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Question about Cigarette ODOR


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OK -- I hope this doesn't offend anyone, but I have a question about secondhand smoke and cigarette ODOR. Being a non-smoker, I'm not sure about something.

I'll admit that I am very paranoid these days, and go out of my way to avoid restaurants that are smokey, never go to a bar, and won't even stand in a room with a smoker if I can avoid it.

HOWEVER.....I have a new "neighbor" that sits next to me at work. She works part time, is very quiet and seems nice enough....and she's also a heavy smoker. She takes 2-3 smoke breaks in the time that she is here each day, and as she returns to her desk, I get the biggest whif of smoke ever.....and I smell it for the next 20 minutes or so. I've been mildly concerned about it, but assumed that if it wasn't smoke being near me directly, I wasn't in danger. Yesterday, the co-worker who sits on the other side of her, pulled me aside and voiced her concerns about her own health risk.

We did a little research, and from what we can tell, it seems that if you can smell it (simply from being on her clothing)....you are inhailing harmful chemicals from it.

Does anyone have any further knowledge into this subject? Would this fall into the category of harmful secondhand smoke?

I'm sure we don't have a leg to stand on legally at work, since she is smoking outside, but I also don't want to put myself at risk by breathing in anything harmful on a daily basis!

Man......it's always something....... :roll:

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See if the boss will foot the bill for an air purifier in your cubicle/office/work space. I'm sure if there is an extreme number of "problems" that cost them financially - i.e. those filters aren't cheap, there will be a new policy in place in no time. What is their policy on heavy perfume?

I now gag at the smell of smoke on clothing. Husband's work group has off-site gatherings that I can no longer attend because they are ALWAYS at some smoky watering hole. He has to take off all outer clothing AT LEAST in the garage and toss 'em in the washer cuz if they're in the house, I'm choking and coughing...

Good luck! You're going to need it....

PS You COULD print out the information you and the co-worker found and leave it in a place that would be more apt to fix the problem - be it the smoke-shrouded co-worker or the supervisor...just a suggestion.

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Could you maybe tell your supervisor that you know it sounds wierd, and you understand that everyone has a right to smoke, but when this person comes back and you get a big whiff it just reminds you of lung cancer and it makes you a bit anxious--so can you have another workspace. You can also say that when you smell it you gag and since you had lung surgery and all, it is extra important that your air be pure. They might understand.

Totally unrelated, but an example of an office issue-- my firm does med mal and there was this huge poster sized blow up picture of a lung being stored right outside of my office in the hall. After awhile it got to me b/c I kept staring it and I said "uh, you really gotta move this from me b/c I am nuts", and then it was turned around :)

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Odd you post this today, because just this morning, I opened a closet to find some warm clothes, and the odor of cigarette smoke hit me in the face -- BAM! I hadn't opened that closet in months -- since probably March. And since I wasn't smoking in the house even when I was smoking, the odor had to have come from the clothes being packed up in that closet for so long with no air. It was amazing. I left it open to air them out, and will be washing them this weekend. Eeeuuu!

I wouldn't know if there are harmful side effects, but it sure isn't pleasant, that's for sure. When I smoked, I used to spray myself with Febreeze and that seemed to help with the clothes. Now that I'm not smoking, I notice it more myself. Someone can walk down the sidewalk ahead of me after smoking, and I can still smell the residue. Strange.

I bet that even if your co-worker couldn't smoke at all while at work, she would still have at least some of the odor on her clothes if she smokes at all before/after work.


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Thanks for your responses. Here is some of the research I found on the subject:

Smoking Odors

There is no research in the medical literature about the cancer-causing effects of cigarette odors, but the literature shows that secondhand tobacco smoke can permeate the hair, clothing, and other surfaces. The unknown cancer causing effects would be minimal in comparison to direct secondhand smoke exposure, such as living in a household that has a smoker.

