I share an office with a smoker, and the smell is making me sick

A reader writes:

I have a question about sharing an office with a smoker.

I share an office with one office mate. We are the only two employees under our boss and we cover for each other (and two other employees in another department) when the other isn’t here. I’m six months pregnant and am planning on using all 12 weeks I’m allowed for my maternity leave this spring/summer. Since this would mean my coworker would need to do my job for three months, we were able to convince my boss and her bosses to hire in a temp — yay!

Luckily they were interviewing to replace a retiring employee, and we were able to get the second choice candidate to agree to come on to train with me and cover my desk while I’m on leave, with the possibility of being hired on to the company in some capacity when I return if it goes well. Awesome all around because we can use the extra person!

However. She’s a smoker. I’m pregnant and already am sensitive to smells and my office mate is prone to migraines. In the first two days, it got mentioned by many people, including C-level execs, that our office stunk. Our boss spoke with the temp about it because it’s distracting and frankly, it was making me and my office mate feel not so hot. So she is storing her coat outside the office and isn’t smoking during work hours. She took it very well. Great, right? Well…

She still smokes at home and admitted to my office mate that she is only down from a pack a day to three-quarters of a pack a day. I’m training her so most of the time she is sitting directly next to me at my desk or at a small desk we have for her in our small office. I can sometimes still smell the smoke on her clothes, but she also is obviously trying to cover up the smell with lotion and perfumes and… Alison, it’s not good. She was out sick yesterday and now that she’s back today, my nose is burning and I have a headache. There is no way this isn’t related and I don’t know how I’m going to handle this for 12 more weeks.

This is her third week so it’s also too early to tell how she’ll work out in general, but I think she’ll be able to learn the job tasks fine enough to cover while I’m gone, but then my office mate has to share a small space with her that entire time. Plus, thirdhand smoke is a very real thing and can cause issues with small children and unborn children. I’m planning to talk to my doctor about this at my appointment next week. but it makes me very wary to work so closely with her and have her working at my desk space.

I feel like many I’m just being anxious and pregnancy crazy, but my office mate is feeling unwell and has expressed concerns, too. We’re also afraid that this may be coloring our opinion of her. We get along so well so we’re trying to make a conscious effort of including her and being aware that some minor issues may just be us adjusting to include a new person on our small team, but the smoking thing is making it harder, we think.

I feel like we don’t have a lot of options because she has to work in this office with both of us. So what do we do, or are we just being overly sensitive?

(Also, a quick note: I really don’t care if people smoke — everyone can make their own choices. My husband was a one- to two-pack-a-week smoker when we met but quit several years ago, which I’m thankful for as a non-smoker, but I feel trapped and overwhelmed and anxious in this small space with this strong smell! Maybe it’s first-time mom anxiety, but maybe not?)

It doesn’t sound like groundless anxiety — you’re having physical reactions to the smell of the smoke. And many people find it unpleasant and physically uncomfortable to spend time in a small, enclosed area with a heavy smoker. This isn’t just you.

And then add on top of that that you’re pregnant and particularly sensitive to smells right now, and your coworker gets migraines, and that makes the situation even worse.

The fact that C-suite execs have commented on it and that your boss has already been willing to talk to your temp are promising signs that they’ll take this seriously. At this point, I think you need to go back to your boss and say something like this: “Jane is doing good work, but the smell of smoke on her is so strong that I’m having a physical reaction when she’s in our office space. I’m getting headaches and my nose has been burning, and I’m particularly concerned about thirdhand smoke because I’m pregnant. I know she’s been trying to contain it, but my physical reactions aren’t going away and I don’t think I can continue to share a space with her. Is it possible to move her to a space where the smell won’t be as much of an issue?”

Because you’re training her, it might feel like physical separation isn’t a possibility, but I’d urge you to consider how to make it work. If, for example, she had a guide dog and you were allergic to dogs, your office would find a way (or at least, in many cases they’d be legally required to, depending on the details) — like putting you in separate spaces with screen sharing and/or video calls.

If your manager seems vague or hesitant about what to do, you do have standing to push harder. If the situation doesn’t get dealt with quickly, it’s reasonable for you to say, “I’m so sorry about this because I like Jane, but I can’t continue to share an office with her because the smell of smoke is making me physically sick. I can’t work with a headache and burning nose all day, and I need to either work from a different space or have her work from one.” (You could also offer to bring in documentation from your doctor, although a good employer won’t require that.)

It might also make sense to have a very candid conversation with Jane herself about the problem. The lotions and perfumes she’s using to try to cover up the smell might be making your physical reactions worse, and if the two of you can talk openly about the situation, you could ask her to try temporarily eliminating those to see if it improves anything.

Some readers might be thinking, “Jane is a temp — couldn’t the company just replace her with a different temp?” But 29 states and D.C. have laws that bar discriminating against smokers in hiring (although some have exceptions for nonprofits and the health care industry), so whether or not that’s even on the table will depend on what state the letter-writer is in.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 411 comments… read them below }

  1. CrystalMama*

    Definitely push hard and stand your ground, OP! Your health and your child are paramount. I also commend you for educating us on the serious health risks posed by third-hand smoke. This is something we feel very strongly about in my family, but people are shockingly unaware of. Health is everything. Keep that intention strong in your heart and you will get the help you need.

    1. CrystalMama*

      Also, you may want to try to get a charcoal filter or some other purifier for your space in the meantime.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I was wondering if a fan would help at all. I feel like the moving air would be a benefit, but it depends on the configuration of the office, I guess.

      2. Managed Chaos*

        I had to use an air purifier at my last job for a similar reason. It didn’t eliminate the problem, but it definitely helped. I would do that at least as an intermediate step – the one I got was about $25 on Amazon.

    2. Noah*

      It’s worth noting that the studies on third hand smoke involve the third hand smoke in rooms where smoking had taken place, not the smoke on the clothes of the smokers (though, surely, the latter is harmful to some degree).

        1. Teal*

          As an asthmatic, it has zero measurable effect healthwise. Many people, however, have psychosomatic effects once they find out someone smokes. Absolutely nothing is happening to the baby, I guarantee.

    3. Specialk9*

      When I was pregnant, I had to cover my nose to enter the elevator, and often had to enter and turn right around and get off. (Spray in the *air* and walk through, folks, don’t spray *on* your skin! Or better yet don’t do cologne or perfume at work.) Smokers made me so ill, that smell just was a direct line to my 3-trimester-all-day vomiting.

      In my second trimester, suddenly and tragically I couldn’t handle the smell of coffee. I had one awful meeting where I tried all the tricks – ginger chews, putting hand sanitizer on my hand and propping the hand “casually” close to my nose, swallowing a lot – and then finally had to ask everyone to put their coffee cups in the corridor outside the closed door. It was mortifying, but I mean, vomiting in my own meeting woulda been worse!

      So no part of me thinks you’re being unreasonable. Pregnancy turns the nose dead into bloodhounds, all for the purpose of inducing vomiting. Yay!

      But even without pregnancy, I couldn’t handle sharing an office with someone who smelled of cigarettes. It’s hard to get past that smell.

  2. Hills to Die on*

    That smell can linger after the smoker isn’t there anymore also and the OP can go home smelling like smoke.

    I agree, to each their own, but the nature of smoking is that it does impact others. Good luck and let us know how it goes!

    1. LouiseM*

      You think the OP will go home smelling like smoke herself after being in the same room with someone who had smoked several hours earlier? Sorry, but that’s absurd. This isn’t Mad Men. Let’s not make the situation sound worse than it is.

      1. Accountant*

        I disagree, this is a real thing. My parents smoke and if they watch my kids, even if it’s at my house my kids end up smelling like cigarette smoke. If they ride in my car, the smell lingers in my car. Even though they are not smoking around my kids or in my car.

      2. Luna*

        It can actually happen with very heavy smokers, which it sounds like the coworker is. I had a roommate once who smoked a pack a day and this would happen sometimes.

      3. Phoenix Programmer*

        Very much a thing. But more so visiting a smokers house or sitting in their car. When I use to visit my mom all my luggage would reek for over a week despite the fact that she took care to air out, launder, and febreeze the room I would use.

        1. Wendy Darling*

          I visited a family friend of my significant other and she smoked in her house. We were only there for an hour and she didn’t smoke while we were there but I had to wash my coat afterwards because it absolutely reeked, especially the synthetic fur collar (which didn’t touch anything but seems to be a smell magnet generally).

          1. Julia*

            When I still took the train in Switzerland, where people smoked right until they got on (or smoked in the doorway before the train took off) and didn’t air out, I would arrive at work or home with my hair reeking of smoke, because apparently my hair just sucks in all kinds of smells (but never smells of shampoo after I’m done washing it)…

      4. Katniss*

        This totally has happened. I have gone home with my clothes smelling like smoke, a lingering smell that lasts a long time and sometimes requires me to wash said clothes, after just sitting next to a heavy smoker for a 45 minute train ride.

      5. Sylvan*

        It happens. I have a couple of friends who smoke – not much, not indoors – and I’ve been told I smell like cigarettes after hanging out with them. :(

      6. the one who got away*

        My husband went on a trip recently where the hotel mistakenly put him into a smoking room. He stayed for two nights. No one smoked in the room while he was there.

        When he got home and I opened his suitcase, I nearly threw up. It smelled like he’d spent a month in a bar. We had to wash every single thing in the suitcase, and put the suitcase itself and a couple of unwashable items (leather belt and shoes) outside to air out. It was awful.

        And it’s definitely a real thing.

        1. YoungTeach*

          Definitely real.
          This Christmas I took vacation time to visit my family and borrowed my sister’s car for my time there, but had to return it before my flight back home. So on my last day with the family my grandfather was too drive me to the airport. I got into his car and immediately started coughing and have an asthma attack. He hadn’t smoked in the car for months but it smelled like he smoked in it that morning. I was only in his car for about half an hour for the drive but my coat smelled horrible for the first while of my flight…

        2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

          I walked into a converted Mother’s Room at a convention recently to pump for my son. It had clearly been cleaned, painted, etc. I could STILL smell the residual stink of cigarettes. If you are sensitive to it, you can’t help that!

      7. else*

        No, it’s true if she’s a really heavy smoker, even if she’s trying to be considerate and not do it near the office. I’ve experienced this, and I think my coworker was actually being honest about not smoking in work clothes. In my experience, smokers and people who live with them tend to underestimate this, by a LOT. I couldn’t be in the same closed office as my cowoker without wheezing. She tried very hard to be careful, and then after a year or so she actually managed to quit, so it worked out okay for me. I don’t know what I’d be able to do in one of those situations where they won’t or can’t stop, though.

      8. BettyD*

        There’s a reason why I toss clothes worn to a particular friend’s house directly into a closed laundry bin when I get home, and they don’t even smoke in the house. That smell can linger and permeate, especially if you’re sensitive to it.

      9. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

        I moved into an apartment that had smokers as the previous tenants. The apartment had been thoroughly cleaned: carpets cleaned, walls washed, window treatments replaced. The smell lingered for YEARS. I remember having taken my laundry to a friend’s house. She was tossing in the load and asked “when did you guys start smoking?” All of the clothes smelled of cigarette smoke. It was nasty!

        1. Wendy Darling*

          This is why I, asthmatic extraordinaire, will only live in apartment buildings that don’t allow smoking anywhere on the premises. And I’m That Neighbor who totally freaks out if people smoke on their balconies.

          1. BeenThere*

            Yup! I wish these apartment complexes had a smoking room with airlocks because that would be preferable to people thinking it’s okay to have a sneaking cigarette at 2am in the morning while I wake up nearing an asthma attack.

      10. Not Rebee*

        I mean one time I got back into my car the morning after a night out (where I’d been DD) and could smell my friend’s usual perfume from the night before. She had not applied any perfume or lotion after I picked her up, and I could smell the perfume still for a few days. Granted, I like the smell so it was fine, but with smoke I can see how this would not be cool. Hair, clothes, and furniture (especially upholstered things and so the inside of a car) absorb smell like crazy (which you’d know if you have long hair and have ever been to a bonfire, then gone to bed without showering, because when you wake up not only does your hair still smell like smoke but now so do your sheets and PJs). So I think it’s entirely possible that the office is absorbing smoke-smell from off the temp’s clothes, and that OP’s clothes and hair might be absorbing it as well.

      11. Bagpuss*

        Yes, I agree. being in a room with a heavy smoker and you end up smelling of smoke yourself. It does depend on what you are wearing, what they are wearing, how sensitive you are to the smell, etc, but it definitely happens.

      12. phyllisb*

        Louise, it’s a very real concern. I have been with people who smoke, and even though they don’t smoke around me, I will go home with the smell. I have had my husband and grand-children comment on it.

      13. Perse's Mom*

        You think the OP will go home smelling like smoke herself after being in the same room with someone who had smoked several hours earlier?

        From personal experience, I *know* so.

      14. TrainerGirl*

        I went on a date with someone who lived in a house with a smoker. I hugged him without realizing that the smoke smell was in his clothes, and I had to go home and wash my clothes immediately. The smoke smell took days to get out of my car just from me sitting in it. Smoke is insidious.

      15. Rainy*

        In grad school, a guy not in our department took one of our course offerings. He reeked of cigarette smoke, and after an hour and a half, anyone who sat too near him did too. Yes, this is definitely a thing.

      16. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        If I sit in a room with someone who has been a heavy smoker, even if they didn’t smoke around me, I absolutely go home and have to wash my hair because it reeks of cigarette smell. I have asthma and cigarette smoke is my main trigger; when I was pregnant it was way worse AND my inhaler wasn’t safe so I had to avoid it really carefully. I got a small ionizing plugin for my desk and had a fan pointed towards the door to help circulate air, since some of my students smoke and I can’t refuse to tutor them for that (I mean I could, but it would have been a huge jerk move).

  3. Purplesaurus*

    It’s possible a good quality air purifier would help, at least something to try that your employer might be willing to purchase.

    1. Teapot Lending Program Manager*

      I agree that treating the environment via diffusers and fans is probably the best solution left at this point, given that the op will have to still work closely with the temp.

      1. EddieSherbert*


        Even a fairly cheap air purifier could help for a couple months! My SO and I originally got a cheap air purifier from a chain store to see if it helped his allergies, and even that made a big difference.

      1. Short & Dumpy*

        Thanks for the recommendation! (I’ve been looking at different ones until we can afford to replace all the carpeting in this house…old carpeting plus dogs & cats = sinus issues for me)

        1. Church Lady*

          2nd. I live in an small apartment building where we’re not supposed to smoke indoors, but I have a suspicion my next-door neighbors sometime do because I can smell cigarette smoke in my bathroom, which has a vent in it and abuts their bathroom. I grew up in a house with a dad who smoked a pack a day and it bothered me back then, before we heard about second-hand smoke. I’m bothered by the smoke that drifts into my apartment from people smoking outside (I’m on 2nd floor) and was surprised that I could smell it coming from a contained space next door. I sympathize with OP. I’ve gotten a raw throat and irritated eyes from heavy smoke residue on clothing.

          1. Nanani*

            My previous apartment had shitty air circulation and questionable designs for ventilation, so I would get the neighbour’s cigarette smoke in my kitchen ><

            Started looking for a new place as soon as those neighbours moved in, and air circulation was a top priority. I'm not even allergic, I just have a sensitive sense of smell.

        2. Rovannen*

          My husband’s allergies got so bad that we ripped out the carpet in our bedroom and haven’t replaced it with any flooring yet. Not an option for many people, but it greatly reduced his allergy issues.

    2. nonymous*

      OP might look into getting a small ozone machine to run at night (they aren’t supposed to run in an occupied area) as a supplement. They’re quite effective.

    3. Biff*

      The Vornado product is especially effective with smoke smells. My partner is temporarily working at a distance, and got an apartment that unfortunately fills with the neighbor’s smoke during the winter due to… whatever. The Vornado does a LOT to make it bearable.

  4. Grits McGee*

    Other commenters have recommended fans in the past for dispelling strong odors. It sounds like even if the smoking temp is able to be moved into another space, OP will need to work closely with her. Having a fan aimed at the temp with the OP sitting upwind might be helpful for when contact is unavoidable.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      I also think since the OP is pregnant, there is increased chance that people will be willing to work with her – because it’s a known thing about pregnant people that they are crazy sensitive to smells and get nauseous easily. It’s like Alison sometimes suggests approaching things as “I have a weird thing about (whatever – chewing sounds, lunchtime smells, etc) and I’d be so grateful if you would X.” This is a built in version of that.

