Q for asthmatics about cigarette smoke

I’m going to try to keep this GQ material and not wander into Pitting…

Let me first explain why I’m asking this question:

1 - I’m a smoker

2 - My housemate suffers from asthma

Now, my uneducated assumption about cigarette smoke’s effect on asthma is that it would be the smoke itself that causes a problem for an asthma sufferer. To hear my housemate tell it, my assumption is incorrect. More on that later.

Okay, so I’ve just moved in with this guy whom I’ve known for about 20 years. Having known him for such a length of time, I made another assumption, before moving in with him, that he was aware that I was a smoker before he invited me to move in. As it turns out, he didn’t know this. However, I had already decided that I would not smoke in the house, so I didn’t think there would be a problem. Because of my previous living arrangement, I am quite accustomed to stepping outside when I smoke. This is no trouble for me.

I have been living with this man since last Friday, July 23. I have smoked outside every day since then. But, the subject of my smoking didn’t come up until Wednesday, July 28. I brought it up during a discussion about splitting chores, splitting bills, and general agreements about conduct while living in this man’s house (he is my parent’s age - I’m 38, so that would make him around 60). He had already given me a “rental agreement” which listed a number of rules, one of which was "no smoking, drinking, drugs, evil music, etc… I have refrained from telling him that his list looks like a set of rules a parent would lay down for his teenage children :rolleyes:

When I mentioned that I smoke, he was surprised, so that told me that he hadn’t known I was a smoker. Obviously, he hadn’t smelled any smoke when I had stepped outside during the previous five days, and he hadn’t smelled it on me. I told him that I would not smoke in the house, and that I would go outside, and away from the house if he liked when I needed to smoke. He said that would be acceptable. I also said that I’m planning to quit as soon as I can afford “the patch”. That was the truth :slight_smile:

That brings us to today, July 29. I went outside, in the alley behind the house (about 20 feet from the back door) and had a cigarette shortly after I got out of bed. When I came back inside, he said that the smoke had drifted into the house. I apologized, and promised to take steps to prevent that in the future. About an hour later I went outside for another cigarette. This time, I walked to the park - downwind from the house - almost a full block away. I smoked the cigarette there, and extinguished the cigarette there, and then walked back to the house. While walking, I breathed deeply and exhaled completely to be certain that all traces of smoke were expelled from my lungs.

Immediately upon my entering the house, my friend complained that he could smell cigarette smoke. Half an hour later, he came upstairs and knocked on my door, claiming that he could still smell smoke, and that it was really bothering his asthma. When I pointed out the distance I had gone to smoke my cigarette, and that there was no possible way that any cigarette smoke could have followed me into the house, he suggested that the smell was in my clothes.

Now, the only smokers I’ve known whose clothing reeks of smoke have been those people who smoke heavily in their homes, where the smoke hangs in the air and gets into everything. (And my sense of smell is still good enough that even I can smell those people). I, however, have done all of my smoking outdoors for several years. On top of that, I was wearing a freshly laundered shirt in which I had only smoked two cigarettes. And I had smoked those two cigarettes in the wind, holding the cigarette so that the wind carried the smoke away from my body. Putting the shirt to my nose and inhaling deeply, I could smell nothing but fabric softener.

So, I suggested to my housemate that, because he had not smelled anything at all before I informed him that I smoked, and now that he knows I smoke he is smelling things, that it was purely psychological. He expects to smell something, and so he does.

He remained quite insistent that he could smell cigarette smoke, and that it was bothering him.

I also pointed out to him that, due to some fires near our city, the valley is currently filled from one end to the other with smoke. Which is being pumped into our house by our swamp cooler. And yet, he can still smell and identify the cigarette I smoked a block away. Amazing.

I honestly believe that he’s not smelling a thing, and that he’s actually a rabid anti-smoker who is using his health as an excuse to make me quit smoking. This despite the fact that I am going out of my way to keep my smoke from bothering him.

So, I said all that to say this:

Asthmatics, is there something special about cigarette smoke that makes it insanely more irritating than other kinds of smoke? The asthmatics I’ve met, besides my housemate, who have a problem with smoke always specifically say “cigarette smoke”. (And then there are all the people who claim to be “allergic” to cigarette smoke. Just like I was “allergic” to broccoli as a child.) Is cigarette smoke really the only smoke that bothers y’all? Or do you only mention it because it’s the only kind of smoke you feel that you can do something about? I’m not trying to be an ass here - I honestly want to know. Do you feel like you can’t do anything about cars belching smoke, or forest fires, or factories, so you complain about smokers because you can?

And my second question, which I brought up in my opening paragraph: is it the smoke itself that aggravates your asthma, or does the lingering smell, sans smoke, honestly aggravate asthma? Or is this just an issue of not liking the smell, and the asthma becoming an excuse to complain? I have a hard time accepting that the mere smell, in the absence of actual smoke particles, causing a problem. I’ve known asthmatics who have difficulty with perfume and cologne when it is freshly applied, but no problem with the same fragrance once it has dried.

Another point - years ago, I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with a man, indoors, for several months before he found out I was a smoker. He was a healthy non-smoker, with a healthy sense of smell, and he never smelled a thing. He did not know I was a smoker until one day when he actually saw me with a lit cigarette in my hand. He was quite surprised. So I find it hard to believe that my housemate, who is more than 20 years older now than that other man was, has so much more acute sense of smell.

So, asthmatics, am I really doing something that honestly aggravates my housemate’s asthma (honest-to-goodness medical issue), or is he freaking out over nothing (using his condition as an excuse).

In the meantime, I’m going to stick a pinch between my cheek and gum and not smoke at all for a few days. And not tell him. If he continues complaining, I’ll know what’s up.