Tobacco Odors

Burning tobacco smoke creates had odors which also cling to people's clothes, hair, and even their skin. This contamination is so intense that when someone smokes in an air-conditioned room, the air-conditioning demands can jump as much as 600 percent in order to control the odors. The bad odors created by tobacco smoke also linger on. Long after a person has left a smoke-filled room, they may still have the odor of cigarettes on their bodies and in the fabric of their clothes. This is because while certain chemicals created by burning tobacco cause bad odors, other chemicals actually help the odors to hold onto the surface that they penetrate. Smokers themselves usually are not sensitive to these odors because of the destructive effects that the smoke from their own cigarettes has on the inner linings of the smoker's nose.


As a smoker exhales, the smoke is diffused into the air.

Look at the smoke curling off the end of the cigarette. It is called "side-stream" and is five times more poisonous than exhaled smoke.

The "side-stream" smoke is what goes into your clothes, hair and skin.

Anyone who can smell smoke from your clothes, hair or skin is inhaling carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur, tar, nicotine, arsenic, cyanide, formaldehyde, phenol and over 2,000 other compounds and substances. Although you may smoke in your garage, car or anywhere else, when you pick the baby up and hold it close to you that baby is inhaling all the above substances.

Anyone a smoker sits close to who can smell the smoke coming off the smoker's clothes is inhaling the above substances.

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I'll probably get in the dog house with this one but even tho it is obviously documented by someone that the odor alone is harmful,I have a hard time thinking (or realizing) that just the odor could be harmful to anyones health.??.

It definately makes for an uncomfortable situation for you at work.It's also usually very hard to resolve without starting a war.Especially if that person is observing the co.policy on designated smoke areas.

Mabe someone could indiscreetly leave a bottle of Fabreez on that persons desk.Ha HA.

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My only comment on the air puifier is: it only works if you put it on the co-worker's desk - not yours - those things DRAW the odors/smoke/etc. TO them, so if it's on your desk it's coming to you, not away from you.

I remember this because the law firm I worked at for 16 years has as it's biggest client (guess who - world's biggest cig company) and anyone could smoke anywhere they wanted - their desk, even. so the firm would buy air purifiers but we found out they had to go on the desk of the smoker.

Heather, I think this is a good question because I have always wondered about this myself. I have really bad allergies and smelling stale smoke on someone's hair or clothes makes me go into an allergic coughing fit.

Karen C.

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It is obvious to me that this is something that is offensive to you. You have done the research on the subject. It is your right to protect your space.

It would be in my judgement very fair to have a heart to heart talk with this woman. Please try not to shame her. She obviously has a serious addiction to cigarettes. Anyone with any kind of addictions do become very defensive very easily....it is part of the addiction.

I would suggest standing up for your right to your airspace. You may gently suggest that she wash her skin after she smokes. "Shake" or "pat" the smoke out of her clothes so that the smell is minimized. And maybe give her hair a fluffy going through with some fresh air before she comes inside. Also, a nice brushing of the teeth and a good rinsing can help to minimize odors.

Personally, I would be very embarrassed if someone left a "hint" for me on my desk. I would be ashamed, humiliated, and mortified. I would also feel some paranoia.

Taking into consideration that this addicted woman probably chooses not to smoke but as a result of the addiction is compelled, I would, instead approach her with compassion while stating firmly what your expectations, needs, and fears are. If she is not responsive to your approach, then I would address the concern farther up the line of command.

These are my thoughts for resolving your right to breathe the air that feels right to you.

My best to you for quick resolution.

Cindi o'h

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I see the stigma continues... hair spray and spray deodorants bother me. They have been under suspicion for damaging effects to the body for years. Do I ask the person next to me to not use these products around me? I agree second hand smoke could be a problem if one is around it all of the time, but smelling residual effects from someone that has smoked, yes, that is paranoia. I would expect someone to tell me where to go if I asked them to go and freshen up a bit.

Just my honest opinion in which I am sure I will get blasted for. What do I know though, I am just a caregiver and to some on this board, caregivers just get in the way and are a bother. Sheesh


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I have been thinking about this one quite a bit through the night. I have mulled over the things that you are saying in your post. I can't say that I disagree with you at all.