      If a random coworker was getting on me about a perfume or hair product I was using, I’d be more put out than I would be if I was approached by someone who was suffering from pregnancy related sensitivity, especially if she was reasonable in her approach.

      1. MLB*

        I am not and have never been pregnant, but I am super sensitive to smells and someone wearing a strong perfume (or a bucket of it) regardless of whether I like the scent or not, will trigger a migraine. I hope you reconsider being “put out” by a non-pregnant related sensitivity if it ever happens.

        1. Gollum*

          One of my very first bossses was allergic to perfumes and part of the interview process was letting the candidates know this and that they would be required to

          * not wear perfumes/colognes etc
          * not bathe or shampoo with perfumed soaps
          * not wear deodorant
          She would get TERRIBLE migraines if she came into contact with those allergens. I forgot one day and was sent home. :P

            1. Kate the Little Teapot*

              There are unperfumed deodorants people with fragrance sensitivities aren’t allergic to. The most commonly stocked are Tom’s of Maine and Crystal. You can also hippie DIY your own pretty easily. They work fine but you need to reapply more often than with deodorants that have more chemicals.

              1. Mildred*

                I’ve tried both of those brands, and they didn’t work for me. I don’t think I could work someplace where I couldn’t use even unscented antiperspirant. I’d be fine with the other stuff.

              2. Specialk9*

                I had a coworker who used straight baking powder, and I never once smelled any BO on her!

                I have strong fragrance sensitivities, I get a migraine and itchy eyes. I’ve tried a number of natural deodorants like Pit Putty, and many of them smelled fine but made my skin break out. I’m a delicate little flower. (Eyeroll)

                The best one I’ve found is Schmidt’s Deodorant Stick in bergamot + lime. (Not all scents get me, I seem to be ok with most essential oils.)

            2. Gollum*

              Well luckily she wasnt allergic to my sweat so there’s that. :P DC in summer was interesting (especially since I walked to work)

          1. Purplesaurus*

            o_O! I’m allergic to scents too, but unless they were leaving a contrail in their wake, I would never expect any of this from my coworkers.

            1. JessaB*

              I have had people who leave contrails. I was supervising at the answering service and had to go home early (luckily it was only an hour or so,) because despite being told and told and told a day shifter came in with so much perfume I could TASTE it. Immediate asthma attack and migraine appeared. I went out into the warehouse part of the building and hit my inhaler. We decided I’d go home (I got paid for the time,) because there was only a bit of my shift left (I worked overnight,) but she was written up and told if she did it again and got me sick she’d be sent home without pay for the day. The place was a nightmare for other things, like accommodations (this is the chair guy I complain about a lot in ADA posts,) but me not being able to breathe, he was pretty good about. I was not the only scent sensitive person, just the one that got hit fastest and worst.

              But seriously how can people wear so much scent that someone can taste the alcohol residue or whatever it is? From a distance, after they’ve driven to work?

              1. I'll come up with a clever name later.*

                My mother was a smoker for many years and I think it screwed up her sense of smell. She can never smell her perfume unless she’s wearing enough to make those around her taste it. And if I say something about it she’s always baffled by it “I can barely smell it!”

                1. Bagpuss*

                  does she always use the same perfume? I think people do get acclimatised to it so they need more to get the same effect. (I’m sure you’re right about the effect of smoking, too, )

                2. JessaB*

                  It might have, smoking is known to do that. Also my mother had very oily skin, so most fragrances just did not stay on her so she tended to use too much to get ANY scent. She finally cottoned onto some kind of oil based scents (kind of like aromatherapy stuff but more perfume level scented. This was in the 70s so very patchouli and musk sorta stuff but without the alcohol backdraft.) So she finally was able to get a reasonable level of scent that didn’t knock people out of the room.

              2. ZK*

                Ugh. Someone was wearing a ton of patchouli yesterday at work. They were only in my area for a brief time, but I spent the rest of the day sneezing. It was dreadful.

          2. MuseumChick*

            Wow, she must have had an extreme sensitivity. I know someone who was this way with a certain kind of oil. Literally if you dipped a finger into the oil and got a light coating and then touched her she would break out in welts.

            1. Specialk9*

              I mean, that seems totally expected. A ‘light’ coating of oil in a finger is a shit ton of exposure. We get sick from tiny particles dancing in the air!

          3. Oxford Coma*

            I try hard to avoid scented products due to family members with migraines, and it is virtually impossible to find scentless (as opposed to minimally scented or fragrance-free) products. Everything has an odor. If you know of any good products, please share!

            1. Reya*

              I can’t recommend many scentless products (though in the UK there’s a brand called Sanex that does an unscented shower gel, and I also get scentless washing tabs for my laundry from a brand called Surcare), but as someone who gets migraines from scented perfumes and aerosols I can recommend a perfume alternative – L’Occitane do some great eau de toilettes, many of which are lightly scented enough that I can wear them without issues. I imagine they still wouldn’t work for people who have extreme scent sensitivity, but if anyone is looking for a more delicate perfume alternative they’re worth investigating!

            2. Julia the Survivor*

              I’m sensitive to chemical scents and like natural scents. I also suspect chemical scents are unhealthy. Most non-natural cosmetics contain phthalates, which cause allergies, and there are probably other health things that haven’t been identified.
              I recently bought triple-filtered coconut oil which has no scent and makes a great moisturizer!
              I’ve also had good results with mineral oil.
              I’ve had good luck with Whole Foods and online health stores like Swanson.
              Whole Foods has store brand products like lotion and shower gel that are unscented.
              If you want natural but not chemical scents, there are lots of options – vanilla, cocoa butter, flowers, coconut, etc., etc.

            3. Specialk9*

              They’re all freaking scented! The unscented ones still have essential oils! It’s like, guys, you know that citrus oils are actually quite smelly and so you should call this citrus scented instead of unscented?

              You can try plain baking powder – a coworker who used that never smelled, and she took the bus in DC summers. I’ve also heard good things about arrowroot powder.

              If you wanted a paste instead of powder, look for online recipes – I found one for 1/2 c coconut oil, 1/4 c baking soda, and 1/4c corn starch.

          4. Jennifer*

            Why not just wear unscented deodorant? Both Secret and Sure make an unscented antiperspirant/deodorant, as long as you’re showering regularly it’s just as effective

            1. TootsNYC*

              You might also be able to apply deodorant/antiperspirant before bed, and shower in the morning. It’ll be absorbed by then, and so will still be effective (it will last for a while), but maybe you’ll be able to wash off the scented compounds.

            2. Lynca*

              Dove’s unscented deodorant is really nice. I’ve never had any comments about it and I find it works really well.

          5. Triforceruby*

            My sis in law says that her boss takes it one step further and doesn’t want them to “poop” at the office. That was a fun conversation! The boss encourages them to either go elsewhere or go home for the day.

            1. Lissa*

              It sounds like at least it’s made known at the interview so those who really couldn’t could opt out. I guess…I mean, it still seems super extreme to me to demand nobody around you wear it though, just because it’s so expected in society.

          6. Wait, what?*

            I have a coworker who is that allergic to scented products. The thing is, we work in a high school with 2k students. There are daily reminders on the PA system, signs up all over, letters sent home, etc. asking people not to use scented products. But there just doesn’t seem to be a way to get 2k or so families to switch to unscented detergent, soap, shampoo, etc. I bought what I thought was unscented dish soap to keep in the staff bathroom for coffee mugs. Turns out the fine print said “free from harsh perfumes” so it had a very mild scent that didn’t even register to me but caused a reaction. I had gone to 3 stores looking for unscented dish soap and this stuff was the closest I could find.
            It must be the worst kind of allergy. At least with food you can choose what you eat. You really can’t chose what air you breath if you’re around other people.
            At the same time, how to get that many people to comply when scented products are just so ubiquitous? The nearest Whole Foods is an hour away.

            1. Specialk9*

              I like unscented Castile soap for most things, dishes included. But not hair! I tried it for shampoo and it made my hair so… icky.

              But my scent allergies aren’t that pronounced. Honestly, that sounds like she can’t work in that environment. It stinks.

            2. whingedrinking*

              Especially high school students. Not quite as bad as middle school but even when I was in grade 12 I dreaded winding up next to That Guy drenched in body spray.

            3. Julia the Survivor*

              There are lots of online stores that would probably have unscented products. My favorite is Swanson. Google “buy unscented deodorant” and lots of stores come up. A good store has the ingredient label posted so you can check.
              I’m sensitive to castille soap! It causes skin irritation. Also the crystal deodorant. Yes, it’s weird! :)

        2. Lil Fidget*

          I guess the question is just, what do you have the right to ask your coworkers to do on your behalf. Asking to be moved, yourself, is fine and reasonable. So is requesting a fan for the office or an air purifier. Asking someone else to permanently change shampoos (I don’t actually wear perfume but I know it’s a common thing to do) … hmm. Depends on how you ask I guess. Asking them to quit smoking (not that OP is requesting that, of course – more as a thought experiment) … hmm. Not sure how I feel about that. I don’t even smoke but I’m just not sure what’s reasonable.

          1. Kate 2*

            Yeah, I actually try to wear scent-free products when I can, because I have asthma, sinus issues, and migraines which can be triggered by scents, but not all of the products that work for me are scent-free. I’d be pretty po’d if someone decided that my particular shampoo or whatever set them off and asked me to stop wearing it. It’d be different if the whole office was scent-free, but in my experience there’s a really strong psychosomatic aspect to the “your scent bugs me, change it please” thing.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Yeah and if they approached me with, “I’m really sorry, I have a weird reaction to certain chemicals, and unfortunately I seem to be reacting to your shampoo, I’ve tried X and Y and it hasn’t worked, and I hate to even ask this and realize that it’s a favor,but would you consider not using it on days you’re coming into the office” – I probably would do that, and reassure them it’s NBD.

          2. Gollum*

            Which is why I think she made a point of it during the interview. If it was going to be a problem for you, then you would probably not accept the position.

          3. DumbQuestion*

            Perfume? Fine. Whatever. I forget to wear it most days anyway. I draw the line at home grooming products like lotions (those B&BW fragrance bombs on the desk don’t count), shampoo/conditioner, and deodorant. Those are far too personal to allow someone at work to dictate.

            1. Specialk9*

              Those of us who get migraines, itchy eyes, and nausea and get little done all day because your scent trail makes us sick find your choice
              pretty darn “personal”. It by definition is not “personal” if you’re making us sick. Pretty rude, arrogant, and thoughtless of you.

              1. Julia*

                I definitely agree with you. But I’d be pretty disappointed it I had to change all my nice shampoos and lotions – which are part of my self care – to boring ones and hope they’d still work for my hair etc. I’d do it, and I wouldn’t blame you, but I wouldn’t be happy.

              2. Lissa*

                Interesting. I just don’t think it’s realistic to expect an entire office full of people change shampoo, conditioner and deodorant in most cases. The boss saying it in the interview is one thing, but that’s a lot of money to ask to someone to spend to change all their products.

                (sidenote: wish I could figure out what scent it is that I’m allergic to because I know it’s something but have no clue what…)

              3. DumbQuestion*

                I’ll cop to being rude, arrogant, and thoughtless. I’m not changing my shampoo and conditioner, lotion, or deodorant for anyone. That’s a massive jump from asking that people not wear perfume.

                I’ve invested more than enough time and money in learning what works for my hair and scalp during which seasons. Same with my lotion. I’m not allowed to treat my eczema because you get a migraine? What? No. Hell no. Not when my skin gets dry to the point of feeling like it’s splitting open and itches so badly that I scratch until I bleed. I’m not risking BO and sweat patches until I find something that works for you. How does any of that even work? Are you coming with me to the stores for sniff tests? Do I go buy one by one and wear them in the office and you give a thumbs up? Do I buy a bunch and bring them to the office? Who is reimbursing me for these experiments?

                1. Nox*

                  I agree. I have severe scalp psoriasis so I can’t change my tar shampoo or the tea tree oil shampoo. I’m happy to accommodate within reason with some sort of reimbursement for having to do so. Other natural suggestions don’t work for me so I will have to spend more money with trial and error to make one person ok with my presence.

      2. Clare*

        I don’t think smoking belongs in the same category as perfumes or lotions though. Many non-pregnant people have legitimate concerns about smoking. It’s not just about the smell, there are real health concerns for everyone involved.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I don’t know why I’m in the mood to get into this today – I’m not even a smoker and I don’t like the smell myself – but here’s a CDC list of a million common household products that cause health effects, and probably also warp fetuses: https://hpd.nlm.nih.gov. We as a society have focused on smokers as an acceptable target of scorn because we feel like they’re “choosing” to be unhealthy and now we’re saying a woman can’t even share a room with such a specimen, but there are a million and one other unhealthy things that we don’t shun / shame in the same way.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Right, but then the issue should be “Can the workplace also move to using less harmful cleaning chemicals” (or whatever) in addition to being concerned about the smoking issue, not “there are tons of other harmful things, so let’s not get up in arms about smoking.”

            1. Lil Fidget*

              Having stepped away to think about this, I guess my perception is that this is exactly the same situation as in any other “my coworker is using smelly products, what can I do” letters. And I think all of us are actually agreeing on the best approaches, which might be fans or air filters or asking to be moved or asking her very nicely what’s possible for her to do to assist. The fact that the product is tobacco is a bit of a red herring, I think. Now other people are saying that even being around a smoker, as a pregnant woman, may have health impacts on the fetus. I am finding that a little harder to take in, but it’s not my area of expertise, so I’m going to be reading with interest,

              1. myswtghst*

                “The fact that the product is tobacco is a bit of a red herring, I think.”

                I tend to agree, as I think regardless of the reason for the smell, it’s really about talking with the person who is introducing the smell to the environment about making reasonable accommodations, then working to see what environmental changes you can make (fans, air purifiers, office setup), then determining if something more serious (separate offices with video chat / screen-sharing) is necessary. Sure, certain smells may be easier to prevent (i.e. not dousing yourself in AXE or smoking in a closed car / room), but they can all be approached pretty much the same way.

                I say all this as someone who is currently ~20 weeks pregnant, is a former smoker (quit about 2 years ago), and shares an office part-time with a current smoker. My officemate only smokes outside (not in the car or at home), so the smell is only noticeable for a few minutes when they get back from a smoke break, and we have good ventilation, so it hasn’t been an issue. If it became an issue, my first steps would be to talk with them (see if they can hang out a few extra minutes away from the office following a smoke break, or ask them to hang their coat somewhere else), then to bring in one of my many air purifiers from home.

                1. Tuckerman*

                  Just wanted to say, kudos for quitting! I imagine it might be difficult to maintain a smoke-free lifestyle with an ofifce mate that smokes.

            2. JessaB*

              I have an issue with that too, when they clean carpets in the offices I work in. There’s a low allergen version that doesn’t put up as much chemical residue/smell/stuff in the air, but it’s seriously expensive to do whole offices with. So I usually have an agreement, either use the good stuff, or warn me and let me either WFH or take a sick day, the day of and the next day whilst it’s drying off.

              Those are usually short term things. If it’s shift work they know to have cleaning done on my off shift. If it’s in the office and it’s major they send me home. I got sent home one day because some person who should be fired as a cleaning crew worker used an ammonium product to clean out air vents, and I walked in and started choking because it put fumes out everywhere.

              Nowadays there are a metric tonne of products that are safer, and companies are realising that in a lot of thing it might be cheaper vs WFH or sick time for employees, to use the more expensive less dangerous stuff.

              But those of us who really have serious medical reactions usually go the ADA route because A: it protects our employers from having issues, it’s a legal thing so it’s easier. and B: most people get medical issues.

          2. Clare*

            To be clear, I am not at all concerned about the health of the person choosing to smoke. I don’t think household products are a relevant comparison because if I choose to use a certain product to clean my house, what impact does that have on anyone else?

            The reality is that smoking does negatively impact the health and safety of OTHER PEOPLE, not just the person smoking. Much like drunk driving can impact people other than the driver.

            In some situations the danger is from second-hand smoke (which definitely causes birth defects, not just probably), in others the danger comes from fires being accidentally set by smokers. I used to volunteer with the local Red Cross to provide emergency assistance to people displaced by fires, and I lost track of how many turned out to be started by someone who didn’t put a cigarette out properly and burned an entire apartment building to the ground.

