Tuesdays are Your Turn – Confronting Public Smokers (Or Not)

Last week Kelley sent me this question:

[W]e’ve been spending a lot of time outside at the beach, park, etc. Smoking is illegal here in all public parks including the beach, however, I always (at
least every other time) have someone doing it anyway. Most people will go where they are supposed to when I explain her asthma and ask them to please move. Some won’t, so I have called the police once, but they left before they get there. Any suggestions for what to do? How do you approach those situations?

As I already told her, I don’t.

I don’t say anything. Ever.

When I was in college I smoked. In fact, as I’ve mentioned here before, I smoked until I was 22 years-old, right up until the very instant I looked at the results of my home pregnancy test and found out about AG. This particular fact in the history of my life so far, I’ll admit, occasionally manifests itself as a tiny little voice in the corner of my brain asking, “How do you know the asthma’s not YOUR fault then?”

Mommy guilt, it’s the BEST.

A somewhat smoky history also makes me feel like a hypocrite when it comes to confronting people with cigarettes in illegal public spaces. I mean, what right do I have? If not for AG’s conception, who’s to say I wouldn’t still smoke now? Certainly I’d tried to quit several times before my pregnancy, and some of my still-childless friends from those days never could break the addiction.

Taking this hypothetical one step further, had I not gotten pregnant and quit cigarettes for good, I could have ended up as one of those people puffing away in the parking lot by the beach, no kids, no asthma blog, and you’d be telling me to stop smoking illegally around your bronchially sensitive child.

Kind of weird to think about, huh?

You just never know where life will send you, and the transition from pack-a-day smoker and college student to recent graduate, new mom, and later, asthma blogger and advocate, can happen in an instant.


I’m grateful every day for the person AG’s pregnancy turned me into, even though at the time, I felt like new motherhood at 23 had a fairly decent chance of breaking me.

But enough about my life. On to the question:

How do you deal with people smoking illegally in public spaces and especially around your child?

75 responses to “Tuesdays are Your Turn – Confronting Public Smokers (Or Not)”

  1. Sarah says:

    I typically remove myself. I’ve had a few issues with smokers who have blown thier smoke purposefully in my face as they tell me where to go and what to do, and it’s just not worth it to me. Easier and safer for me to move and not risk the confrontation. Well, if I can, anyway.

    I will, however, confront smokers who frame the entrances to public buildings as they smoke. If they’re going to make it impossible to enter a place without running the gauntlet, then they can put up with me telling them to move.

    I’ve lost track of the flares I’ve had that were caused by cigarette smoke wafting in a door propped open to catch the summer breeze, making the concentration of cigarette smoke in the building almost as high as if there was still indoor smoking allowed. It’s illegal to smoke in public spaces here, or within 15m of the entrance to a public building (something that smokers resent hugely, especially in winter), but it’s almost never enforced. If it’s not enforced, what reason do they have to obey?

  2. kerri says:

    I used to yell at smoking staff members on my high school smoke-free property. One such day was World Asthma Day and I was all “Get your smoke out of my lungs, it’s world asthma day.” ;-P
    Most of the time, though, I say nothing, and move away. If I CAN’T move away though [ex. bus stop, which is ALWAYS where they get me], I don’t do anything to suppress the cough when it starts, and have been known to do the inhaler [sometimes WITH the spacer] right in front of the offender ;-) . If they get the hint, great, if not, they’re more ignorant than I thought.

    At Bon Jovi, there were tons of people smoking in the stadium (outdoor), which is illegal, but for security to have caught everybody smoking, it wouldn’t have happened anyways. It sucked, but I mean, I wasn’t about to DO anything about it.

    However, if it were my KID and not me? I’d probably be pretty obnoxious telling smokers to get away from my bronchially-challenged kid. I don’t exactly have a RIGHT to say anything, but maybe that mindset needs to change. I dunno. It’s a tough call.