The thoughts that did occur to me were along the same lines of "stigma" and a resentment of a shared disease that is contributed by "smokers".

I was pondering if Heather's serious diagnosis were another serious illness such as advanced diabetes, for example, if she would have the same disdain for the "smell" of stale cigarette smoke. Or be concerned at all for that matter.

No, I really do see your point. It is obvious that there is a problem here. If she had environmental allergies or did have reactions to perfumes on a medical level, she should have a right to ask that person to refrain from using them. And that request should be respected, as far as I am concerned.

The way I see it here, though is that Heather has the same kind of mental pain that I would imagine causes her distress on an emotional level which deserves as much respect as someone who is suffering from a physical allergy. Obviously, her pain is jsut as real.

Fortunately, it is something that can be treated with a good psychologist and or therapist, which we all know takes time.

But she seems to be under duress NOW. So asking that her needs be met, to me, is part of taking care of herself now. Yes, her fears are on the higher end of the spectrum regarding stale cigarette smoke and I completely doubt any validity in her "research", however, that doesn't discount my concern that she needs some gentle straightening out or a few hours on The couch.

I do respect people's right to breathe the air that they want. And like you said, there are consequences to confrontation. However, I take offense at the posts that say to leave little hints here and there. To me, that is downright mean, and suggestive of some passive/aggressive behavior.

If nothing else. Try acceptance. It is one of the best tools in life that I have learned. Accept what you cannot change, change the things you can, and have wisdom to know the difference. I interpret this as don't try to change anyone else, but rather, change your own beliefs, attitudes and thoughts. Work toward love, acceptance and forgiveness. It has helped me to focus on myself and take blame away from others.

I don't condem your response, Cheryl, not at all. The stigma was my gut reaction too. But I see something more serious going on here. Something that I was hoping that Heather would be able to resolve on her own, with the help of friends, or with the help of a trusted therapist.

So I wish her well. Because she seems to be obsessing on this one, it makes me think there is outside help that is needed. I hope that she can find comfort somewhere. And I do care about her .

Cindi o'h

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I am very saddened to see that my simple request for INFORMATION on the subject of harmful effects of cigarette odor (which I did find documented) have ended in the not-so-subtle suggestion that I need counseling by a therapist due to my perceived "obsession" with the subject.


But I see something more serious going on here. Something that I was hoping that Heather would be able to resolve on her own, with the help of friends, or with the help of a trusted therapist.

If you would have taken the time to read my post, you would have seen that my COWORKER was the one who voiced concern about her own health and asked me to research the subject for her, knowing my health history. I am at such a loss of words by this reaction.

Thank you all for taking the time to respond.

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It seems like something that if you caught a whiff of the smell once in awhile that's one thing. But 2-3 times a day (and I'm sure the smell lingers a bit) every day- 5 days a week. That's a lot, really.

I wish there were more extensive research on this. Now you've got me curious. Could it have a cumulative effect?

We can't always control our environment but this seems to be one you could maybe work around somehow, if it's possible at work.

Good luck.


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Cheryl and Jack,

I have 7 full pages of allergies to man made chemical and never

had a bad reaction from co-workers when I asked them if

I could put a container of *No more Odors* on their desk,

I always had one on mine anyway.

That way everybody was happy and I retained a good part

of my health and at the same time kept my co workers happy.

I think I will refrain in the future to give my opinion.

Sorry if I hurt somebody.


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I don't read any neurosis or need for therapy in Heather's post. I would have the same concern. It makes sense to me logically that if you can smell it, you are inhaling it. Like with the California fires in the past, when they were really bad and you could SMELL the smoke for miles---people with Asthma and lung disease were told to stay indoors.

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Hey Gang,

Jack and I are not one in the same person. It was his post, not mine. I am sorry that you are hurt Heather. I don't think Cindy meant to insult you.