            I’m not trying to start a whole thread that has no useful information to the OP, but I really can’t believe people are trying to claim that cigarette smoking is somehow not that bad/no one else’s business.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              I mean, this person isn’t smoking in the office where OP is working. I would not argue that that is an issue. OP is reacting to a lingering smell, which to me is similar to the perfume / scented oil debates.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                The temp worker has already altered their actions by not smoking during work hours, this I think is beyond reasonable and overly accommodating on the temp worker’s part. I agree with you Lil Fidget I think this issue is similar to perfume/smells debate. I think you can ask if a coworker would be willing to change something but I don’t think you can reasonably expect someone to change their life for you. If it were me and a coworker was sensitive to my body wash/soap and asked me about it, I would certainly look to see if there was a similar priced non-scented alternative that was easy to purchase. But I would not go out of my way to change it, like go to a different store or pay more money for it.

                While I have not seen data on third hand smoke, I am inclined to believe it is a thing, and even as a nonsmoker I am still inclined to think that it is the basis for requesting a coworker change their actions.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I forgot to add Alison I know you said many states have legal protections for smokers, but legal issues aside I wonder what your thoughts are on firing/not-hiring smokers from moral/ethical standpoint in a non-health related field?

            2. Starbuck*

              ” I don’t think household products are a relevant comparison because if I choose to use a certain product to clean my house, what impact does that have on anyone else?”

              Hey, just in case you’re really curious about this- those sorts of chemicals (especially the spray kind) area significant source of air pollution. Hopefully some day soon they will be regulated out of existence. Here’s a link to the article in Science about it: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/359/6377/760.full.pdf

              Or google: “Volatile chemical products emerging as largest petrochemical source of urban organic emissions”

          3. Starbuck*

            Some people DO shun those things. I work very hard to keep pretty much all of those products out of my living space (and work space) because I do know how dangerous they might be. I’m one of those weird people who makes their own deodorant (no one has complained yet!). Unfortunately it’s hard to know how dangerous they are for sure, because household chemicals and personal care products aren’t required to be tested for safety at all before they’re put on the market. They’re barely regulated at all.We DO know a lot about how dangerous cigarette smoke is though, because it’s been studied quite a bit.

            If it’s people’s health you’re really concerned about, you shouldn’t be using this information as a bludgeon to try and get people to stop complaining about smokers. That frankly doesn’t pass the smell test.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              To be clear, my sympathies are with OP and I hope she’s able to find a good solution that works for her. She should not have to sit in a room all day feeling sick from a smell.

            2. Agnes*

              I work with environmental health scientists. They just got done doing a big project on chemical exposures of all types in indoor air. Biggest one by far, even in people’s houses who didn’t smoke? Tobacco smoke.
              (By far. The other ones barely registered, by comparison. Honestly, I think they were hoping for a different result, because they’re so bored of studying smoke.)

          4. Julia the Survivor*

            I think the difference is that the other products don’t have the same health effects on everyone. Some aren’t affected at all, and some get severe symptoms, and some in-between.
            Smoking has the same extremely bad effect on everyone. It’s ridiculous that it’s still done and still allowed – a functioning country would have handled this decades ago. :/

            1. Julia the Survivor*

              I get asthma from two cleaning chemicals that I know of – blue window cleaner is one, bleach is one – and I’ve been making my own disinfectant for a long time with alcohol and vinegar. No odor, non-toxic…I had cats at the time and was concerned about them getting the chemicals on their paws and licking them… and much less expensive too!
              The whole thing is a racket, don’t get me started…

          5. Plague of frogs*

            I don’t have a problem with people choosing to smoke, but I have a big problem with people choosing to smell like smoke. I worked closely with 4 smokers. Two of them smelled terrible, and two of them didn’t smell at all. The difference was that the ones who didn’t smell didn’t smoke in their houses or cars, and when they smoked they held the cigarettes away from their body and exhaled so that the smoke wouldn’t blow onto them.

            I am terribly allergic to smoke and I wish the other two guys would have done this. They denied that they smelled like smoke (not having much sense of smell) and one of them told me I couldn’t possibly be allergic. I wonder how he thought I was getting my nose to run on command.

            1. Julia the Survivor*

              They’re in denial about what they’re doing to themselves and others. I’ve seen this too.

          6. Science!*

            That list is just a database of all household products that HHS has data sheets for. It’s not a list of products that could “warp a fetus”. Not all of the products even have a listed health effect and most of the ones I looked at (admittedly only about 20 or so) have the skin/eye irritant designation for excessive use. Even searching for carcinogenicity brings up most reports of not having been determined.

            “This database links over 18,000 consumer brands to health effects from Safety Data Sheets (formerly Material Safety Data Sheets), provided by manufacturers and allows scientists and consumers to research products based on chemical ingredients. “

  5. BadPlanning*

    I would be miserable too, OP. Especially the mix of stale smoke plus perfume.

    It’s nice that the temp was willing to make some changes, but like many scents, you go nose blind to it (at the risk of bringing up Febreeze commercials) and it’s not easy for the smoker to have a realist idea of their smoke scent level (I know smokers who’ve described the huge difference between smelling it when they smoked and when they quit).

    I know some have suggested that the smoker swap to e-cigs — at least during pregnancy time. Not for the health effects of course (and still not at work), but for the smell level. Although for a full time smoker, it will take awhile to wash clothes, hair, etc enough to dissipate the smell.

    1. Natalie*

      If the coworker smokes inside her house, the smell will be saturated into shoes, clothing, handbags, etc, as well.

      1. Rat in the Sugar*

        As a smoker myself I can guarantee that smoking inside is the source of the continuing problem. I’ve had nonsmokers be very surprised when I pulled my pack out and tell me they couldn’t smell it on me even though they’ve been very close to me, and I believe it’s because I’m very careful to only smoke outside. It really makes a huge difference in how much smoke saturates your clothes.

        However, I’m not sure what that means for OP–surely the temp already knows that smoking inside is the issue? Every other smoker I’ve met was well aware of what it does to your clothes. The only solution I can think of is having a set of work clothes at the office that she changed into once she arrived, and I’m not sure you’d be able to ask a co-worker to do that. It would probably involve buying new clothes, since the smoke can’t be washed out after a while.

        Maybe that hospital strength deodorizer? I don’t remember the name, sorry, but it’s supposed to be good for people who are sensitive to smells. Does anyone else know the one I’m talking about?

        1. Linzava*

          This, I’ve been a smoker for years and exclusively an outside smoker. I once stayed in a smoking room in Reno for two days. On the drive home, I felt ill and nauseous every time I got a wiff of my clean clothes. The smell was stale and in everything I kept in that room. Even when I’ve had the choice, I don’t smoke inside because of that trip.

          1. cncx*

            my father only smokes outside and i have never smelled it on him, either. the difference between smelling and not smelling of smoke for me is 1 to 1 does the person smoke inside their house or not.

        2. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD*

          People are shocked I smoke and way more than 1 person has said ” i never smell it on you!”

          I smoke outside. I wear freshly washed clothes when I leave the house. I make sure my hair is clean and I wash my hands thoroughly after I smoke.

          The smell the OP is describing is the smell that people get having just smoked in their car – very close environment. And it is gross. I will bet $50 the temp is car smoking.

          1. Anon55*

            I thought she was probably smoking in the car too! I used to smoke (outside only) and people were always shocked to learn that I did. All the things that you list here really do work.

          2. Tessa Ryn*

            Agreed. As a former car-smoker (I walk to work now) the smell can be much more concentrated. I now only smoke outside, and try to walk around the block after a cigarette to disperse the smell. Is this person smoking on their commute to work? I know smoking and driving can be hand-in-hand sometimes. I have a couple friends who are super sensitive to cigarette smoke. Usually they can’t tell, because I’m careful not to smell.

            Always smoking outside, washing your hands after each cigarette (I also use mouthwash), not chain smoking in a parked car, and limiting smoking to before and after work is better than trying to mask the smell with strong scented perfumes or lotions.

        3. BlueSedum*

          Maybe if the temp got an air filter for her home so that the smoke got filtered right away before it really had a chance to cling to her clothes? That wouldn’t really fix the issue of clothes that already have been saturated with smoke, but it might be a good preventative without the temp having to stop smoking in her own home. I have this one, which is on the more affordable end of things: https://www.amazon.com/GermGuardian-AC4825-Sanitizer-Allergens-Guardian/dp/B004VGIGVY/

          1. Anony*

            I think that is beyond what can be expected of an employee. I doubt that the employer is going to pay for a filter in the temp’s house.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              Even if the employer paid for the air filter, I would push back against them “telling” me what can and can’t be done in my home. I think OP can ask the employer for accommodations for herself, having OP moved to another location, putting in fans/purifiers etc… As a very last resort if nothing else works then maybe the smoker/temp worker could be moved. Honestly coworker has already been very accommodating by agreeing not to smoke during work hours.

        4. LtBroccoli*

          I’ll verify as a non smoker. I have a coworker that’s like this – you can’t tell she smokes unless you see her outside on a smoke break. She has kids so I’d guess that she never smokes in her home or car.

          1. Natalie*

            Not sure how old your coworker is but in my experience there’s a generational divide (maybe modified by region), as well. I smoke sometimes and know/knew a lot of smokers, and no one under 40 or so smokes in their house regardless of whether they “could”. I think enough of us grew up with limited to no indoor smoking that it becomes the norm.

        5. Alienor*

          One of my oldest friends was a fairly heavy smoker for about 15 years, and she rarely smelled of it because she only smoked outside. We spent a lot of time standing out in back yards and on patios together (I didn’t smoke, but wanted to keep her company) but it did work.

        6. Plague of frogs*

          Yes! I posted about this above. I worked with two smokers who never smelled, and two who reeked. The difference was that the non-smelly ones didn’t smoke in their house/car.

        7. Specialk9*

          I can always smell the smoke on people who come back in from outdoor smoking breaks, so I’m dubious about this claim.

        8. LS*

          I’m sensitive to cigarette smoke (it’s a migraine trigger) but I have known a few smokers who didn’t bother me. All of them smoked outside only, and didn’t then try to drench themselves in perfume/cologne/body spray to cover it up!

          1. The Supreme Troll*

            I’m sorry about that, because the odor can still linger for sometime in such a confined space (even if he’s standing outside the car to smoke).

    2. nonymous*

      Oh this is a great idea! I like how it respects the so-called choice of the smoker of when to quit (I say so-called because it is an addiction, with all the baggage that entails) while respecting the health of those on the second/third hand side.

      Having said that, OP’s employer should also make all the cessation resources available to this new worker. I don’t know the gymnastics required to extend services to a temp-to-hire staff member, but if she gets hired on a change to non-smoker status will reduce health premiums in a small company.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        Asking someone to switch to e-cigs is not respecting the “so-called choice of the smoker of when to quit” what if the smoker does not want to quit. I don’t think OP or the employer can really ask smoker to make changes to their personal life.

        1. nonymous*

          “what if the smoker does not want to quit” – isn’t that the point of using e-cigs? get the nicotine buzz, get the experience of taking a drag, but without the impact of the smell and second-hand smoke?

          There are a lot of places (some states) that ban smoking as part of an indoor air quality law, and staff affected by those laws are left to nicotine patches and gum to survive their work day. I’m not suggesting that co-worker never touch a cigarette again, just that she use e-cigs during the workday and to manage the smell in her clothes/hair. It’s not ideal, but neither is telling the migraine sufferer to deal with it on their own.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            Okay I understand what you are saying now, I thought you meant to say the employer should ask the smoker that they fully switch to e-cigs at home and at work. I meant to say what if the smoker does not want to quit non electronic cigarettes, I have met many people who don’t like e-cigs and prefer the “real” thing. I agree with you that employers can enforce smoke free buildings/campuses and as a non-smoker I am in favor of that. But I think it would be overstepping boundaries for my employer to suggest what alternatives such as gum or patch I should use.

          2. Way over yonder*

            You should never tell a smoker to use the nicotine patch or gum to tide them over during the workday. This is extremely dangerous if they are still smoking! It can cause a heart attack!

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I like pairing this with ventilation and air filtration. The e-cigs won’t diminish the third-hand smoke concern, but vanquishing the smell will be huge.

      OP, I have environmentally triggered asthma, and if I were in your shoes, I’d be making weekly (if not daily) trips to the ER. Your concerns are totally valid, especially since you’re getting migraines (!!). I like Alison’s by screen proposal, and I think it’s worrh pushing for.

      1. Natalie*

        How do you figure ecigs don’t diminish the third-hand smoke concern? In addition to their being fewer carcinogens in the product (possibly zero? obviously we don’t know that yet), as far as I’ve experienced e-cig exhalations are way less linger-y than tobacco smoke.

        1. sap*

          E-cigs still contain all of the carcinogens found in any nicotine product, just not all of the carcinogens found in any *combusted* product; the natural carcinogens in tobacco haven’t disappeared just because they smell less.

          Nobody really knows whether e-cigs significantly decrease absorption of those carcinogens, either by the smokers or second- and third-hand bystanders, because e-cigs are both too new for long-term longitudinal studies to be completed on their effects even if funding was fully supported, and because both pro and con e-cig groups have made it difficult for studies to be performed using federal funding, albeit for opposite reasons. So it’s a 100% reasonable concern-there are two types of cigarette carcinogens (from combustion and from the plant itself), only one of which is a no-brainer as far as being eliminated by e-cigs.

          1. Natalie*

            PCBH said “won’t diminish” not “won’t eliminate”. If there’s no burning, it sounds like the concern would in fact be diminished from what you’re saying.

            1. sap*

              Not necessarily–the proportion second-hand harms coming from environmental exposure to residue (rather than combusted smoke in the air) that are attributable to combustion residue vs tobacco component residue is not well-understood. Some people believe that, due to the difference in marijuana residue toxicity vs. tobacco residue toxicity (both of which produce *combustion* at largely the same rate but in some studies, cancer at very different rates) a large share is attributable to tobacco itself, though from what I’ve read there isn’t enough data to support that either way.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I was probably imprecise. I meant “won’t eliminate” but was chiming in by phone while between meetings.

            1. sap*

              There are many e-cigarette liquids that claim to have tobacco extracts in them. I am not aware of any studies as to whether these products extract without the many carcinogens in tobacco, but I think it’s a safe bet to say they probably contain some of those compounds.

              1. sap*

                I’m not making the claim that e-cigs are just as carcinogenic or whatever, for all we know e-cigs don’t get hot enough to convert whatever carcinogens are in tobacco extract into a form that will be harmful to the body. But there just isn’t enough evidence either way to say, and in my experience expectant mothers tend to err on the side of caution when dealing with an open question as to harm. I have no opinion as to whether that’s reasonable or not.

                1. sap*

                  Maybe there’s a distinction among refillable cartridge products and self-contained products that I’m not aware of that’s causing the confusion here? It’s definitely very easy to find what purports to be genuine tobacco extract liquids that you can use to fill your own cartridges and pre-filled cartridges.

                  If so, sorry for using the wrong terminology (though I think colloquially most people think of both as “e-cigs”).

              1. ket*

                Nicotine is a great insecticide, actually — grow a tobacco plant and dry the leaves — they make a good household pest control ingredient if you don’t have pets or small kids.

          2. Julia the Survivor*

            No, they don’t! That’s misinformation from demonizing them against the evidence. Please see the link I posted below.

            1. sap*

              Your link hasn’t gotten through, but I have a lot of trouble believing that aerosolized tobacco extracts (especially given the paucity of regulation and wide variation in extraction methods available) are well-studied enough to say that they do not contain the carcinogens present in raw tobacco.

              While not all liquid vaporization smoking products contain tobacco extract, many do. And that’s not even looking at things like the new Morris vaporization product available outside the US.

            2. Cube Ninja*

              While there -are- e-liquid manufacturers that specifically make liquid flavored with tobacco extracts, they are few and far between. The vast majority use food flavorings from a small handful of companies.

              This is relatively far off topic, but there’s definitely a lot of your terminology that’s concerning me about your understanding on this topic (ie: calling something ‘smoking products’ where no combustion exists, carcinogens in nicotine, etc).

              1. sap*

                Yes, I clearly chose my words poorly when I referenced nicotine products rather than tobacco products. However, tobacco extract is very common in my market?

