Prev Next

Secondhand Smoke Residue on Clothing…and Your Newborn

By Amalah

Amy,

I am desperate for advice on how to handle my in-laws who smoke like chimneys! We are expecting our fist child in April and I will absolutely lose my shit if my daughter is exposed to smoke when they come to visit. I have asthma and both my husband and I have allergies so we are concerned that she will be predisposed to problems anyway without the compounding factor of being exposed to smoke. Now my in-laws do have respect for my asthma and do not smoke around me. So I know they will not mind going outside to smoke when they come to visit. The problem comes from them constantly reeking of smoke, which means anything they touch smells like smoke. I hate it! It irritates my asthma so I am very concerned that it will affect my daughter too. My solution, besides refusing to let them see her until they quit their disgusting habit, is to ask them to wash their hands and change their shirt before they touch or hold her. My husband is worried that it will upset them. My reply is who gives a shit because we are talking about our daughter’s health. So I guess my question is am I being unreasonable? How else can I handle this situation and still protect my daughter’s health?

Any advice or help is greatly appreciated!

Thanks,
A

UPDATE: Our readers chime in with resources about research on the dangers of third-hand smoke in the comments section. MUST-READ. Thank you dear readers.

Okay. So. Secondhand smoke vs. smoke residue on clothing are two different things, although hell yes, they both stink to high heaven and I personally cannot stand either. But smoke residue on clothing and skin DOES NOT enter and irritate and damage the lungs like actual, airborne smoke. So by that standard, you can dial back on your all-consuming, white-knuckled fear for your baby’s health. Nobody is getting lung cancer from a stinky t-shirt.

HOWEVER.

Smoke residue CAN and DOES irritate the nasal passages and eyes. You know this feeling well. You smell that *smell* and your eyes water and your nose wrinkles up and it’s a smell so strong and so bad you swear you can *taste* it. This irritation is just that — irritating — in small doses and exposure periods, but after awhile your other (usually unrelated) respiratory allergies start acting up and after a longer while this constant state of irritation will make you more prone to infections of various kinds. Not cool.

So in the grand scheme of things, I’d say your worries over your in-laws visiting are valid, though not valid enough to, say, forbid them to visit or make them stay in a hotel or constantly and dramatically gag and cough every time they walk into the room. But they are enough to request that yes, they wash their hands before holding her. (Although really, EVERYBODY should wash their hands before holding your newborn. Smokers certainly don’t hold a monopoly on germs.)

As for the changing of clothing — instead of insisting on actually changing shirts, insist on a “smoking jacket.” If they are going outside to smoke at your house, they’ll probably have one already. But if, say, they visit in the summer, have your husband ask that they still bring a light windbreaker or other cover-up to wear for smoking that they can remove before coming in the house. This should (according to Dr. Sears and a few other websites I consulted about secondhand smoke facts) be enough to shield your daughter from any nasal or eye irritation from fresh smoke clinging to their clothes.

You’re probably still going to smell it, even if they do change their shirts after every cigarette, because they DO smoke like chimneys and you ARE highly sensitive to it and there’s a limit to what laundry detergent can do over time. But it’s old stale smoke that is unlikely to cause your daughter any serious harm.

THAT SAID! If you notice that her eyes are red and watery after they hold her or she develops a dry cough or nosebleeds or anything like that, then it will be time for you and your husband (and your pediatrician! always get the doctor on your side!) to have a more serious talk about his parents and their habit.

In the meantime, keep the cigarettes outside and a smoking jacket handy (make it velvet! Hugh Hefner style!), and for now, take a deep clean breath inside your nice, smoke-free home and relax. It’s going to be okay.

UPDATE: Our readers chime in with resources about research on the dangers of third-hand smoke in the comments section. MUST-READ. Thank you dear readers.

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s must-read weekly Pregnancy Calendar.

 

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

icon icon
chat bubble icon

Comments