Personally, when you have lung cancer, everthing with any risk has me taking cover. I use hairspray, but hold my breath and run into the next room! Ha! I wish I had your discilpline Heather, but still eat sugar on ocassion and have my nails done too. I take precautions, but try to live my live as normally as I can. Just about everything posses a health risk these days. It depends on the source and their motivation in various published studies. I take everything I read with a grain of salt. You can't allow the fear of death to prevent you from living. My love to you all.


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You can't allow the fear of death to prevent you from living. Cheryl

TOTALLY UNRELATED to Heather's post and the topic at issue, but Cheryl's quote hit home for me and my own neurotic issues worrying about every lump or bump or cough or mouth sore, etc. Sometimes I live in such fear of what may happen to me or someone I love that I don't live as full as I should.

Thanks for that Cheryl.

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I smoked for 22yrs, I was very "in to" smokers rights, especially living here in Philip Morris town. I found it unfair that we had to smoke outside, unfair that restaurants were going non-smoking (I never went to those restaurants again), and at work I got more work done then a non-smoker and that was taking 10 breaks a day! I made lasting relationships with other smokers. Who were these people to tell me when and where I could smoke, it's a free country. (I miss my smoker buddies at work!)

Well guess what, my attitude has changed. My sence of smell has increased 100%, those smoker friends that I have made over the years, I still love them but the smell that comes from them is horrible. When I went back to work and really noticed it I asked a non-smoking co-worker if I had smelled that bad. My mother continues to smoke and when she touchs my face with her hand or rubs my head it smells horrible. We went to the X-mas parade a couple weeks ago, we were outside and several feet away someone was smoking......I immediately got defensive and said to my husband that I didn;t just go thru treatment and have so many problems from it for someone else to kill me. I can even smell it outside!

I understand where you are coming from and this is coming from a former smoker who was very into smoker rights. Sorry smokers, I'm looking out for #1, ME. Aside from any health risks...it just stinks. :wink: Now that I've had my say I feel better!

I only wish that I could make all my old buddies quit! Why can't we all just take a 15 minutes break with a cup of coffee instead and witch and complain like we used too! :( I miss spending time with them at work, I miss eating lunch with them in the smoke room, I miss them terribly, I wonder if they know.............. :?

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I was a long time smoker and also had buddies who I went outside with on smoke breaks. I quit right after the phone call with the results from my CT. Probably miss talking to my buddies, but sure don't miss standing outside with my teeth chattering in December smoking cig because if I don't get my fix soon, I might tear somebody's head off!

Now, when I smell cigarette smoke, it takes me back to the terror I had at the time of diagnosis and all the pending surgery and treatments. I also think of my surgeon after my first visit when he said the singlemost thing I can do at this point to protect my health is to continue to not smoke.

I think with me, the smell of cigarette smoke is both a physical and emotional reaction. I am scared to a point that I am getting second hand smoke if I can smell it, but it also reminds me of the terrible times when I was first diagnosed.

I don't really know the answer to Heather's question, but I just wanted to let everybody know that I react to the smell of smoke on people in a couple of ways myself.

I think hypervigilence is good--and perfectly normal when you've already been through a lifethreatening medical diagnosis way too early in life. For myself, I'm trying to do like Cheryl, be careful but at the same time enjoy my life. But, it's tough work when you feel like your body has let you down and everywhere you look, there are potential health risks.

Just throwing out my thoughts here...I'm not trying to beat up on anyone, just giving my reaction to cigarette smoke and the smell of the people who smoke. And, I sure am glad I don't smell like that anymore.


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Cigarette smokers run a lifetime risk of 1 in 10 in getting lung cancer. That being said, if 90% of smokers do not get LC, what is the other contributing factor(s) that team up to make this disease? That is the big question and the one that concerns me the most. Yes, smoking has been proven to be hazardous to ones health for many reasons, but to be satisfied that smoking is the main cause of lc and to be content w/ that, is hiding your head in the sand and slows progress. If I was diagnosed w/ lc and had never smoked, it would be a "no brainer"to me. Something caused my LC and I aint buying the Cig excuse. Cigarette smoking is a nasty, stinky habit that a lot of people don't like. When you have 10% barking at 90%, it's hard to be heard. We have to find the other contributing factors and quit wasting time whining about what we do know and be active and demand answers to what we don't know.


