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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 [email protected].

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.

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jodifur
Guest

I say let your husband run interference if it has to be done. I have gotten involved before and they always blame everything on me. It is his parents, make him be the bad guy.

Joe
Guest
Joe

Ugh… I know the feeling. I live in the downstairs and whenever my dad so much as moves around upstairs I get a scratchy throat, start cracking my knuckles and itchy eyes. Which was the exact way I always felt when I smoked. 

I think it’s just extra worse with him in particular. Because he has terrible hygiene rarely washes his hair, changes his clothes, or takes showers. (they say smokers have low hygiene) 

Anyways I have encouraged him to quit but his excuse is the same I’ve smoked for 40 years…. blah blah blah. 

Cagey
Guest

My daughter wanted to have nothing to do with my mom for the 8 months or so of her life. NOTHING. It was so bad and so immediate, my daughter’s reaction to my mom, that it was awkward. I am fairly certain it was the smoke smells coming from her clothes. And yes, my mom was always conscientious about washing her hands. Since babies have such a sensitive sense of smell, the reader’s new baby may take care of the issue itself.

Diane
Guest
Diane

I agree with Jodi. As far as holding the baby goes, our policy is that EVERYONE washes hands first, regardless of smoking behavior. Instead of the smoking jacket route, we insist on a receiving blanket draped over the shoulder/chest/etc. It has the added bonus of protecting their clothes from spit-up and other such baby drippings.

cagey
Guest

While taking my shower this morning, I actually had a few non-kid moments to think about this further:
I think the husband should be the one to take care of it – otherwise, the wife will be cast in the role of Evil DIL, which is not fair to her. Also, the couple would do well to just blame the whole asthma situation – meaning, the new baby has a higher risk for asthma anyway and therefore, should not be exposed to smoke or residue.

Shanna
Guest

i’ve just watched an episode of The Doctors where they’re warning people about the risk of “third-hand smoke” (i.e. the residue leftover from the smoke contains harmful chemicals). here’s the link to The Doctors site for this episode: http://www.thedoctorstv.com/main/show_page/151 basically the residue found anywhere from people’s clothing, furniture in hotel rooms, rental cars…anything coming into contact with smoke contains harmful chemicals that can, overtime, become dangerous if exposed long enough. you might want to do some more research on it. what you should remember is that this is your child and you and your husband have the say at what… Read more »

Andrea
Guest
Andrea

What Shanna said. Third-hand smoke is coming to be understood as a serious health risk in its own right. (This is completely intuitive to anybody who ever had an asthma attack triggered by the smoke-reeking person who sat next to them on a train.)
Babies are at particular risk.
See:
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/03/health/research/03smoke.html?em
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081229105037.htm
Google “third-hand smoke” for more info.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

I spent years joking that if I were to ever procreate, my parents would have to quit smoking in order to meet their grandchild. When I got pregnant, I took the opportunity to follow through on that ultimatum. It’s been four months since my son was born and my mom is still smoke-free (my dad has gone from a pack-a-day smoker to a pack-a-week smoker and now only outside). It was a little bitchy of me, but totally worth it to have (mostly) smoke-free parents for the first time in my life. My brother is expecting his first kid this… Read more »

Beth
Guest
Beth

I obviously realize that it’s a habit, hard to quit, blah blah blah…
But my gut instinct whenever I encounter a smoker is always “Seriously? You smoke? Who still smokes?? Ewww.”
Because, seriously? Who still smokes?!

Gene
Guest
Gene

I do.

donna
Guest
donna

Relook at how study was wrong . go to smoker rights web ,look at 108 year old vet.he smokes.  1cig takes 5min off for life laughing adds 10min. Do you wear perfume or deodorant? Perfume is Bad for allergy.  Deodorant has known cancer causing agent in it. So does baby lotion.if someone is willing to go outside they re trying. I wish people would realize nobody is perfect including them.nobody should judge.