              2. Julia the Survivor*

                This is the point I was trying to make. When e-cigs first came in I was happy and assumed smokers would be encouraged to switch. Since I’m allergic to tobacco smoke, that would be wonderful!
                Instead, the Cancer Society, Non-smoker’s Rights, WHO, and every other health organization and government demonized the e-cigs with no evidence and said they’re as bad as tobacco cigs and made similar laws about using them. They even claimed they don’t help smokers quit, which is obviously not true!
                The article I posted reviewed several studies as well as the authors’ own study of smokers with asthma who switched to e-cigs. They determined e-cigs are 96% less harmful and most of what the health orgs were claiming was not true. E-cigs save lives. What’s known of nicotine indicates it’s not very harmful, and the small amount of other chemicals in the vapor aren’t enough to cause serious problems with normal use. Annals of Allergy Feb. 2016, Evidence-based Counseling.
                Of course, if they add tobacco extract to the vapor that would make it more harmful.
                While I was getting the link yesterday I noticed a couple of other articles, if anyone’s interested.
                Before all this happened I had been involved with the Cancer Society and the Non-Smoker’s Rights group. I was very disappointed with them and the whole thing made me wonder what’s really going on here. :(

        2. sap*

          (and that’s laying aside that it’s a poorly regulated industry, and many manufacturers use substances with widely accepted, known, serious adverse health effects, including carcinogenic substances, in their liquid formulas. Personally, I think they’re still a much better option for everyone because of the difference for asthmatic/allergic bystanders alone, but the jury really is still out on cancer in second- and third-hand populations).

    4. Faithful Reader*

      +1 for the nose-blindness thing. I’m an ex-smoker and when I finally quit, one of the first things I noticed was a vastly-improved sense of smell. I’ll also throw out a +1 for the e-cig. The odor is a lot less unpleasant (particularly if they opt for one of the more natural “flavors” of e-liquid — say, a true tobacco flavor as opposed to, like, bubblegum or something) and it was actually the thing that helped me to quit. I’m off of both cigarettes AND e-cigs now.

    5. Anony*

      She may also not realize that covering up the smell does not eliminate the problem and in many cases actually makes it worse. It is possible that if she stopped trying to cover up the scent and they got a good quality air filter for the office that it would be less of a problem.

    6. Julia the Survivor*

      E-cigs are 96% less harmful than tobacco cigs! If you get her to switch you will be doing her a huge favor!
      This is the article from the Allergy Journal that presents the studies and calls out the health organizations for demonizing e-cigs against the evidence. Unfortunately you have to pay to download the whole thing, but you could probably get it at a library.

      1. sap*

        I’m assuming that you were referencing this article above–I’m not going to pay for it, but since you have, do you think you could block quote what the 96% number refers to? Is it overall user respiratory effects, content of the vapor itself vs smoke, etc? I’m not trying to be pedantic, I really just don’t know what the article is claiming and whether I need to revise my beliefs because it hasn’t made any claims I don’t already agree with in the abstract. I don’t see the 96% number in the abstract, and from the abstract it doesn’t seem to say anything about bystander exposure which I thought was what we were talking about (or the type of vaporized liquid studied, which I understand has a significant impact on how much of an improvement over the norm you get-from your earlier comments about ecigs not having any tobacco, I assume that they were studying non-tobacco liquids, which while I hope that OP’s coworker would choose, are by no means the universe of e-cigs).

        1. Cube Ninja*

          Bystander exposure is extremely minimal if we’re talking about potential TSNAs or carcinogens. Peering Through the Mist by Burstyn et al is a good paper, relatively easy to find without paywall. Michael Siegel of Boston University has written quite a bit on this subject as well.

        2. Cube Ninja*

          Note that I’m not touching scents in the above comment. There’s absolutely a potential for allergic reactions or simply discomfort to the smell of ecigs based on the chemical composition of the flavorings in a given e-liquid.

          1. sap*

            Yep, sure. But I think we’re specifically talking about *clothing and surface residue* here, right? I don’t think there are studies on that. Am I misreading the research?

            Obviously there is a strong correlation between the concentration of any particular compound in the air at the time of use and how much residue will be on a user’s clothing afterwards, but third-hand smoke risk itself is not well-studied yet (being less than a decade old), and the relationship between e-cigs and third-hand exposure is less well-studied than that associated with traditional cigarettes.

            I have never said anything to the effect of “e-cigs are not safer on an acute basis for second-hand bystanders than regular cigarettes;” in fact I’ve said several times that available data suggests they are, though *there have not been any long-term epidemiological analyses of different second-hand cancer risks* because e-cigs haven’t been around for long enough *to do such a study,* so we should not draw any conclusions about the way such a study would shake down–it’s not, like, totally uncommon for studies on chronic exposures to have surprising findings in light of acute exposure studies, so *we do not yet have enough data* to draw any definitive conclusion about chronic exposures. I don’t think that’s fear-mongering; the acute benefits should be enough to conclude that e-cigs are safer, even though we do not have reliable information about long-term benefits, because, again, you need *something to exist for the long-term* to do such a study.

            However, there are lots of potential factors about e-cigs that could affect their third-hand toxicity, such as the size of particulates affecting long-term adherence to clothing (yes, the molecules of any particular chemical are always the same size, but it matters from a materials perspective whether they are in a clump or not as to penetration of threads, which could mean that one thing that makes aerosolized tobacco much safer for second-hand bystanders makes them more persistent for third-hand bystanders), use patterns (increased likelihood of indoor usage–no breeze/repeated contact with exposed furniture and the person’s clothes), and whether the unique-to-ecigs chemicals have any effect on the adherance/longevity of TSNAs/other carcinogens to clothing–its not totally out of the realm of possibility that one of the common additives sticks to clothing really well and brings the other compounds to the party.

            If there are studies on that, I’d really like to know! I use e-cigarettes, and I like to know what I’m getting myself and those around me into. But OP was *specifically worried about third-hand exposure,* and it is not well-studied! And chronic second-hand exposure to e-cigarettes isn’t either. I don’t think it’s appropriate to extrapolate the known, short-term, second-hand inhalation upsides beyond the known, short-term upsides, aside from saying that existing evidence SUGGESTS there may also be third-hand and long-term second-hand harm reductions as well.

            1. Cube Ninja*

              TBH, every paper I’ve read on third hand smoking (let alone vaping) reads like a pile of woo. That’s not to say there isn’t some potential for the science behind it, but when I consider it in the context of a comparison against everything else we’re exposed to on a daily basis, I just can’t bring myself to get worked up at all about potential risks of third hand exposure. Will there be exceptions to that rule? Of course, but I think for most folks, it’s primarily about annoyance and discomfort, which are equally valid reasons to ask someone to change their behavior in a professional environment.

              With e-cigs, I’m virtually unconcerned about third hand exposure given the contents of the exhaled aerosol. If we assume 60-70% absorption of nicotine and a properly functioning device, most available research points to there being ridiculously small amounts of potential carcinogens/toxins/etc. You’re definitely well educated enough to know the dose makes the poison! :)

              Either way, to the OP’s concern, not arguing that one at all just as I wouldn’t argue that someone could have acute respiratory distress from vaping. Some folks are more sensitive to things than others, allergies, etc etc. Any number of possibilities.

              1. sap*

                That is a fair point about third-hand smoke being somewhat woo-sounding in some papers. Though I’d argue that if there’s no real risk, e-cigs are just as risky as the real thing! I, too, cannot get worked up over it.

                My concern about chronic v. acute second-hand exposure to e-vapors is largely *the improved absorption* in the first-hand user strongly suggests that second-hand bystanders will also have improved absorption of the leftovers. I think it’s premature to say that one outweighs the other with any certainty, though I understand why some of my earlier statements came off as dismissing current research when I am looking at them now. I apologize if I was hostile.

              2. sap*

                I also apologize, to the extent I did so, if I implied that large-data set epidemiological analyses of cancer are the 100% best way to identify carcinogens we should worry about, because regression is hard and I know they definitely ARE NOT (at least in isolation).

          2. sap*

            (I get that this is fairly far afield and would be happy to take it to email, because I think I must be missing something since you seem to know what you’re talking about and think I’m being ignorant).

            1. Cube Ninja*

              Not at all ignorant, just that it sounded an awful lot like the usual talking points from folks who’d prefer to ban e-cigs entirely, but that’s *definitely* getting far afield. It’s absolutely clear you’re more than passingly familiar with the acadaemia and body of research, I just like stirring the pot because I’m one of the folks who often writes talking points for the other side of that and I get very nitpicky about the language involved. That said, you’re more than welcome to e-mail me – jason@notblowingsmoke.org. :)

            2. Julia the Survivor*

              Sap, I’d be happy to email you the article! I’m not comfortable posting my email here though.
              Maybe Alison could connect us?

        3. Julia the Survivor*

          I’ll have to wait till lunch to look up your reference, and meanwhile I don’t think residue would be such a big problem because it’s steam, it floats away and dissipates. I don’t know if it’s been studied though. I think most people use it outside, inside there might be a little residue but I’m sure not as much or as stinky as with tobacco. It would be like residue from cooking rice in the kitchen. Steam.

        4. Julia the Survivor*

          Sap, here is the quote in the Conclusions section of the article:
          “under normal conditions
          of use, vapor toxicology is far less problematic than that of
          conventional cigarettes, e-vapor products are at least 96% less
          harmful compared with combustible cigarettes, and exclusive ECs
          users have significantly lower urine levels of tobacco smoke toxicants
          and carcinogens compared with cigarette smokers.”
          Also in the Potential Benefits section:
          “To date there is no evidence to suggest that there are any
          clinically significant adverse lung effects, at least acutely. Longterm
          improvement has been described in a large group of
          “healthy” smokers who were invited to quit or decrease their
          tobacco consumption by switching to a first-generation EC.”
          If there’s a good-sized library near you or a university with science and premed, they might have the Allergy Journal and you could see the whole article there. :)

  6. Teapot Lending Program Manager*

    “I’m particularly concerned about thirdhand smoke because I’m pregnant.”

    This particular sentence comes across as a little bit high maintenance. I’m not sure there’s much medical backing at this point for this concern, aside from the fact that such residue is simply harmful. It also ultimately suggests that some should just not be allowed to smoke at all during work hours, as the residue will remain whenever someone takes a smoke break. And that’s a different issue entirely.

    1. Leatherwings*

      I disagree. People DO have different medical concerns when they’re pregnant, and there’s quite a bit of literature that suggests third hand smoke is risky, if not proven to be a serious danger. It makes total sense that someone with different medical needs (i.e. are pregnant) have different needs than other people.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      I hope its not that bad, because I live with a very considerate smoking housemate who only smokes outside, and I really try not be neurotic about touching shared objects / smelling occasional smoke on fabrics. I tell myself it’s fine and we’re all probably exposed to worse things throughout the day :P

      1. Undine*

        I think the studies where they’ve detected an effect of third-hand smoke are talking about rooms that have been saturated by years and years of smoking — think living in an Italian second-class train car. Children are especially susceptible because they crawl across those surfaces and touch and lick everything. Living with a person who smokes outside and washes themselves and their clothes frequently does not expose you to the same level of risk.

        1. A Non E. Mouse*

          Children are especially susceptible because they crawl across those surfaces and touch and lick everything.

          As a parent, married to a now non-smoker (4 weeks without a cigarette for him, so happy!): every medical form I every filled out of the kids asks if they live with a smoker, and if the answer was yes then the nurse/doc follow up with: does the person smoke in the home, outside the home, in a car the kids while the kids are in it, in a car the kids ride in (but not while in it), etc.

          So medical professionals are at least presenting it as a Big Effin’ Deal. Without any further knowledge than that, we made choices while he was still smoking to severely limit the smoke entering the house/the kids riding in a car that had been smoked in.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            So maybe I shouldn’t get into this, but I think there’s a difference between being pregnant in the office with a coworker who smokes (so, sources of exposure are whatever might be lingering on her clothes, which I think might be more easily mitigated) and a toddler walking around licking the walls / windows of a room or a car where someone smokes regularly.

          2. To your point*

            A lot of those count as second hand smoke exposure, not third hand, though.

            I’m not saying it isn’t a concern, but those aren’t third hand.

    3. Hills to Die on*

      Is it high maintenance though? I don’t know the effects of third hand smoke on fetuses but it makes sense that if the cancer-causing chemicals are in the air that the OP is breathing, it could be harmful to the baby.

        1. Leatherwings*

          C’mon, though. If the coworker was burning toast everyday, it would make sense for the OP to say something about that and have the coworker make different arrangements for their toast. There’s quite a bit of precedent for people to have scent-free work areas too.

          And let’s be real; there is a HUGE difference between a scented candle and cigarette smoke in terms of health impacts on a fetus.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            Third hand smoke though?? I’m not saying OP should light it up, but … just being around someone who had as smoke earlier is death to fetuses now? I dunno man.

            1. else*

              I’m gonna figure, that if it can cause asthma attacks, which I can tell you it does for at least one person, it can cause damage to a fetus. It’s bad. Why are you so sure it’s not?

              Not to mention it’s highly inconsiderate to choose to stink in public places – I think it should be in the same category as workplace hygiene. Everybody knows that active smokers stink, and everybody knows that there are basic things that can be done to reduce this problem, so those things should be expected and required in work or social settings.

          2. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I think it depends where the toast is being burnt, if the coworker really likes burnt toast and is burning it at home I think it would be an overreach to to tell/ask the coworker to stop eating burnt toast, if the coworker was burning the toast in the office then yes it is reasonable to say don’t burn the toast.

          3. Julia the Survivor*

            Scented candles also make many people sick. There is evidence that babies can be sensitized to allergens in the womb.
            I expect there are studies of the effects of third-hand smoke on fetuses on PubMed if anyone wants to look.

    4. Clare*

      I don’t think this is high maintenance at all. Smoking is gross and harmful to everyone, not just the smoker. OP should not feel bad about raising this issue.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Meh, I feel like this is the crux of the problem – people feel like they have a moral right to tell smokers they shouldn’t do it, and that there’s no reason anybody should be doing that anyway because “it’s a filthy habit” or whatever. (I say this as someone who doesn’t like the smell of smoke). But approaching it this way is just going to just lead OP down a rabbit hole and not get her closer to what she wants, which is to work without feeling sick. Smoking is not illegal, the coworker isn’t doing anything *at* her, and OP doesn’t really have the high ground here to insist that the coworker stop or have to be super apologetic.

        1. Leatherwings*

          OP has the right and responsbility to protect herself and her pregnancy. She’s not getting on a high horse to say “you should never smoke” but that doesn’t mean she can’t say “I cannot be around the smell of smoke right now; it makes me sick and it poses a risk to my pregnancy”

          That is not a rabbit hole; that is a reasonable concern that she has every right to express and the employer should accommodate her.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            That is well said. It’s not about telling people not to smoke or claiming faux moral high ground. It’s a scientific fact that smoking is harmful to her and her unborn child.

            1. myswtghst*

              “It’s not about telling people not to smoke or claiming faux moral high ground.”

              But I think the key to this (and I’m saying this as a former smoker / current pregnant person) is to focus on changes OP can make, as it seems like the temp is already making a good faith effort to minimize the smell from her end. It seems a bit of an overstep (to me) to ask the temp to switch to e-cigs, but it would make perfect sense to set up an air purifier or ask the manager to arrange a different office setup, if possible.

              1. Lil Fidget*

                Yes I think that’s ultimately all I meant to say. I realize I’m in the minority on this letter but as long as we can all keep it civil I don’t mind the discussion :D

              2. Julia the Survivor*

                What if OP still gets sick from the fumes after the baby is born? What if it affects her breast milk?
                What about her colleague who gets migraines from it? That’s not going to go away.
                The employer needs to find a long-term solution, not just for the duration of the pregnancy.

                1. myswtghst*

                  Then they can continue the conversations with the temp and their boss, and see about a different office setup. I’m not saying the OP and her coworker can’t continue to talk to the boss about having the temp sit in a different office and use screen-sharing, or brainstorm about finding other ways to mitigate the effects. I’m just saying it’s not reasonable to expect the temp to quit smoking (a process which I know firsthand can create a whole new world of unhealthy and unpleasant mental and physical effects for the quitter) or switch to an e-cig (which we do not have the long-term studies to show is any safer to anyone than smoking).

        2. Clare*

          I agree that OP can’t really tell the coworker to stop doing it at all, I’m not trying to suggest that. My point was more that OP should not feel bad about addressing this issue and asking for some sort of solution to be figured out.

          I don’t see this as a moral issue or “filthy habit”, which is the way most smokers like to frame it because it advantages them. Smoking is an actual danger to other people, not just the smoker, and people have a right to stand up for their own personal health and safety.

          1. Audrey Puffins*

            What’s the saying? “Your right to swing your fist ends where my face begins”? I’m not a smoker myself, but I do live with a pair of smokers, and because they are efficient at keeping the smell out of the house, I have no need to form opinion whatsoever on their smoking. If they were smoking indoors and tainting my belongings or making me feel sick, however, then yes, I *would* have an opinion. :)

          2. Sylvan*


            Also, the framing of the health effects of smoking as something like “shaming” really grates on me.

