How to Ask Someone Not to Smoke Around You

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Young Caucasian woman giving serious look to friend smoking cigarette

Cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos. These tobacco products all have one thing in common: They create secondhand smoke, both from the lit end of the cigarette and when the smoker exhales. And that can be problematic because secondhand smoke exposure is harmful to other people’s health.

For people with COPD, asthma or other lung problems, even momentary exposure to secondhand smoke can make it difficult to breathe. In children, secondhand smoke is known to cause ear and respiratory infections.

Still, smoking is legal in the United States. And that means you may occasionally need to interact with a smoker to ask him or her not to smoke around you or your children. Your approach and messaging can go a long way toward gaining cooperation in this regard.

Courtesy and Politeness Go a Long Way

Remember that nicotine addiction is very hard to overcome. It’s not necessary to criticize someone for smoking in the same breath that you ask them not to smoke around you. You also don’t need to offer an explanation for why you’re asking someone to stop smoking around you. Simply saying, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t smoke around me,” is sufficient. If pressed for a reason, you can add, “I don’t want secondhand smoke in my lungs,” or “I don’t want to smell smoky or accidentally inhale any smoke.” None of these reasons criticize or judge the smoker, which makes your request easier for him or her to receive and act on.

How to Avoid Secondhand Smoke in Almost Any Situation

It’s one thing to inform family members you do not allow smoking inside your home and quite another thing to ask a total stranger not to smoke around you in a public place. In either case, it pays to be tactful, direct and to make your request appropriate to the situation.

If you are in a public space where smoking is allowed, your best bet is to first try moving yourself away from the secondhand smoke instead of asking the smoker to move or put out a cigarette. This approach avoids any potential conflict. But if that’s not feasible, try these strategies for asking someone not to smoke around you:

  • If the smoker is an acquaintance, simply say you don’t like being exposed to secondhand smoke and that you’ll wait to meet up elsewhere.

  • If you or someone in your party has a lung disease like COPD or asthma, speak up. Say, “Excuse me, but I try to avoid secondhand smoke due to COPD. Would you mind putting that cigarette out?” Or, “My child has asthma triggered by secondhand smoke. Would you mind not smoking right now? We’d appreciate it.”

  • If coworkers cluster around doorways to smoke, ask them to move away from the building so no one has to walk through a cloud to enter the workplace.

  • If you see a “No Smoking” sign posted, politely point it out by saying, “Maybe you didn’t notice, but this is a no-smoking area. Would you please put your cigarette out?”

What About Secondhand Smoke from Electronic Cigarettes?

Smoking e-cigarettes (also called “vaping”) continues to rise in popularity, and some people believe it’s all right to blow vaping smoke in public places because it’s “safer,” since it’s not tobacco smoke. However, research hasn’t confirmed that inhaling secondhand vaping smoke is any less unhealthy than ordinary tobacco smoke. It’s perfectly all right to ask people not to vape around you in the same way you ask cigarette smokers not to smoke around you.

Non-smokers have a right to breathe clean air, but smokers also have a right to use tobacco in areas where it’s not prohibited. By recognizing these truths, non-smokers can use courtesy and tact to enlist the help of smokers in reducing everyone’s exposure to secondhand smoke—which benefits everybody’s health in the long run.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Feb 21
  1. Secondhand Smoke. U.S. National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus.
  2. Secondhand Smoke (SHS) Fact Sheet. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  3. Smoking Etiquette. Quick and Dirty Tips.
  4. 9 Ways to Say, “Don’t Smoke Around Me.” MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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