Brooke
Guest

Ok, this is a touchy one for me because I went through a VERY similar situation. My in-laws smoked around me while I was pregnant without thought (in their homes, of course, not mine), and I was concerned because they were okay with just “going into another room” to smoke when he was a newborn. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t speak up. And I should have. Now, he’s three and has allergy-induced asthma and we deal with smoke and other environmental issues CONSTANTLY. And my daughter (4 1/2 months) is following right along in his footsteps. I can’t,… Read more »

Melanie
Guest
Melanie

I like what Rebecca did. I don’t have kids yet, but I am the youngest of 4 and my brothers are over 10 years older than me. I have 7 (soon to be 8) nieces and nephews and my parents both quit smoking before #1 was born. That was about 9 years ago and they are both still smoke-free except for an occasional cigar while my dad’s playing cards.

Amy
Guest
Amy

Sorry, but media hype notwithstanding, the studies attempting to prove the existence of or harms from third-hand smoke are spurious at best.
http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2009/01/new-study-warns-of-dangers-of-thirdhand.html
http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/2009/01/original-study-on-thirdhand-smoke-does.html
http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2009/01/third-hand-smoke-and-chemtrails.html
It may be gross and smelly, but there is no evidence that it affects children’s (or anyone else’s health).

class factotum
Guest

I don’t have kids and I don’t have an opinion on asthma and smoking-induced diseases, but my husband is an occasional smoker (as in two packs a month, tops). He is always amazed when I ask, “Did you smoke yesterday?” I can smell it in his breath the day after he smokes one cigarette. It is starting to worry him a little bit. I am not concerned about his health, though. I think it just affects different people differently. My grandmother died at 96 after a lifetime of heavy smoking. Her house never smelled and she had no smoking-related health… Read more »

Ashley
Guest
Ashley

Thanks y’all for the advice on how to handle the inlaws! We are close (Please God let it be soon, today works for me!) to our daughter’s birth so this is perfect timing. My husband has talked to his parents about our expectations and unfortunately it has ticked them off. It probably didn’t help that he strongly suggested they quit as their first choice! His choice to push that issue not mine but that’s not to say I don’t agree. They probably won’t ever quit even though they both have health problems from smoking for so long. He thinks their… Read more »

jasmineN
Guest
jasmineN

Ok, I read the original study (G E Matt 2004) and I agree with many of the flaws brought up by the linked blogger. AND no single study should be taken as absolute truth. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to decide that there is 0 evidence of health risk from third hand smoke. The confidence intervals were reasonably narrow for such a small sample size and there were marked differences between the “no exposure” group and the other groups. Are they clinically different? I don’t know the biology of that scenario so I can’t make that judgment. The confidence… Read more »

jane
Guest
jane

You would have to smoke A LOT and never wash your clothes and then stick your smokey clothes and you in a hot room all the while breathing DEEPLY in order to be affected by the bad things in third-hand cigarette smoke. Toluene is bad but in what quantity? Arsenic isn’t a volatile so I’m not sure how you’d inhale it. It’s true that these chemcials are harmful to health in certain concentrations. Honestly, you’re probably getting a bigger dose of air polution living in LA or near a busy expressway.

Rae
Guest
Rae

Wow…Call me old-fashioned, but when is it okay to blackmail your parents? If they died tomorrow, I would seriously hope that people would have more regrets than being cut out of the will for manipulating them. Because that’s what blackmail is…manipulation. People don’t tend to react very well to that. It seems the young mom-to-be is very excited over the fact that she now gets to ban her in-laws from her baby’s life. Gloating, in fact. I see that they make an effort to go outside to smoke, even in their own home (which, believe me, I’ve never known a… Read more »

jen
Guest
jen

Damn, Rebecca and Rae, that is awesome!
Smoking is disgusting and sickening–literally. You have done your families–generations before and after you–a HUGE favor! I hope your smoking relatives are beginning to feel better without their morning coughing fits and are glad you and the little ones spurred them on to make the change.

baby bows
Guest

My current boyfriend is a smoker. I hate it when I smell it. He doesn’t doesn’t smoke near me and he doesn’t let his friends smoke near me, too. I sooo appreciate it but I wonder sometimes, what if we have a baby already? I’m afraid she’ll get asthma because of that. but thanks for your advice, I know what to do now. =)