            You know those anti-smoking ads that show people with dramatic health problems? That stuff actually happened to the smokers in my family. It’s not all fiction by an anti-smoking conspiracy. Talking about those things isn’t shaming. It’s just fact.

            1. Lil Fidget*

              But we’re saying she *can’t even be in the same office* with someone who has had a smoke *earlier,* because of possible health impacts to an unborn baby.

              1. Kj*

                Yep. And pregnant woman can’t do other things, like lift heavy stuff in their third trimester. Pregnancy is a medical condition that comes with restrictions. This isn’t the OP being hysterical or lying to get out of work. This is the OP expressing a medical need, one that has scientific backing. Surely the company can come up with a reasonable solution that protects the OP and smoking co-worker.

        3. Kate 2*

          You’ve been all over saying you think this is more about prejudice against smokers than about the health risks which you say aren’t real, despite the fact that people have been posting many links for you about the health risks. Maybe read those links first and see what you think?

    5. GoingAnon*

      There have been scientific studies on the effects of thirdhand smoke. A quick Google search brings up a 2013 study which found that thirdhand smoke causes DNA damage and that the effects of chronic exposure are worse than acute exposure, and a 2017 which found that thirdhand smoke affects affects neonatal bodymass and immunity development in mice.

      It’s not really being high maintenance when there are studies starting to show how thirdhand smoke affects neonatal development. And even if that study didn’t exist, it’s not high maintenance to not want to feel sick or get headaches at work. No one is saying that the temp can’t smoke at all ever during the work day, but it’s not unreasonable for the OP to ask her manager to move work stations to help this situation.

    6. Holly Flax*

      That’s a little harsh. The OP’s primary concern is the migraines/nose burning and the third hand smoke is just icing on the cake, particularly because she is pregnant. Third hand smoke gives me terrible headaches and nausea so I feel her pain.

    7. Ann O'Nemity*

      Wait a second. There ARE medical studies saying that prenatal exposure to third-hand smoke poses health risks to the unborn baby. A one minute Google shows that.

    8. Natalie*

      It also ultimately suggests that some should just not be allowed to smoke at all during work hours

      My understanding is that the smoking residue (thirdhand smoke) is quite long lasting, so it probably doesn’t matter what time of day the coworker actually smokes. So its rather a non-starter anyway, even if she was willing to cut out day time cigarettes.

    9. Wendy Darling*

      I have asthma and have had asthma attacks triggered by standing in an enclosed space with someone who smokes a lot or has smoked recently. I likely would not be able to share an office with someone who regularly smoked in their home/in the clothes they were wearing.

      I don’t know about medical backing, I just know it makes my lungs flip shit.

    10. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This isn’t high maintenance—it’s a health concern that’s backed up by science.

      Smoking has significant health effect beyond the smoker. Why pretend otherwise?

    11. Jessie the First (or second)*

      “I’m not sure there’s much medical backing ”

      There is in fact actual evidence (for example, a 2011 UCLA study) to suggest that significant exposure to third-hand smoke may be harmful to a fetus. So she’s not being high-maintenance, she is being aware and cautious.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I really hope OP writes back in and lets us know what her doctor tells her, I will be interested to hear the current medical advice.

        1. Jessie the First (or second)*

          3 years ago from my OB, the medical advice was to avoid smoke, first-hand, second-hand, and third-hand. I’m sure someone else can pop in to say they were told something different. When it comes to risk levels for toxins in pregnancy, “current medical advice” varies pretty widely, outside of the extremes (i.e., no one will say smoking is fine or getting drunk regularly is fine, some *will* say not to worry about smoke as long as you’re not around it much, or that a glass of wine a week is fine, etc).

          The point is that there is a level of risk to third-hand smoke and so she is not being irrational with her concern. That’s all, and nothing more, really. This seems like a weird thing to get hung up on?

          1. Kj*

            Sexism explains the hang up. Women are often accused of being high maintenance or irrational, especially when they are pregnant or asking for needs to be met. I think the comment that started this entire thread has an air of sexism to it, which is frustrating. I doubt the OP was aware of the sexism in the comment- many people don’t seem to realize when they are unconsciously aping sexist statements.

    12. Case of the Mondays*

      I was going to suggest that you know your audience. So far it seems like your office has cared and tried to help. The younger generation seems to know and care about this much more. It is harder with people that grew up literally smoking at their desk. You can just say “third hand smoke” to a younger person but for someone that used to smoke at their desk, you might need to explain a bit more or just focus on how the smell is making you feel ill.

      If you are in the line of work where clothes get dry cleaned, maybe she can bring them from the dry cleaner to the office and get dressed at work so her clothes don’t smell like her house. This is a tough situation. I’m in one of those states that prohibits discrimination against smokers so I know it can be really hard. We don’t have to let them take smoke breaks at work but we can’t make hiring/firing decisions or take disciplinary action for them just being a smoker. Smelling like smoke is a bit of a gray area.

    13. Fake old Converse shoes (not in the US)*

      My nose gets super sensitive while I’m on my period, and I feel sick whenever I’m near trash cans, Axe deodorant or heavy smokers. If I ever get pregnant I know I will throw up.

        1. nonegiven*

          There are some things that don’t agree with me, I don’t care if they cut the amount they used down to 10% of what they used before, whatever is in it that bothers me is still in that 10% and bothers me just as much.

    14. Q*

      Definitely not high maintenance. The science shows that thirdhand smoke is harmful, and secondhand smoke can be even more harmful than simply smoking yourself. And with an unborn child who’s still developing? Yeah, I’d be damned concerned about anything that would harm them.

      That’s the reason smoking can be such a contentious issue–it’s not just affecting a smoker’s health, it affects everyone who comes anywhere near them.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I’ve actually heard this! The person smoking has the filter between them and the smoke, but the person sitting across from them is getting unfiltered smoke. I didn’t realize that “third hand smoke” meant that somebody who had smoked earlier in the day was now sitting in your office though. I thought it was like, if they smoked a cigarette *in* your office earlier in the day.

          1. Natalie*

            I think thirdhand smoke could be either, actually, since it’s ultimately the particles from the smoke after they’ve settled out of the air. They could be on your desk if someone has smoked in your office, or they could be on your coworkers clothes because she smokes in her car.

    15. Formerly Arlington*

      When I was pregnant, the smell of hot dogs cooking in the cafeteria literally made me throw up…I get how hard it is to have that heightened food sensitivity. But I also don’t know that cigarette scent is any worse than really bad body odor, people who put fish in the microwave and cologne doused by the gallon. I feel like it’s a little more socially acceptable to speak up against a smoker and I am not sure I think that’s fair. Starting to smoke is voluntary, but often done at a young and foolish age, and then once you’re hooked, it’s a true addiction. I wish there were a way we could not “smoke-shame” and still encourage people not to smoke. I feel for the temp in this situation.

      1. sap*

        I think that it isn’t different than speaking up about serious health issues caused by cologne, lack of coworker showers, or excessive scented microwave incidents. If those were making my pregnant coworker vomit and have migraines (which you can’t even take normal medication for during pregnancy), I would absolutely expect the person wearing a gallon of cologne/bringing in microwave fish/coming straight from the gym to make changes so that my pregnant coworker could do her job again.

    16. Kj*

      I’m going to point out that the framing of this is a little sexist, as women are often considered to be “high maintenance” and are often accused of being irrational when they ask for their needs to be met. The person writing in is expressing a need. There are a multitude of ways the company can meet her needs and her coworkers needs, without violating any one’s rights. Why is she high maintenance when she asks her needs to be met? And yes, pregnancy is a worrying time when women are told that there are many dangers, so women who are pregnant tend to be more up on the research and are encouraged to avoid anything that might in the least be risky. And pregnancy sites do usually advise avoiding smoking, as well as avoiding 2nd and 3rd hand smoke.

    17. GrandBargain*

      It seems that OP is complaining more about fourth-hand smoke… conflating the unpleasant odor and potentially dangerous third hand smoke. Third-hand smoke (as noted by the many many mentions of and links to studies of the subject) comprises the residual molecules that have settled on furniture, walls, floors, household objects, and perhaps clothing. These molecules are then picked up from those surfaces by coming into contact with them (as babies and infants might do).

      However, what OP is saying is something else entirely. Apart from the odor emanating from Jane’s clothing, and assuming OP is not in the habit of brushing her hands across Jane’s clothing or hair (which would be an entirely different problem), she seems to be saying that those high molecular weight substances molecules are somehow being lifted off Jane’s clothing back into the office air where OP inhales them. That is entirely improbable and totally unsupported by the research.

      Third hand smoke is not an issue in this situation.

      1. sap*

        This is a really good point. I was assuming that OP has to operate in close enough proximity/on the same equipment as the temp such that they would be picking up clothing residue from shared surfaces with some frequency; OP should probably verify with her doctor that what she’s concerned about is, in fact, a third-hand risk.

      2. Anonny*

        Actually, third-hand smoke does comprise smoke which has settled onto clothing. It is a significant risk to young children and pregnant women. I don’t see where you’re getting that this is not the case with the OP.

  7. Murphy*

    Oh man, when I was pregnant I didn’t have a ton of issues with being super sensitive to smell except when it came to cigarette smoke. I swear I could smell that a mile away. It’s good that your temp at least seems willing to work with you on it so I hope you can work something out.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I have a super-sniffer anyway, but when I was pregnant I could literally smell someone smoking in a passing car on the road when we both had our windows rolled up. Sometimes I swear I saw the person smoking and my brain filled in the smell. Pregnancy smell sensitivity is WEIRD. I feel for ya, OP. Hope it works out.

      1. Jar*

        This is unrelated to pregnancy … I can smell someone smoking in a car with windows rolled up and with my own rolled up as well.
        OP needs to drop the pregnancy angle, align with office mate and approach management bout the impact of the temp’s personal habits. Making the argument all about pregnancy diminishes the issue here. I’m worried about thirdhand smoke, period.

  8. Lil Fidget*

    I think you shouldn’t try to focus on whether the temp has reduced their smoking (I assume you’re kind of hoping she might quit?) – I think this kind of thing is outside the scope of what coworkers can expect from each other, and is just going to take you into a weird space where she’s doing this *at* you. My advice is to focus on what you can do to improve your own experience within the office during this time.

    1. Project Manager*

      I didn’t get the impression at all that the OP is trying to get the temp to quit smoking. In fact, she outright said she doesn’t acre if people make a choice for themselves to smoke. I think she’s looking for suggestions on how to minimize the impact to her own person.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I guess it’s the line “She still smokes at home and admitted to my office mate that she is only down from a pack a day to three-quarters of a pack a day” that made me feel that she was expecting / hoping for a reduction in the office-mate’s smoking. But you’re right, she says she doesn’t mind smokers in principle so we should take her at her word.

      2. LouiseM*

        She said that, but she clearly doesn’t mean it. For someone who smokes as heavily as it sounds like the temp does, cutting out smoking during the entire workday is already a huge sacrifice that the OP appear to be taking for granted. She says she doesn’t care if the temp smokes, but since she specifically says the problem is that the temp smokes during non-work hours…how else could you possibly interpret that?

        1. Morning Glory*

          The problem is that the temp smells strongly of smoke, to the point where multiple people have commented, and it’s having a severe impact on the pregnant OP.

          The smell is the problem, so if the temp did not smell, the OP would not care if the temp smoked after work. This could be accomplished by the temp smoking in the morning before her shower, and then putting on clean, non-smoking clothing for the day – and then smoking all night long after work if she wants.

          If you inserted any other smell-inducing activity in place of smoking (cardio that works up a sweat, cleaning a litterbox, etc.) it would be reasonable to expect the employee to ensure they remove the odor before going to work. That does not mean you’re against the person working out or owning cats, and it does not matter that the activity itself was outside of work hours.

  9. Espeon*

    OP I really feel for you and your workmate! I find the smell that clings to smokers (or things which have been in a smokey environment) awful at the best of times, and I am a migraine sufferer who is affected by smells also. Neither of you are being oversensitive here. I do hope this can be resolved well and quickly!

  10. Jesmlet*

    I must be the only one whose mind is blown by this: “But 29 states and D.C. have laws that bar discriminating against smokers in hiring”

    How are there smoker protection laws in over half the country? I also learned today that my state is one of 4 where there are “broader state statutes that prohibit employers from discriminating against any employee who engages in a lawful activity.” Not saying this shouldn’t exist… I’m honestly just shocked by it.

    I get physically nauseous around the smell of smoke and I would not be able to tolerate this working environment. I have heavy smokers in my family and know how much the smell just sinks into your skin, clothes, hair, etc if you do it often enough. Hopefully there’s a convenient way to train her from farther away, like maybe one of those remote log-in sites if your work is mostly computer-related? Or you can just make a ton of instructional documents?

    1. Leatherwings*

      I was surprised too. I don’t have a particularly strong opinion on whether those protections shouldn’t exist either, but there are more states with protections for smokers than there are LGBTQ+ people.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Wow, that’s kind of wild. It would be interesting to see when those smoking protection laws were enacted- in the past couple decades as regulations and blowback against tobacco have gotten more prevalent, or earlier in the century as a way of protecting workers’ rights to breaks/medical privacy?

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          In my state, I think it originated from employers “discriminating” against smokers to mitigate healthcare costs. Smokers made more claims and the cost of insurance was going up. I agree with laws that prevent employers from considering one’s cost on the group health insurance. The law can have other unintended consequences though like this situation.

      2. Antilles*

        It’s also odd that the states that have passed the laws run the political gamut – everywhere from rural, red states like North Dakota and Wyoming to urban, blue states like California and Oregon. So it’s not a left/right thing like other employment-related causes like minimum wage, unionizing, etc.

        1. Oregonian*

          Oregon is a blue state at a national level, but really isn’t a super blue state at the state level. We also aren’t an urban state…we have one major city (Portland) that has a population under 750,000.

      3. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I am not sure if the comment “But 29 states and D.C. have laws that bar discriminating against smokers in hiring” Alison made are laws directly related to smoking, or if it means that many States have laws that say you can’t discriminate against someone for partaking in legal activity. For example you can’t refuse to hire someone because they drink, if you are extremely anti-drinking.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          So, I googled it and then I read the Google results, not just the pull-quote at the top of the results.

          The 29 states cited (and DC) have laws that make it illegal to discriminate against employees for use of “lawful products outside the workplace” (where “lawful products” is apparently code for “cigarettes” for some reason) and those laws are titled Smoking Protection Laws, even though the phrase “lawful products” would by all logic also apply to alcohol and marijuana (in states where it’s legal).

          Most of these states have no laws to protect people for engaging in legal activity, only for consuming legal products. There are only 4 states that make it illegal to discriminate against someone for partaking in legal activity, like Alison said in the original article.

          1. Amy*

            Many places will absolutely prohibit marijuana use even in states that allow it. I’ve signed multiple employment agreements that explicitly stated I was not to use marijuana even if it was legal in the state and, if I were to test positive for it, I would be terminated immediately. This is a non-issue for me and I know many people still do it but marijuana users don’t seem to benefit from these laws because the drug is still illegal at the federal level.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I hate the tobacco lobby as much as the next person, but most smokers are chemically addicted to a *perfectly legal* substance, and just because smoking is A Filthy Habit(TM) doesn’t mean I’m ok with my smoker friends losing their jobs because they don’t have the resources or will to kick an addiction right now.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Someone’s right to smoke shouldn’t trump someone else’s health.

          I applaud employers that are offering smoking cessation resources. I also support the idea of smoke-free workplaces and campuses. And in cases like the OP’s, I really hope the employer can find an accommodation so that the smoker isn’t making coworkers sick.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I agree with you but the question is where do we draw the line. But I think you need to balance the actual health risk with the action being taken. I don’t think the bar should be any and all possible health risks need to be eliminated. Should I be able to ban my coworkers from driving to work because their is a risk that they could hit me in the parking lot as I am walking to work, or because their car exhaust makes the air dirty and poses a health hazard. There are many activities that people partake in that pose health risks that we still allow people to do. Driving is one of the riskiest things we do but we still allow people to drive.

            1. Ann O'Nemity*

              I guess the point I’m trying to make is that I like to the see the *employer* making accommodations or mitigating the risk. In your driving example, the employers should mitigate the risk by making their parking lots safe – well designed with available sidewalks, parking lines, sufficient lighting, speed bumps if needed, etc.

