker at 8:41 PM on August 10, 2008

It's not paranoia and it's not just lung cancer. Inhale these nuggets compiled by the American Lung Association (citations at the bottom of the linked page). Secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 deaths each year from lung cancer in non-smokers.

The 1992 EPA report that generated this fake statistic has been roundly denounced by just about everyone, including Federal judges. This more recent, more thorough study of more than 35,000 non-smokers living with a smoker showed no significant increase in mortality.

This doesn't mean that the smoke isn't a nuisance, or that the OP isn't justified in his complaint for any number of other reasons. But health and safety aren't one of them.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:06 PM on August 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

« Older Where to go camping in Washington state with our...   |   Buying online from the US in Canada Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.