  3. lpnmon says:

    I always *want* to say something, but rarely have the stones to go up to someone and tell them to move or put it out. I have been known to be more passive-aggressive about it and comment loudly to the kids, “wow, that cigarette smoke STINKS, doesn’t it? Pretty gross, huh? You still breathing ok?” And my dad and MIL have been recipients of comments like that when they come in from smoking and immediately try to hug the kids. Ick.

  4. I make loud, passive aggressive comments when smokers are behaving badly.

    Unfortunately, our fave public park allows smoking. Which, I wish they would designate one side of the beach for smokers and the other for non smokers.

    I was, briefly, excited when our state passed no smoking laws for public spaces. Except now everyone smokes outside and the doors opening and shutting suck the smoke in. So no improvement there.

    Even though my right to breathe trumps their right to smoke, it’s touch to confront people.


  5. Kelley says:

    Hey, thanks everyone. Where it is illegal, I have no qualms about advising people that it is illegal there & often explain my AG has asthma. Most people will say “sorry” and go up to the parking lot where it is legal. I was just wondering, because it really does cause me a lot of stress to have to no only worry about her flaring when we want to go the beach (this is where it almost always is a problem) but also to deal with confrontations. I always start with the belief that you’ll get a lot further by being kind about it, but some people…

  6. Danielle says:

    I have never commented to anyone. I don’t want to make people who smoke feel badly (I knooow there’s enough guilt trips going around for smokers). I just want to breathe in some clean air, so I’m generally not afraid to step away.

    Ditto Kerri, if it were my kid I might be more inclined to speak up.

    In reality, it’s almost never a problem for me to move away or change seats. But I agree that the most tricky thing is when people are smoking at entrances.

  7. Danielle says:

    I forgot to add, that it’s not like I don’t secretly get indignant about it. Because I do.

  8. MC says:

    I’ve always hated the smell of cigarette smoke, and my mom doesn’t like it either, so from an early age way before I ever had any trouble breathing, I learned to just hold my breath when I’d go by them… now however, when I’m having a bad day it’s hard to hold my breath long enough, but at least I’m not inhaling as much smoke I could be.

    The county where I live, it’s illegal to smoke in public buildings including restaurants. It’s been this way for quite a few years now, so much to the point that when I was in STL last semester on a school trip and we stopped in a restaurant I was shocked that people smoke inside restaurants.

    As for at home, in my neighborhood there are a handful of people that smoke, which makes me speed up when I’m on bike or on foot. I don’t stay there long enough to really get much if any of the stuff in my lungs. I’ve never confronted anyone that I can remember about moving to go smoke somewhere else. I do know when I was little I’d try to refuse to go to one of my cousins’ houses because their dad smokes, but I never succeeded and was only told that I was acting inappropriately (though my mom did understand why I was acting that way).

    If I had a kid with lung issues though, I too would probably be more protective and assertive, and since I’ve started having breathing issues my mom and dad are a lot more protective and assertive about this stuff now than they were before (my mom now doesn’t want me to pump gas unless I absolutely have to do it myself).

  9. Kat says:

    When I’m up at school I have no qualms with being like hey do you mind moving. Since they are not supposed to smoke with in 10 feet of a building on campus. The town has banned smoking in all indoor spaces. I can usually tolerate a little bit of smoke in an open air area. Generally most of the smokers I encounter up at school are pretty courteous about moving they know the rule and they know if I they don’t I can go get an RA to write them up.
    At home pretty much sucks, they allow smoking pretty much everywhere except on the grounds/inside public schools. I pretty strictly avoid indoor spaces unless I know they are non-smoking or have a secluded smoking section that doesn’t contaminate the non-smoking section.

  10. Amy says:

    Thanks for your input, everyone.

  11. Diana says:

    We were watching Shamu swim around in the tank over at Sea World. It was surrounded by about 50 children and then two guys in their 20′s were standing in the middle of it puffing away. I had no problem marching right up and telling them to put it out or move away from the kids. They looked at me like I was nuts. One of them (I’m thinking he was German) didn’t understand what I was saying and his friend mumbled something to him and they both walked off. Effing smokers and their nasty habit.

Leave a Reply