              And to answer your question of “Where to draw the line?” there’s no easy answer and it’s going to vary by situation. At some point, the risk is so great and the accommodations become too burdensome.

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                In that we are in agreement, the employer certainly should make reasonable accommodations so that smoker and OP can work together, like Alison said use remote programs so that they don’t have to be in the same room but can still work together, air filters, and fans. But what I don’t think the employer can do is tell someone to quit smoking, or switch to e-cigs.

              2. CmdrShepard4ever*

                Also I know this is silly but it would be really cool if the employer provided smoker and/or with hazmat suits for them to work in.

        2. emvic*

          If I may: it’s not only the chemical addiction. It is also the psychological addiction, which is even harder to overcome (as a side note, there is a distinct movement from “substance addiction” to “process addiction” as the core of the addiction phenomenon, that is the things going on in the brain carry the most weight. The chemicals just add another layer to that, but one can literally get addicted, in the clinical sense, to oreos. Some lab rats out there can testify to that).

        3. Anonymeece*

          Thank you for this.

          My state is not in one of the ones who are protected, and I would often see ads while job-searching that said, “No smokers.”

          Also, there is a wealth of scientific studies out there that point out the connection between mental illness and cigarettes. People with schizophrenia are *3 to 4 times* more likely to be addicted to smoking. (More here: https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-public-policy/tobacco-and-smoking). For some people, quitting smoking – or not starting in the first place! – is easy, but for some people, it works as a self-medicator.

          So yeah. I think a little sympathy for others is not uncalled for. If we say that no smokers are allowed to have jobs, or should only have *some* jobs, then you’re actually unintentionally punishing low-income people (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170324104933.htm) and people with mental illness.

          I’m not saying that the OP is wrong, or being high-maintenance: it’s a valid concern! And honestly, the fact that the temp has been trying to be accommodating, I think, shows that she understands that and is trying to be a polite smoker. But it doesn’t hurt to remember that smokers often *want* to quit, but there are a lot of factors that can make it harder, if not almost impossible, to do that. It’s not as simple as just doing it.

          1. Anon for this*

            Thank you for this. I started smoking at age 14 for reasons that I understand are now due to my undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder. Even after I managed to access medication and care for my mental illness, I still haven’t been able to kick the habit. Every time I try to quit I become manic and unfortunately there’s never really a good time to schedule 6-8 weeks of mania while I try to adjust my medications. I’m very ashamed of my smoking and try my best to hide it (and no one’s ever complained, but still), so thank you for these links and information for people who don’t know.

            1. strike*

              Im sure you’ve heard ot before but have you tried vaping? It can be hard at first because you’re also addicted to the other junk in cigs besides just nicotine but once you break past a point you skip all the tar. People can then step down on nic if they’d like to much easier than quitting all at once. This also replaces the habit of smoke breaks so you dont lose that routine.

          2. myswtghst*

            Thank you for sharing this! I think it’s easy for people to focus on smoking being a “choice” and ignore the cultural and mental health factors at play with addiction.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, I did not realize this was a thing. What I’ve always believed and heard (apparently wrongly!) was basically that it was fine as long as you were willing to accept that “no smokers allowed” might reduce your candidate pool and make it harder to fill positions – no different than any other specific requirement.

    2. Natalie*

      A lot of the laws in question aren’t written specifically to protect smoking, but are more general laws that prohibit discriminating against employees for lawful off-duty activities.

      1. Natalie*

        Hmmm, on second look, it looks like a bunch of them are specific and a bunch passed around the same time. I would bet there was concerted lobbying.

          1. Natalie*

            Wouldn’t surprise me. Most of the laws that specifically protect tobacco use were passed between 1990-1994, which I seem to recall is when a lot of state level Clean Indoor Air Acts were passed. So perhaps there was a lot of lobbying activity, both pro and anti smoking, around that time?

            Just out of curiosity I looked up all the individual laws, and of the 30, 18 of them are specific to tobacco use. The rest are a mix: any lawful activity (4), use of any lawful product (6), alcohol and tobacco (1), and protection for state employee smokers only (1).

            Montana, always the labor legislation oddball, specifically protects lawful marijuana smokers from employment discrimination.

        1. Jesmlet*

          Of the 29 states plus D.C, only 4 of them have broad laws, looks like every other one is specific to tobacco use.

          1. Natalie*

            I have a comment in moderation, but that’s not quite the case – 18/30 are tobacco specific, the rest are broader and one narrower.

              1. Natalie*

                A few of them seem like they were probably targeted at tobacco without specifically calling it out – they protect use of “any lawful product” but otherwise quite a bit of the wording is *exactly* the same as the tobacco-specific ones.

                The collection of states is interesting. It’s definitely note what I expected – my state has pretty strict anti-smoking laws (first Clean Indoor Air Act in the country) and we have a law protecting off-duty use of “lawful products”.

      2. Hellanon*

        The fun part about these laws is that now they protect pot smokers. I’m all in favor of the tax dollars that will flow from legalizing pot, but I hate hate hate the smell, and having to deal with people who smell like weed (or decide to smoke it in public) is just as unpleasant as dealing with people who smell like cigarette smoke.

        1. Q*

          I feel the same. If they could just…contain the drugs, I’d care so much less. Hard to contain smoke, though, as this LW can attest to.

          1. a different Vicki*

            There’s at least one edge case here: people who live in those states and smoke marijuana while outside the United States (so federal illegality doesn’t matter). Being a marijuana smoker is a status/attribute that’s separate from currently possessing marijuana (which is what’s illegal at the federal level).

            That’s not just a hypothetical, because Canada will be legalizing cannabis this summer, making laws that protect people from being fired for being marijuana users a lot more relevant, because a lot of Americans live in easy travel distance of Canada. Some of them are going to take advantage of that opportunity, either as the main reason for a trip or a nice bonus to other tourist activity.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Agreed. I have no judgment against pot smokers and support legalizing marijuana, but the smell is awful and I always seem to end up with a heavy pot smoker on the other side of thin apartment walls. Blech.

        3. Oregonian*

          Except, no they don’t protect pot smokers. They don’t even protect medical marijuana recipients in some states.

          Pot remains illegal at the federal level, and courts in the various legalized states (except the recently legalized) have ruled that employers and others can discriminate against marijuana smokers due to this fact.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I am curious how this affects the interviewing process. Do most smokers take care not to smoke the day of an interview so they don’t smell strongly of smoke? Does anyone have experience interviewing someone that smelled strongly of smoke? How did that impact what you thought of them? On some level would it be like someone with a sensitivity to smells interviewing someone who wore strong perfume?

        1. JMa*

          Me too. I don’t smoke for hours before an interview because if my interviewer smelled smoke I imagine I’d be crossed off the list (such is the stigma). I smoke at home but never at work but am always afraid I smell. I can’t smoke outside but am always airing and Febrezing my clothes, coats and bags. No one has ever said anything but every once in a while I’ll forget to Febreze my tote bag or something and will catch a horrible whiff of tobacco. I keep a small bottle of Febreze at work but sometimes wonder if I’m not fooling anyone.

      1. MissingArizona*

        I use an e-cig on interview days, and also hand sanitizer (the smell is strongest on your hands), with a shirt covering my car seat.

        Being a smoker is tough in today’s environment, and since it’s a perfectly legal substance, it seems that there is a lot of overblown hypocrisy against smokers. However, there are a lot of things that smokers can do to help combat the negativity, don’t throw butts everywhere, don’t smoke around children, don’t smoke right outside of a business…

        1. Jesmlet*

          We may be verging into the land of off-topic, but I’m curious what you consider to be the overblown hypocrisy? I don’t smoke myself so I’m probably not as tuned into that as you may be.

          1. MissingArizona*

            People that are addicted to smoking are seen as weak and disgusting, while people addicted to drugs need help and understanding. It’s a running theme I’ve noticed in the world lately. You get sympathy and understanding when you are a drug addict or alcoholic, but a smoker should be ashamed of their addiction.

    4. galatea*

      Purely speculation, but is are also some class implications wrapped up in smoking — who smokes in the first place, who can get access/afford resources to quit smoking, professions where smoking is more or less normal, etc. I would suspect that some of this is tobacco lobbyists, but I would be a little surprised if some of this weren’t things unions would be interested in protecting, too.

      1. Jess*

        This was my thought too, especially after I saw that DC was on the list. (I live in DC.) There are pretty large demographic/socioeconomic differences in smoking rates. Generally the DC city council is pretty attuned to fighting discrimination against personal attributes that have a higher prevalence in poor or minority groups so I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if that was the impetus for a law like that here—similar to the ban-the-box initiatives that restricted asking about criminal convictions to reduce the negative effect on populations with higher rates of convictions.

    5. Julia the Survivor*

      I’ve known about my cigarette allergy for 14 years and gotten used to the stupidity and destructiveness around it. I expect the states that have these protections are the same ones where tobacco is grown and/or where smoking is still allowed in indoor public places. I don’t go to those states. :p

  11. Lynca*

    I feel you OP! I’m almost 6 months and we have more than one office smoker. I can smell it from outside their offices. This isn’t something that typically bothers me. It does now that I’m pregnant and probably specifically due to that.

    I think pushing for the physical separation will help. I don’t notice it unless I’m directly in front of their office. A good air purifier will help the office smell if it’s closer quarters than mine. My strategy to not be in their offices is to meet them in a neutral area like a conference room when working together.

  12. Sugar of lead*

    Back when I worked in the medical industry, we had this odor-neutralizing spray called M9. A lot of coworkers who smoked used it to de-stink their cars and swore it worked really well. Maybe you could get some of that and have her use it?

    1. k.k*

      There’s another one called Ozium they could try too. Comes in a spray and a solid air freshener. I learned about it from friends who smoke and swear by it, and I’ve used it for pet smells so I can attest that it can zap away strong, lingering smells quickly. It has a little citrus scent, but it’s light (I’m sensitive to perfumes and it doesn’t bother me).

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yeah, Ozium is great. I have very mild asthma and am pretty fragrance sensitive and it doesn’t bother me either, and it really does a number on cigarette smoke smells — I used to have a neighbor who’d go out a couple times a day and chain smoke two or three cigs, then blow out her last draw on her way in the front door and back into her place. Obviously the smoke smell in the hall was SUPER strong. Ozium took care of it.

        1. Lindsay J*

          Thanks for the tips. I recently brought a car that was owned by a smoker previously and definitely has a lingering smoke odor. I’ll check these out.

  13. Artemesia*

    The things that ‘de stink’ air were mostly things that just numbed the olfactory nerve. Nothing removes the smell except a good air filter maybe.

    If the state doesn’t have ridiculous smoker protection laws then time for a new temp. If it does, then time to put the temp in her own enclosed space. Smoke plus lotion and perfume is worse than smoke alone.

    1. RachelR*

      “ridiculous smoker protection laws”

      A lot of those laws aren’t for “protecting smokers,” but for protecting employees from being penalized for doing something legal. Which smoking is.

      1. Q*

        I work in an at-will state. I can be fired for wearing the color yellow if the boss doesn’t like it, which is perfectly legal and completely harmless.

        1. Jesmlet*

          New York is an at-will state and also has that law stating you can’t be fired for any lawful activity, but after reading the law, it seems like it covers mostly recreational activities, consumption of legal products, memberships to unions and such, and political activity… this covers smokers but not people who wear certain colors. Odd but I guess it stands up to its own logic.

      2. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah to be honest I was a little surprised so many people in the thread were saying they wanted to be able to fire smokers.

  14. Leah*

    As a non-smoker who has bronchitis and is extremely sensitive to the smell of smoke, I feel OP’s pain. I live in a South American country, which means most people do a kiss on the cheek as a way of politely saying hello, and my old team leader was a firm believer of doing this every single day. He always smoked after arriving at the company, before entering the office, and when he came inside he’d greet all of his team members individually; as you’d expect, his clothes and beard STUNK (it wasn’t a very full beard but it wasn’t a short shave either). I dreaded the moment he’d walk through the front doors. It was so bad I had to hold my breath for a good two seconds before and after he came by my desk. Thankfully his desk was far, far away from mine, so that was the only moment I had to endure the smell, and whenever we spoke during the day I kept a respectful distance.

    I can’t imagine having to work next to someone who stinks of cigarettes. I’d go crazy!

  15. Samiratou*

    Oh, you so have my sympathy. I have to hold my breath while hugging my MIL because I can’t deal. Sitting next to her all day would do me in (and I love my MIL! She’s fabulous! I just wish (for many reasons) she didn’t smoke).

    At any rate, I’d address the lotion/perfume issue directly–tell her you appreciate the steps she’s taking to try to mitigate the issue but the lotion/perfumes don’t help (blame it on preggo nose, note that artificial scents are often migraine triggers, which she may not even be aware of).

    Bringing in your own purifier would be a non-starter at my office–facilities wouldn’t allow it, but if the company is willing to order one, that might be an option.

    It seems like the better option would be to see if there’s a desk or cube space that’s more in the open that she could use as her permanent spot. You/coworker could do the training there, while she needs it (I’m assuming you don’t need to spend 12 weeks sitting right next to her, right?) and you and your coworker won’t be stuck in the small space.

    Otherwise, this would be super awkward and maybe kind of extreme, but is she willing to keep work clothes at the office to change into? Or does your office have shower facilities she could use after she gets in? Just spitballing here, but if she’s doing good work otherwise, it seems like there has to be a way to make it work for everyone.

  16. C.*

    I have no advice here, OP, but I completely sympathize. While I haven’t had to work in close quarters with smokers before, I had a class in college where a very heavy smoker sat next to me and the entire time I felt a terrible headache, my mouth ached (?), and the smell was making me nauseous.

    Good luck!

  17. nuqotw*

    I feel your pain. We broke a lease and moved when I was 8 months pregnant because we got new neighbors who smoked something fierce and the 2nd/3rd hand smoke was just unbearable.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      I wasn’t even pregnant and I broke a lease to get away from a smoker that moved in!
      We shared a balcony, which I officially stopped using once I realized she would go out and smoke a foot away from my laundry that was hanging out to dry. *grrr* Then the smoke still wafted into in my apartment if I ever had the windows open or the window A/C unit turned on.

      1. On Fire*

        We checked out of a vacation lodge a day or two early because the people in the other half of it were smoking heavily. To the point that smoke was rolling under the connecting door. The management said they couldn’t do anything about it, even though it was a nonsmoking facility. My sympathies to the OP.

    2. GigglyPuff*

      That’s what I had to do once. Loved my apartment until the smoking couple moved in. I don’t know if the apartments were just horribly insulated, didn’t seem so, but dear god the cheap rotting cigarette smell permeated my apartment. I had to sleep on the couch since the shared wall was my bathroom/bedroom, couldn’t leave my windows open because since so many ppl complained they left theirs cracked, so the smell would just breeze back into mine. I did so much research, tried everything, purifiers, making sure the air balance was correct (forcing air out instead of having it come in), even got those foam covers you can get for electrical outlets and light switches, put them on every one in my apartment, plugged up cracks around my vents. Made it barely livable for about six months before the constant headaches finally made me break my lease on medical grounds. It was awful.
      When we moved, management didn’t really believe me on how bad it was, so we undid everything we had done (the foam covers, vent crack plugs, etc). They weren’t able to rent the apartment for five months, until the smokers lease ended and they left.

  18. Kyrielle*

    Moving her to a separate space, and also putting a filter in that space and in yours (because she will still need to be there or you in her space when showing her something, right?) could also help. The company could potentially supply those.

    1. Parenthetically*

      I disagree that it’s ridiculous to have laws in place to protect people from being fired for participating in a legal activity (which also happens to be highly addictive).

    2. Eye of Sauron*

      Why is it ridiculous that legal activities performed by an adult shouldn’t be protected or discriminated against?

      1. London_Engineer*

        I don’t disagree with you but it does seem funny that the US where for the most part it is totally legal to fire people for arbitrary reasons (or no reason at all) has chosen to protect this specific activity

      2. Anonish*

        It is not ridiculous in a vacuum but it is ridiculous in the context of living in a country that has not quite made up its mind whether women and LGBTQ folks and people of color (and folks who intersect those categories) are human beings.

        1. galatea*

          I don’t know that the solution is “this set of protections is ridiculous” though, versus “protections should be created for these groups”.

            1. Galatea*

              I’m a mixed race lesbian, I’m well aware! I’ve seen a couple of comments talking about it being ridiculous protections for smokers exist at all, which is what I was referring to.

