Protecting Yourself From the 20 Percent of People Who Still Smoke


I had asthma as a kid. This meant that I was pretty much dependent on chemicals to get oxygen into my lungs and that I wouldn’t step out of the house without an abuterol in hand. Soccer game? I had an inhaler stashed by the bench. Prom night? My understanding boyfriend carried it in his pocket. It wasn’t the worst way to grow up, but it definitely had its memorable moments – usually caused by an unfortunately empty inhaler canister and a habit of breathing.

So to this day, when I see someone light up a cigarette, I watch with a secret kind of awe. It’s like watching someone walk on the moon without an oxygen tank. How is this possible that they aren’t collapsing to the ground like a goldfish out of water? Since my lungs would be vomited out on the sidewalk if I took a drag, this is perversely fascinating. I want to walk up to them and knock on their chest to see if they actually have lungs of steel. (And yet, I don’t.)

The one upside to asthma? If you are really really lucky to outgrow it, you really really appreciate your new-found ability to breath without chemicals. But unfortunately, if someone steps into my air space with a cigarette, I have an immediate problem. Sure, it’s not my business if Private Citizen wants to smoke. But it is my problem because Private Citizen’s second-hand smoke is “a toxic cocktail consisting of poison and carcinogens. There are over 4000 chemical compounds in secondhand smoke; 200 of which are known to be poisonous, and upwards of 60 have been identified as carcinogens.” And this is one problem that no one needs.

The American Heart Association estimates that around 23 percent of men and 18 percent of women smoke. Sure, that’s better than “Mad Men” times when doctors were lighting cigarettes for pregnant mothers. But it still means we’re going to run across a smoke cloud or two in our daily adventures.

I handle these errant smoke clouds by treating the world as a giant track and field event. When I encounter smokers, I get out of their space as quickly as possible and keep my anti-smoking opinions to myself. (However, an awesomely sweet guy did once offer to put his cigarette out on my tongue when I asked him to snuff it.)

But still, sprinting is problematic. First, it’s not always practical to race around someone in high heels/pushing a baby carriage/walking with someone who doesn’t recognize you are holding your breath and are about to collapse into a heap of pathetic. Second, a good friend of mine is a smoker who hates it when people run past him as he’s carrying a biological weapon. Can’t we just all get along?

So what to do? If you are traveling, there are steps you can take. Ask for a non-smoking room or, better yet, book a smoke free hotel. FreshStay offers a great resource on finding smoke-free hotels. If you are hosting a party, offer up alternatives to smoking – gum, water, snacks. Or ask them to step aside – though your average smoker is a reasonable human being who knows his or her smoke is going to bother people, so he or she is doing this anyway.

And in the end, if someone really doesn’t get the hint? You can pull out a Breath of Life Emergency Escape Mask and start sucking down air. If you’re going to make a point, go big.

Image: yourdon

Katherine Butler

Katherine Butler is the Beauty Editor of EcoSalon and currently resides in Los Angeles, California.