Without speaking to the specifics of asthmatics and cigarette smoke, I have to tell you that I think you’re underestimating how much of a smell of smoke you carry with you in your clothes, your hair and on your skin. One of the unfortunate side effects of smoking is a deadening of the sense of smell, and a loss of ability to discern lingering smoke smells. I can’t tell you how many times smokers have said “Oh, you can smell smoke on me?” genuinely surprised that the smell was permeating everything around them because there is just little to no sensitivity to it.

If your housemate was smelling something, it may just as easily be the clothes you were wearing or laundry you had in your room as the cigarette you smoked outside. Perhaps your acknowledgement of smoking had made him more able to pinpoint what he was smelling and what effect it was having on his asthma, but that doesn’t mean that no odor of smoke existed. Unfortunately, you’re not in a position where you can speak to the issue of lingering smoke at all.

I’m an asthmatic, and while I wouldn’t say that I am “allergic” to cigarette smoke, it is definitely up at the top of my list of irritants (i.e. things that will irritate my throat and lungs if I breathe it in, and may well trigger a coughing fit/asthma attack). Cigarette smoke is different from other smokes and (to my mind at least) worse. And the lingering smoke smell that hangs around people who’ve been smoking (or in the lift after they’ve used it even) is almost as bad. What do you think causes the smell if not smoke particles? Just because there is no visible cloud of smoke doesn’t mean that there are no smoke particles around…

Having said all that, it sounds (from your description) that you are a considerate smoker and that your housemate is over-reacting somewhat - there is some truth to your “psychological” accusation, but since it is his house, you’ll need to play by his rules. I guess you should have been explicit about the smoking before you moved in, and if it proves an insurmountable hurdle, will need to move out.


She(?)'s right. Last week I was away from my apartment (at a doctor appointment). When I came home, I called and asked the manager who had been in my apt. He told me, and asked how I could tell. :eek: I could just faintly smell cigarette smoke. He said that the maintenance man hadn’t smoked in my apt, and put him on the phone. I told him I didn’t think he had, because the smell was so faint. If he’d smoked in here, the smell wouldn’t have been faint - to me, at least.

OTOH, I think the OP is at least partly right about his roomie freaking out.

Oh, yeah. I’m another asthmatic, and for me it’s strictly an irritant (although it does smell nasty to me as well). The faint whiff in my apt last week was certainly not enough to irritate my lungs. Nor should the OP’s roomie, unless he has a very definite allergy to tobacco (not impossible, but not all that common; my #1 trigger is feathers, of all weird things).

People that smoke can’t tell but I can always tell when someone just had a cigarette and if it’s really strong it will gag me, no matter how much gum they chew after.

Pretty much all smoke is irritating to asthmatics. But yeah, tobacco smoke is a case where we can ask the source of the problem to please stand somewhere else. Smoke from forest fires is not so cooperative.

Allergy to tobacco specifically is rare but possible - however, rather than launch into a long lecture on how smoke and asthma interact a lot of non-allergic asthmatics will claim to be allergic just because it functions as a sort of short hand for “I find this so irritating that it drives me mad, it makes me feel like I am slowly being suffocated by an invisible pillow, and I feel it is having an negative impact on my health and ability to breathe”. I kinda wish they wouldn’t do that - non-allergics claiming to be allergic doesn’t make it any easier for genuine allergy sufferers.

I know a number of smokers who smoke exclusvely outside. I can always tell when they’ve just had their fix because, no matter how hard the wind was blowing, I can still smell it on them for an hour or two. On the other hand, I don’t find that lingering smell irritating to me. Then again, I have relatively mild asthma. I can exist symptom-free for months at a time even in a smoggy city.

As I see it, you have a couple choices:

  1. Move somewhere else (you haven’t been there long and already you seem to have a conflict going on)

  2. Quit smoking (seems you might be switching to smokeless tobacco, which technically is “not smoking” I suppose…)

  3. Give up the devil’s weed entirely.

Does he mention that he can smell smoke EVERY time you come back in the house??? If he does, here’s an easy test. At some point when you don’t smell like smoke (ie when you first wake up, take a shower, put on fresh clothes, THEN do this). “Forget” you smokes (or lighter) in the house, go outside, to the alley or however far away you go. Wait a minute or two before you notice, then come back in for them. Assuming he mentions that you smell like smoke, you have two options. You can just walk back in the house like you just had a cigarette and always know that he’s just saying it for the sake of saying it. Or you could ask him how he could possibly smell smoke on you when your forgot your cigs (or lighter) in the house, haven’t had one in 8 hours, just took a shower and are wearing clean clothes. Even if he doesn’t believe you, you’ll always know.

Thanks for the comments. Educational!

The lingering smell is why I related the story of the former non-smoking man with whom I worked, and his inability to smell it on me. He specifically said that he never smelled it on my clothing, and that he could usually smell it on smoker’s clothing.

When I was a teenager and started smoking, my mom (who has a sense of smell like a bloodhound) didn’t know I smoked until my sister ratted me out. Of course, my dad smoked at the time, so perhaps I just didn’t stand out.

Anyway, like I said I’m quitting anyway. As of now, I haven’t had a cigarette since 11:45 AM on Thursday. So we’ll see what happens.

Sounds a lot like my former roommate, who was very sensitive to smoke. I do believe (at least in his case) it was not psychological, as if I came into the apartment after having smoked a cigarette where there was no way he could have seen me, he would complain, but if I hadn’t, he wouldn’t. We finally worked out a compromise where I would wait at least 15 minutes after having a cigarette before coming back inside; this would keep the smell from bothering him, and it also had the advantage of keeping me from smoking too often, which I credit for my success (so far) in quitting completely not long after moving out of that apartment.