      3. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Because almost no other legal activities performed by adults are protected. So it stands out that this one — which happens to be backed by an industry with a powerful lobby — is protected, and a bunch of other things are not.

        I can be fired for playing soccer, or wearing a pixie cut, or chewing gum. In most places, I can be fired by being gay, or fat, or anything else that my boss disapproves of.

        1. Julia the Survivor*

          And this one thing is an activity that kills people, or makes them sick, or disabled, and costs $billions in public health.
          I bet I can guess which states protect smoking. I bet it’s southeastern states where they grow tobacco and culturally encourage smoking. Blech.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Yes, but lots of other things kill people or makes us sick, and add cost to the healthcare systems — extreme sports, eating fried food, whatever — and we shouldn’t fire people for those things, either.

            1. Scion*

              Extreme sports or fast food harm only the person engaging in the activity, not *other* people. BIG difference.

              1. Q*

                + 1000. And, as evidenced in this letter, this workplace protection is running afoul of other employee’s health protections.

              2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

                Right — which means that we should legislate *smoking*, not *smokers*.

                (I can’t believe I’m the one arguing this side of this issue. There is nobody who hates smoking more than me.)

                Anyway, I think it’s reasonable to expect people to smell good (or at least “not disgusting”) at work. We can deal with that without firing smokers just for being smokers.

                1. Scion*

                  You would not be firing someone for some (legal) activity that they engaged in; you would be firing someone for putting other employees’ health (and that of their children) in jeopardy.

                2. Natalie*

                  @ Scion, that’s rather extreme. It’s incidental exposure to someone who smokes, not sitting with them in a smoky office a la Sterling Cooper. I rather doubt that the health risk to the average person with a coworker who smokes is statistically significant. And really, are you suggesting everyone who smokes should be *unable to work* to protect their coworkers against thirdhand smoke?

          2. Natalie*

            You’d be surprised – as someone mentioned upthread it really runs the gamut of region, economy, and political leanings (both right/left and less interventionist/more interventionist).

    3. Millennial Lawyer*

      I’m anti-smoking, but I don’t want someone getting fired because they have an addiction.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Right, exactly this.

        AND I’m angry that these protections got carved out when we allow people to be fired for other various identities, practices, and choices.

  19. Chelle*

    I feel you, OP. I had a similar problem, except my company was the vendor and it was my counterpart at the customer site who was a heavy smoker. I had to work at her elbow for months and the smell made me sick, but there weren’t really better options as she was a client…

  20. Anonymous Poster*

    You know your office layout better than I do, but perhaps there’s a way you can work in a more open environment. I’m guessing since you’re training the temp that you’ll need to work in close proximity, but as much as you’re able to avoid that, it can help too. Maybe your company’s IM system will help with that? Some, like Skype, can even let you screen share if you’re showing a particularly tricky process or something. A more open environment where you can sit side-by-side may also help with those times where you simply must work next to one another, and help keep the smell from building up.

    I hope that the smoker also won’t feel put out, it’s not unusual for someone who is pregnant to be extra sensitive to smells, and that’s a really easy excuse for you to use with your trainee. It sounds like your temp is also decent, so it would be a shame to lose her. I’m guessing she’s a decent person and understands the impact of her habit, and is also appreciative that you aren’t asking her to give it up, but rather find a solution that works well for both of you.

    Another option is to ask your trainee if she has any ideas. It’s not like you have a beef with her, you have a beef with the smell you’re sensitive to. Does she know that you’re having problems because of her smoking? You aren’t approaching the conversation to make her feel bad, but it’s simply a problem you’re collaborating on solving. It can be started with something like, “Hey Jane, I’ve noticed that I’m just becoming more and more sensitive to the smoke smell. I’ve been wracking my brain on how to prevent my headaches but am coming up empty, do you happen to have any ideas about what we, or I, could do to help solve the problem?” It’s an uncomfortable topic and conversation, but you aren’t trying to tattle or make her stop, you’re simply wondering if she has any solutions you aren’t aware of that may help in your situation.

    1. Julia the Survivor*

      Maybe if she only smoked outside, the wind would blow the smell away and there’d be less of it in her clothes and hair… though that wouldn’t be a complete solution.

  21. Globe Trotter*

    The smell of cigarettes is absolutely noxious. I’d rather smell someone else’s microwaved fish every day for the rest of my life than breathe someone’s cigarette stench for a week.

  22. Former Govt Contractor*

    WORST SMELL EVER. My parents used to smoke in the car and I always complained how sick it made me feel, but they didn’t care – until I hurled in the back seat.

  23. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I am a former smoker. Picked it up in the 80s when it was cool and was supposed to help you relax, and it took me 20 years to get rid of the darn habit. And the only way I eventually got rid of it was that I started getting migraines and nausea; first from first-hand smoke (which was how I stopped smoking, can’t call it “quitting”, because it was no effort on my end to stop doing something that was making me throw up and making my head hurt), then from second-hand smoke, and now it’s to where I get an instant migraine just from smelling it on someone’s clothes. No advice, I just came here to sympathize with the OP and her officemate. I’d be miserable and unable to do my work in that situation. I only get 8 migraine pills per month, and with something like this going on, I’d be out of my month’s supply in probably three days.

    1. Julia the Survivor*

      It sounds like your body developed a sensitivity which was good because it made you quit, but went too far. I’ve read about people who get smoke-triggered migraines and I’m grateful my reactions aren’t as bad. I can get a very bad headache if I’m in the smoke for a while, but it usually doesn’t start till the next morning. :p

  24. Nicole*

    So wait…there are some places where you can’t discriminate against hiring smokers, but there are also places that don’t protect you from discrimination against your sexuality, gender identity, etc? SMFH.

    I do wish it was socially acceptable to let smokers know how shitty they smell. I’m sure Jane is a nice person and all but I think it’s selfish forcing others so have to marinate in your lousy cigg stink. I couldn’t believe how much my health improved and my allergies & colds decreased when I moved away from my family full of smokers. Y’ALL STINK!

    1. Parenthetically*

      Do… do you think smokers haven’t heard from dozens of people how filthy their habit is? Jeezy creezy some of these comments. Most smokers are ADDICTS. Yes, it’s a gross habit, yes they stink, yes they should quit. Smoking is very thoroughly stigmatized. Which does approximately nothing to address nicotine addiction.

      1. DataQueen*

        Yes! When I’m in a particularly bad mood and a stranger comments on my smoking with something like “that will kill you, you know!” I look at them with feigned earnestness and say “Oh my gosh, thank you! I’ve NEVER heard that before! You just saved my life!” It’s annoying – we all went to middle school and learned about the dangers of smoking. Of course we know it’s killing us. But like you said, we’re addicts.

        1. Anonymeece*

          My go-to was, “Oh, thank you! I haven’t read a newspaper since 1963!”.

          Seriously, it is an addiction, and as pointed out above, one that affects low-income and mentally ill people disproportionately. I personally always wanted to quit (and most smokers do; I don’t know any out there who were like, “Yup, I totally want to die prematurely”), and I tried cold turkey, the patch, gum, even medication, and it still took me 10 years to quit. It’s an addiction. Telling a smoker they stink/have a filthy habit feels like telling a homeless person to “just get a job”; it’s rude, doesn’t help at all, and ignores all of the reasons why someone is in that situation in the first place.

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          I smoke bc I choose to and like it, not because I am addicted (I’ve quit a bunch of times and never have a problem if I need to go day /days without a cigarette) and I still find this obnoxious!

  25. Victoria, Please*

    I’m feeling thankful for the California Nanny State right about now. The entire California State University system just went entirely smoke-and-tobacco free. No tobacco nothin’ on campus. Not that it’s possible to enforce; I see people smoking or vaping right beneath the sign that says “Welcome to our tobacco-free campus.” But the cultural expectation is there, and if someone who is vaping/smoking gets the stink-eye, they know *they* are the one being anti-social.

    Sorry, OP. I got no advice because I live in the Nanny State and this isn’t something I would ever have to deal with, thank goodness.

    1. Agamemnon*

      There are many issues that I have with my state but one of the things that I like a lot is the laws that prohibit smoking “in all enclosed indoor places of public access and publicly owned buildings and offices”, in all “educational facilities at private elementary and secondary schools, (including public, private and charter schools), and the premises on which those facilities are located”, and prohibits smoking “within 25 feet of any entrance, exit, open window, or air intake of a building where smoking is prohibited.”

    2. LAI*

      Not all vaping contains tobacco. My partner uses a variety of fruit-flavored non-tobacco-based ones. It’s still not pleasant to have vapor blown right in your face, but if it’s just lingering in the area, they smell pretty nice actually – kind of like someone was chewing fruity gum near you.

      1. Natalie*

        A lot of states have amended their smoking laws to include vaping regardless of the precise contents, so that probably doesn’t matter in this instance.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      There has never before been a law that changed my quality of life or made such an obvious extreme difference to me as when my state passed the no smoking in bars and restaurants law. That was the most amazing day ever. I was in Florida recently where apparently you can still smoke in bars (or maybe not, it was a sketchy place) and it really brought me back to collage days where if you wanted to go out you had to deal with the stench and the smell clinging to your clothes and your hair. I hated that so, so much. It gave me a brief shining moment of being really proud of my state before I remembered we poisoned the water supply for a whole town.

    4. MsChanandlerBong*

      I volunteer at a hospital that is (supposed to be) a non-smoking campus. If I had $1 for every time I caught someone smoking while standing in front of a “Tobacco-Free Campus” sign, I could quit my job.

  26. Jar*

    I am not pregnant and could not deal with this AT ALL. My suggestion is to remove your pregnancy from this issue, completely – it isn’t about that at all so don’t make it about that. This problem will not disappear once you are no longer pregnant. Can training be completed via shared screen/conference calls? Marshall your support and discuss with your office mate – assert that this isn’t a personal issue with the new hire and focus on the impact of new hire’s personal habits. And if the new hire’s personal life is having a disruptive impact on the office and its productivity, that is a serious matter for your management to address.

    1. Katieinthemountains*

      I’m pretty sensitive to scents and do NOT like the smell of cigarettes, but I’m also legit allergic to smoke of all kinds. I would be running straight to my doctor and then to HR for ADA accommodation (ditto for the coworker with migraines). I live in a state without protection for smokers, so I think my former company would have simply requested a new temp. If an air filter doesn’t do it, I think OP will have to go the ADA route. It sounds like there isn’t another space, or OP wouldn’t be sharing an office in the first place, though, so I am not sure what “reasonable accommodation” would look like.

  27. Lauren K Milligan*

    So the tobacco industry threw some money at politicians and got “smokers’ rights” passed. Great. Employers can legally refuse to interview candidates who are currently unemployed, but cannot legally refuse an interview because the person smokes. Ridiculous.

  28. Julia the Survivor*

    As a person who is allergic to cigarettes and involved in music, I know well the anxiety of being around smokers. I’ve moved away from people on buses or trains because they or their jackets were exuding strong smoke fumes. It’s especially bad with leather jackets because those are never cleaned!
    Wondering whether the fumes will affect me, I like to be cautious and move away or if I can’t, I put on a surgical mask. You can buy boxes of them in drugstores.
    Of course, you want to be cautious with your baby’s health too! I think you should do whatever is necessary to protect yourself and your baby.
    I’ve also had bad reactions to chemical perfumes like the lotions and fresheners your colleague is using – I once had a sinus headache for a day and a half from air freshener, and my nose burns when my colleague sprays her perfume.
    I hope you can find a solution and stay healthy!

    1. anonagain*

      I was going to suggests a mask, too. There are many options for masks and that might be something to discuss with a doctor. I have a mask that has one way vents that make it a bit more comfortable.

      They’re a good option because they give you control.

      The one drawback is that they can make people feel self-conscious. I think in this particular case it’d be important for the OP to keep doing what she’s doing as far as communicating respect and try to frame in a general way instead of personalizing it if anyone asks.

  29. Erin*

    Hmm. Well, you’re being reasonable in not caring what she does on her off time and respecting her decision to smoke. And she’s being reasonable in cutting back and making clear attempts to work with this. Everyone is being reasonable here. So that’s the good news.

    I’d see what your doctor says and bring a note in if possible. Yes you shouldn’t have to bring one, but it might be helpful to have something concrete to show your higher ups. You could ask your doctor to be as specific as possible as far as what your needs are (like,” Jane cannot be within 15 feet of a heavy smoker during her pregnancy,” or whatever it might be). Your boss probably wants to work with you on this but may not know how, and a doctors note could provide a little direction.

    I liked Alison’s mention of how they’d have to make this work if she had a guide dog and you were allergic to dogs. Maybe you could work from home (not sure if your type of work is feasible for that), and draft guides and directions on what she needs to do while you chat on Skype and etc. Or maybe your doctor will have a suggestion. Unfortunately that still leaves your officemate…

    But yeah, with everyone on board making this work I’m sure you can come up with something. Good luck and congrats!

  30. oxfordcomma4life*

    We had a similar thing when my job moved to a smaller, open plan set up. We had a couple of heavy smokers on staff, and the sudden closer proximity caused problems for a few of us (migraines, sneezing, respiratory issues). Unfortunately, when we brought it up to our boss, it was dismissed– his impression seemed to be that we were just whining because we didn’t want to sit next to certain people (to be fair, the main person of concern was loud, burped constantly, was addicted to gas station burritos and once left a spoon covered in mayonnaise long enough on his death to initiate a Mayo Spoon Watch group chat). Eventually, the smokers ended up being grouped into a corner together, with a demilitarized zone of casual smokers between them and those effected by the smell. It was basically an office ombre. While not solving the problem entirely, getting even a few feet of distance did help a little bit. Until of course one of the buffer-denziens started slathering on really obnoxious perfume… this is why open plan offices are the literal devil.

        1. oxfordcomma4life*

          Whoops but also now I’m mildly delighted. Particularly because around day 5 that spoon was basically harbouring new life.

  31. JPlummer*

    Temps are the ultimate at-will employees. Regardless of what kind of “temp-to-hire” arrangement was made here, the temp could have been terminated during her first week when her cigarette stench first became a problem. Or she could be terminated this week.

    Regardless of what the laws allow, an employer can definitely request a non-smoking temp. Happens all the time. There are all kinds of “special requests” made of temp agencies and they usually comply. With a couple months left until the OP’s maternity leave begins, there should be ample time to train in another temp. Unless he or she will be doing brain surgery. The temp in OP’s office seems to be dominating the situation when priority should be given to the comfort and well-being of the permanent employees who are clearly suffering. Temp do-overs happen all the time. Nobody’s irreplaceable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But I don’t think this temp came through a temp agency. The letter says: “Luckily they were interviewing to replace a retiring employee, and we were able to get the second choice candidate to agree to come on to train with me and cover my desk while I’m on leave, with the possibility of being hired on to the company in some capacity when I return if it goes well. ” So I think it was a direct hire, which would complicate that.

    2. Natalie*

      Just because a temp agency will comply, I don’t think its ethical to ask them to violate employment law just because you don’t like it. If you want to make a point about the smoking discrimination law or whatever, you should at least be the one bearing the risk.

  32. Eplawyer*

    My sister had this problem. Except she was the smoker and they hired someone to assist her who was allergic to smoke. My sister offered to keep a separate jacket in the office and other things. My sister cpould never understand how much the smoke just gets into everything and stays. She couldn’t smell it anymore so she didn’t get it.

    She gave me a white blouse that had been hanging in her closet for awhile. The shoulders were brown with tobacco stains. She still didn’t get how pervasive smoke is.

  33. Parenthetically*

    All this vitriol directed at smokers and the fact that sometimes they can’t get fired for doing something legal that they’re addicted to makes me think of that Mitch Hedberg bit about how alcoholism is the only disease you can get yelled at for having. “Dammit, Mitch, you have cancer!”

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Oh, there are plenty of ailments that people feel free to judge each other for — anything that we (mistakenly or otherwise) think that people have control over: addictions, diseases related to diet or body size, mental health, etc.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Absolutely. It’s a 30-second bit in a comedy routine; it’s not going to be comprehensive. ;)

  34. Mrs. Fenris*

    It’s completely reasonable to have a rule that nobody can smell like smoke at the office. I work in a client-facing professional role and this has been the rule everywhere I’ve worked. Not “you can’t be a smoker,” but “you can’t smell like smoke at all and you can’t smoke on the premises, not even on breaks.” I’ve had a couple of coworkers who smoked and were able to keep it out of the workplace. I’m not sure how they managed. I think they smoked in the car on the way in, because I caught the faintest whiff just as they got to work, but otherwise you couldn’t smell it at all.