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I don't think anyone's reaction to being dxed with lc or any other life threatening illness is wrong, nor do I suspect Cindi thinks so either. I truly believe she wants nothing but the best for Heather, as do we all.

There are 6 question words in the English language: who, what, when, where, why and how. Humans are questioning beings--all the way back to the Garden of Eden.

As a smoker I know the large part of the "what" that caused my cancer. So, when I ask questions of myself in my innermost and sometimes outer language, I have a tendancy to focus on the "why"--as in, why was I one of the 10-12 percent of smokers who get lc. "Why" was I one of the 5 per cent who got lc under the age of 50. And the "why" after repeated attempts at dxing the cause of some clinical signs, did it take so long to be dxed.

If I were Heather, I may well be asking the "what" caused my lc questions and doing what I could to avoid any other of the unkown "whats" around me.

I have a feeling all of us who are dxed or have someone dxed who is close to us also focus on one of the 6 question words to some degree-- or even a lot of degree, lol.

We advise many people here to seek counseling, and many do seek it.

I think if I were fearful or any other adjective of being in the same room with a smoker (and as the post says, a smoker, not someone who IS smoking a cigerette) I might want to discuss that fear with someone.

On the other hand, I am fearful of several things that have limited my life, and I can tell you that nothing really has done much good at stopping these fears. A fear is an emotion that can't readily be reasoned with. When a fear is founded, it is life protecting, when a fear is unfouned, it is life limiting.

I wish I HAD been fearful of cigerettes.

As far as being bothered by someone else's life "choices", that's a different story. Many things could "bother" me about others and do if I let them. It bothers me when people repeat the story of some mundane (what I call "mundane") event, but I wouldn't tell them to be quiet, though my mind might sometimes wander while they are speaking.

I truly do not believe it is possible to get lc from smelling a smoker. I do believe, like the article states, that you can be inhaling some miniscule amount of unpleasant chemical. I think it can smell VERY bad, especially now that I can smell it.

Now, what I wish someone would do is come up with a dog or even a smell that a person can distinguish that would signify a child molester or a rapist or even a person who has a proclivity to murder. THAT would be a useful smell, a smell that would truly help us discriminate that which is evil.

I think we need to LOVE smokers, love them enough to help them save their lives and prehaps the lives of their loved ones. Like Justa, I was a radical smoker.

I didn't become a radical smoker until it became the "norm" for some people to express hatred toward smokers. ( I am NOT saying that Heather HATES smokers).

Before that, I was either a very young person, like many young people, who had no concept of being immortal or a shameful smoker, and the smoking I have done past and during the months of Dx has been shameful smoking. Shame is something one imposes on oneself. Can't say "shame" helped me quit either, but ....at least, a shameful smoker TRIES to quit.

My point is: it's an addiction--a medical addiction. We give alcholics and those addicted to drugs, 30 days off from work to enter treatment. Sometimes it works IF the will is strong and there is enough love and support surrounding him or her. Sometimes it takes several 30 day tries.

We throw smokers a patch or a box of gum and "oddly" enough insurance companies don't pay for it or even for Zyban if the true nature of its RX is given.

I have been up most of the night. I know better than to express my opinions here or most places, but get me sleep deprived and I am likely to do it anyway, lol.

So anyway, like many ills, love is the cure.

In the meantime, I haven't a clue what to do about the co-worker.


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As a respiratory therapist we tell ALL our parents that smoke that they need to put on a "smoking jacket" even when they go outside to smoke because the smoke can be smelled by their babies when they hold them or are around them from their clothes and this can set of a child's asthma or other related breathing problems. so I would thing that it wouldn't be good for you to breath. If you're smelling it, you're breathing it. Maye you boss could as her to put on a "smoking jacket" too! Above all I wish she would quit, it would be better for her and everyone else!

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