Karen
Guest
Karen

I found this blog because I am having this very issue with my parents. When I decided to go back to college, my parents offered for my husband, my children and me to stay with them. I refused, and told them it was because of the smoking. They swore they would quit, and we moved in. I have two years to graduation, and they have begun smoking again. I asked they not smoke around our children, and stay away a bit for the smoke on the clothes and skin to wear off. My daughter and son are both on daily… Read more »

NBC
Guest
NBC

I enjoyed reading all the comments. For the person that said your boyfriend doesnt smoke near you is only for now and it will all change once you guys are together for a while and married and stuff. You have got a lot thinking to do. I was the same with my current smoker husband. He never smoked near me and he has always told me he will quit and to this day we have been together for four years and we have a 6 months old baby and he did not quit. He has told me million times he… Read more »

BLewis
Guest
BLewis

This is a tough issue, I only have one additional thing to add – Chantix. It is a new(er) prescription drug that makes a real difference in quitting and costs no more than what the typical cost of cigarets per month (though it is all up front). If your family members are serious about quitting have them talk to their doctors about Chantix or some other smoking abatement program – they dont just have to cold turkey it anymore!

Miranda
Guest
Miranda

I just found this blog because I’m going through this very thing. My FIL came to visit us for thanksgiving which is a huge deal since he barely calls and the last time he came to visit was 7.5 years ago for our wedding. In that time he had quit smoking but failed to tell us that he started again 2 years ago. When he arrived, my two young boys and my husband and I were all trying to get over a really bad chest cold. And here he is prancing in reeking of smoke. My house is tiny and… Read more »

Name (required)
Guest
Name (required)

why do smokers have to be so selfish and think that when they smoke and open the window that the air is completely clear, well it isn’t.  My boyfriend smoke and wont smoke outside before i go round, he knows how i feel about smoking as my mum died of smoking related disease and his dad got lung cancer and he still hasn’t given up.  i get lots of sore throats and am very concerned about how to protect myself when i go round. He doesnt smoke in his flat while i am there.  How do i deal with this… Read more »

Jamie
Guest
Jamie

Our nanny smokes (outside) and I was having some anxiety about it.  My husband (who is Turkish) bought an alcohol rub for the hands that is a Turkish cleanser/refresher and she puts it on her hands and runs it through her hair after she smokes…it helps a lot.  It is called Duru (brand name) colonya (cologne) – we get lemon scent.  Just a suggestion.  

Teresa
Guest
Teresa

Everyone has the right to their opinion and the way they want to raise their children. I have researched this a bit and it seems a bit sketchy to me. We all know second hand smoke isn’t good and even though third hand is stinky it seems it would have to be in quantities that are not substainable in real life. A normal person will wash their hands before holding a baby. Thia seems to be along the same subject as germs. No exposure no tolerance when the child gets older.

Insulted and injured
Guest
Insulted and injured

I’m nearly 50 years old and my ex-husband’s family who i have known for 30 years has disowned me because I smoke. It first became apparent to me that I was not welcome at the baby shower. I was given the cold shoulder the entire time i was there and felt so uncomfortable that i actually felt the need to apologize for giving her a $300 gift….her reaction was so cold and awkward compared to when she opened all the other gifts, it left me hoping that it was simply that she had already purchased the item…she had not. I… Read more »

Dani
Guest
Dani

Me me mr.  That is all your response is.  You don’t take the mother of the child into consideration or the proven health risks of smoking around the baby.   You know it stinks and you know they have rules but you complain and don’t respect the rules.   If you were as considerate as you claim you wouldn’t have this problem in the first place

Lanni
Guest
Lanni

They never once said anything about smoking. In fact, the mother could have just told them the truth upfront. They could have simply said: I do not feel comfortable with you around my child because you smoke! Period. Point blank. I do not find them being disrespectful. I find the family to be EXTRA. I just had a child and I made sure to let EVERYONE I know that I did not like smoke near me or my child. I was treated with respect for saying just that. We as a society are becoming so needy and expectant of various… Read more »