  35. Joker, Smoker, & Midnight Toker*

    This comment section illustrates perfectly why I take the NRA approach to non-smokers. I don’t give a single inch. I won’t stop smoking during business hours, I won’t keep a separate coat, and I won’t apologize or back down for being a legal adult who is using a legal product. I am fully aware of my legal rights, and I have a lawyer on retainer. It had become so obvious to me over the last two decades that no compromise is remotely possible on this, the anti-tobacco crowd will accept nothing less than complete banning of the product and it’s use.

    1. strike*

      At this rate we’re going to have cigs and weed be flopped in 20 years time, legal weed everywhere, smokers having to buy tabacco on the corner.

      There’s so much “nimby” in this thread it’s embarrassing.

    2. Steph*

      Can i ask you take on situations like this, then, when the residual smoke on your breath, hair clothing is genuinely affecting someone in your workplace? Like triggering asthma, migraines etc.? What is your solution to this?

      1. Betsy*

        Yes, I’ve had people giving similar speeches about smoker’s rights and being quite argumentative, up until the point I said that some people smoking near me quite literally made me spend a few hours in the emergency department. My smoker friend just hadn’t understood how much smoking actually affected people. And many more people are asthmatic than you might think (it’s around 10% of the population in my country).

        My friend’s idea is that smoker’s should just be able to politely ask people if they mind them smoking, but in my experience when they have asked that, they don’t really expect that ‘yes’ might be an option in that conversation.

      2. a-no*

        I smoke heavily and have for over 10 years (pack+ a day) and I have literally NEVER had one person complain to me about my smoking. Maybe it’s because I do not smoke in my home, but the scent isn’t that strong and fades fairly quickly to the point where most people I work with don’t even realize I smoke until they either physically see me smoking or catch me literally seconds after I finished my smoke. I shared an office with someone for 3 years before she realized I smoked. Maybe Canadian cigarettes don’t linger as bad as American ones (I am in Canada).
        So if someone had a genuine health issue they could prove, I’d probably be more flexible than Joker, Smoker but not nearly as flexible as the temp in the original post who doesn’t smoke during business hours to accommodate LW. But I would expect proof that it’s an issue, not just your word. Too many people claim it affects them when really they don’t like it and I’m not changing my life and habits because someone ‘doesn’t like it’. I don’t like a lot of perfumes but I don’t claim to be allergic so people don’t wear them to work. Shared space doesn’t work like that.

        1. Julia the Survivor*

          Every time I’ve mentioned my cigarette allergy (for which I have only my word because there is no test for it), the people around me mentioned the ways it makes them sick also: headaches, sinus problems, sore throat, asthma… it seems almost everyone get symptoms from it.
          Not surprising, since it’s poisonous!
          A-no, you’re attitude is disrespectful toward my experience and understanding of the body I’ve lived in for several decades. Please don’t assume I’m too stupid to recognize obvious signs of an allergy.

          1. a-no*

            I’m not exactly sure where you got that I was saying you were ‘too stupid to recognize an allergy’ nor can I find anything that would cause you to infer that, so my apologies if that’s what you got from it. To rephrase- I said “if there was a real reason I would likely accommodate but not folks who just don’t like it. There are a lot of people that claim allergy when they don’t like something which is something I’m not willing to accommodate. “

            1. Julia the Survivor*

              If you won’t take a person’s word that something is making them sick, what will convince you? What more can they do? There is no test for tobacco smoke allergy, or, I’m pretty sure, chemical allergy. When diagnosis is made officially, it’s from the symptoms.
              So what you’re expecting is for a person to get a doctor to document the obvious, that their symptoms indicate an allergy.
              That you won’t take a person’s word for what’s happening in *their* life and *their* body is disrespectful!

              1. a-no*

                symptoms indicate there is an issue though. That would be the necessary proof …

                Either way, I think we’re at a point where we will have to agree to disagree as I don’t think either of us are going to see it from the others point of view. I’m not backing down on that I would need real proof in order to put myself through 10+ hours of discomfort + withdrawal and I doubt you are going to change your mind on that being disrespectful to you.

                1. Julia the Survivor*

                  Ok, let’s try it this way.
                  A-no, you’re allergic to ragweed and I’m going to play in a ragweed field every morning and come to work with the pollen all over me and sit next to you with you downwind of the office drafts.
                  You can ask me to stop doing that, but I will require documentation from a doctor that you are allergic to ragweed before I make any changes.
                  Does that meet your needs for being treated with respect?

                2. a-no*

                  Will I be sneezing? Snotting? Coughing? Will my eyes be watering? Will I have developed a rash? Will my face be red?

                  Will there be any symptom present as I ask you to not do the thing?

                  Because that would count as tangible proof, as I stated above. Which seems to be the piece you seem to think is disrespectful.

                3. Julia the Survivor*

                  Maybe. Or maybe it would only be a severe sinus headache, upset stomach and fatigue. That’s what I get from tobacco smoke.
                  So you would have to see the symptoms to take it seriously. You couldn’t take my word that I get these symptoms a few hours after being around your smoke. You can’t actually see any of those things, unless you could see swelling in my sinuses… and you won’t take my word for it… I still think it’s disrespectful.
                  This is why I stopped going to doctors when I was young. I would tell them about my symptoms and they would dismiss it, because the establishment didn’t understand it yet.
                  Eventually doctors realized they were driving patients away with their disrespect and started working on their attitudes towards us.

                4. a-no*

                  Well again, we are going to have to agree to disagree. I’m done engaging on this as you are now derailing into doctors being disrespectful which has nothing to do with what we’re talking about.
                  I will not be swayed on this and as you’ve proven neither will you.

                5. Julia the Survivor*

                  Maybe one day you’ll understand.
                  Doctors were also disrespectful about this, that’s why I brought it up. It’s similar.

              2. Joker, Smoker, & Midnight Toker*

                See, this is the kind of response that confirms my statement. I’m not A-no, but what I am reading from his post isn’t him saying he wouldn’t take your word, he is saying that your word alone is not enough for him to change his behavior. If you want him to change his behavior, he needs more than your word, like a medical documentation from a doctor. You seem to think that this is unreasonable, and he should change his behavior simply on your word alone, and if he doesn’t, that’s disrespectful. I disagree strongly, and I feel that if you want another adult to change their behavior, the burden should be on you to justify it, not them.

                Also, there are two tests for tobacco smoke allergy. One is the skin prick test (SPT) and the other is blood allergy tests, which look for allergen-specific antibodies in the bloodstream.

                1. Julia the Survivor*

                  Thanks for mentioning the tests. My allergist and primary have never mentioned them. They simply tell everyone to avoid it, especially people with allergies.

        2. oxfordcomma4life*

          I wonder though how many opportunities you may have missed out on because of the smoking though? I’m in the camp of it bothers me, same as heavy perfumes– not go to the emergency room bother me, but it can trigger mild respiratory issues or migraines for me, especially if other factors are also contributing. When given the choice between dealing closely with coworker A, who is a smoker or a heavy perfume wearer or someone who comes to work bedazzled with cat dander etc, or coworker B who isn’t, I choose B. I think many people make personal choices like that– you avoid the coworker with body odour or habits that gross you out when possible, passing them over for the person who doesn’t, if both people equally could do the job. And when I do have to work with heavy smokers for instance, I keep it brief — often because interacting with them is triggering reactions. So while you might never have had anyone complain to your face, I wonder… how many people have just limited interactions with you instead of telling you the smoking’s a problem?

          1. a-no*

            I tend to work in cowboy-offices, where it’s common to just flat out call people on things – we’re not the type to beat around the bush, so I don’t really think that happened but it could have.
            But MsChandlerBong commented below on Not This Time’s post : I know people who can drink a six-pack of beer and not smell like anything, and I know people who can drink one beer and smell like they went on a bender. I’m guessing it has to do with the person’s metabolism/body composition. Similarly, I know smokers who smell like smoke but don’t really smell “bad,” and I know smokers whose skin smells like the fetal pig I had to dissect in high school (probably from the formaldehyde in the cigarettes). It’s got to be something to do with how the smoke reacts with their particular skin/sweat. so maybe that’s why I’ve never experienced someone commenting?

      3. Joker, Smoker, & Midnight Toker*

        I don’t have or need a solution. It’s not my problem. If the company I work for considers it a problem, I consult with my lawyer and comply to the minimum legal standard required. I meant it when I said I wouldn’t give up a single inch.

        Out of respect for Alison, can I request that if this statement bothers you, you channel your anger into contacting your lawmakers into getting the laws changed instead of writing long angry screeds at me here? Your lawmakers might care about your opinions on the subject, I do not, and arguing with me is just a waste of your time.

        1. oxfordcomma4life*

          Actually, I agree with you. It’s not the smokers problem, but it is on the company to define their culture. I went from a workplace where several old-time employees were heavy smokers. It was just understood they would take breaks repeatedly throughout the day without question, and would smoke in one area around a back entrance most employees used, on a patio that had originally been built as a sort of out-door break room but was now the exclusive domain of smokers. When newer employees brought up concerns– whether about break times non-smokers weren’t getting, disruptions to schedules because certain employees were so often away from their desks, or walking through the clouds– they were shushed as being overly sensitive or even mean to the smokers for pointing out the wafts of smells they brought back into the office. My new workplace is completely different– yes, there are smokers on staff, but the office culture is one that doesn’t enable the habit. Both offices are operating within the law, however one is privileging a habit that society at large is moving away from being comfortable with, while the other focuses on the majority of employees who do not share this habit. I think it’s about workplaces deciding which side to accommodate in the toss-up.

    3. Julia the Survivor*

      Yes, you’re right! The product should have been banned many years ago. It’s poisonous! It kills, maims and sickens people! There is no good reason to use it and a million reasons not to!
      I understand why you feel this way, but you’re hurting yourself more than anyone else. I wonder how many colleagues and potential friends have avoided you because of your fumes.

      1. MsChanandlerBong*

        Exactly. We shouldn’t be picking on smokers; we should be going after the tobacco companies, their lobbyists, and the politicians who are bankrolled by the tobacco industry.

  36. Laura*

    All of my three closest coworkers smoked, but none of them smoked in their homes, to protect their kids, and (this is hilarious) because they didn’t like the smell of cigarette smoke in their homes (?!). Since they also smoked outside at work, they didn’t smell too bad–and I have migraines triggered by cigarette smoke.

    One of those women only smoked at work (she had quit for several years, started again because most of her work friends smoked, but she didn’t want her family to know she had started again). She had a spray she used to spritz herself every time she came in that suppressed the smell. It didn’t *add* smell; it neutralized it. I don’t know what it was.

    And here’s a radical suggestion: The woman you work with *might* consider keeping work clothes at work, if there’s a safe place to keep them, and to change. That way her clothes would be smoke-free, and since she doesn’t smoke at work, only her hair would be a problem. I don’t know how to help that, since her home would smell of smoke, but maybe she could not smoke after she washed her hair in the morning? (I’m obviously a non-smoker, and grew up in a family of non-smokers, and have had only a few smokers as friends and they have been very considerate–the result of a Mormon upbringing and living in Utah; so I may not know what I’m talking about and this may be a huge undertaking. I don’t know–I did say it’s radical.)

  37. Not This Time*

    H’okay. This may not be wise, but I’m going to weigh in as a smoker.

    OP, I’m not going to downplay your concerns or your issues with scent. They are your concerns, and thus need to be at least addressed by your management.

    My own attempts at mitigating the smell (because yes, I know it always clings to me) are already less than what your temp has agreed to, and what she’s done is HUGE. As an addict, agreeing to forgo your substance when it is legal for a significant portion of your day is seriously impressive. Kudos to her.

    I’d ask her to lay off the perfumes and other scented products first. Not only do they not help; they’re almost certainly compounding the problem. As someone with a really sensitive sniffer (yes, even as a smoker) I find almost all perfumes and lotions intolerable, and from what you’re saying, it’s just adding more unpleasantness.

    However, I’m going to push back against what some of the other commenters have suggested she do to address this. If she’s already keeping her coat in a separate location AND isn’t smoking from the time she walks in to the time she leaves, I think that’s all that can be expected.

    I’m not saying you should just deal with this. If it’s that bad, then yeah, I think you need to tell your manager that either you find a way to not work with her face-to-face, or you need to ask for a new temp.

    By the way, I can’t help but wonder what the heck she’s actually smoking. I get having significant reactions to smoke, and I’ve heard that pregnancy does a number on your sense of smell, but even C-Suite is commenting on it, when she’s not even smoking during work hours? That’s…really really odd to me.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      I know people who can drink a six-pack of beer and not smell like anything, and I know people who can drink one beer and smell like they went on a bender. I’m guessing it has to do with the person’s metabolism/body composition. Similarly, I know smokers who smell like smoke but don’t really smell “bad,” and I know smokers whose skin smells like the fetal pig I had to dissect in high school (probably from the formaldehyde in the cigarettes). It’s got to be something to do with how the smoke reacts with their particular skin/sweat.

  38. Hates Smokers*

    Wait…being a smoker is a protected class? It’s a poor life choice that affects others…and it’s a protected class!??!
    When did this become so? I hate smokers. I had to work next to one for two years and I would literally call her Chimney to her face because her second-hand smoke made me ill. (She got fired).

    1. Jencendiary*

      If you had treated me that way when I was a smoker, I would basically live in the HR office until you were disciplined for your verbal abuse. You’re lucky you didn’t get fired yourself.

    2. Parenthetically*

      What the hell? You spent two years mocking and belittling an ADDICT to her face until SHE got fired? You do not have the moral high ground you think you do, pal.

      1. Scarlet*

        Yes, seriously… I don’t smoke, but I’m sickened by the attitude some commenters have towards smokers. It’s disgusting. I think some people feel they can’t be as openly prejudiced against certain classes anymore, so they abuse others under cover of “health” reasons (it’s just like concern-trolling obese people because “health”, you know). They’re actually proud of being arseholes because they think they have the moral high ground.

  39. Grammy*

    Before all hope is lost, ask her if she would mind spraying her clothing with a diluted white vinegar/water mixture. It has deodorizing properties, it is cheap, and it shouldn’t bother anyone’s allergies.

  40. ZucchiniBikini*

    I’ve been in precisely the OP’s shoes – when pregnant with my second child, I shared an office with two heavy smokers, both of whom reported to me. One of them must’ve been exclusively an outdoors smoker I think – I could smell her smoke just for a minute or two when she came in from a smoke break (or smoko, as we call it in Australia), but it wasn’t persistent enough to trigger my pregnancy nausea or my asthma. The other one smelled SO strongly of smoke that I had to ask that one of us be moved to a different office after the third time I had to leave work after becoming very ill. He reported to me and it wasn’t ideal, but the office, to their credit, acted straight away and he was relocated to a different room; when we needed to have team or management discussions for the rest of my pregnancy, we did so via phone or instant messaging.

    I have been on many a hiring panel in my years in the workforce, and I have never consciously chosen not to hire someone purely because they smell strongly of smoke. But I cannot put my hand on my heart and say that it hasn’t influenced me on a subconscious level. Not because I think smokers are weak or disgusting or deserve to be discriminated against – I strongly do NOT believe those things. It is more because, if being in the room with someone makes you feel really ill, it is hard to evaluate them dispassionately (when part of that is imagining them on your team and working closely with you).

    Personally, for me, I think there are certain limited fields where it should be lawful to discriminate in hiring against smokers (and in Australia, you probably can, based on the exemptions in law here). Not all healthcare, but for example, neonatal intensive care is a field here where there does appear to be a bias against hiring smokers (also respiratory and post-surgical units). I know nurses who have arrived for a shift with a smell (sometimes faint) of smoke on clothes or hair, often just from being around smokers, and been immediately sent home. The flipside of this is I also know two people with cystic fibrosis who had critical medical events triggered by strong smoke on a nurse’s clothing.

    I think there must be the ability to say that “being smokefree” is an inherent requirement of the job for some of these highly specialised sub-fields – otherwise you are prioritising the individual’s right to do whatever they legally may do above the patient’s right to effective treatment and not being made sicker by treatment, and I do not personally feel that is a line that is worth defending. Now, smokefree could be defined as “never presents to work with any discernible smoke smell and does not smoke during shifts even on breaks” – they could have ciggies at other times if they can contain the smell / residue completely away from their work persona. But I do not think it is unreasonable to require that medical staff don’t do things to make patients’ health worse.

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