Straight Talk Advice

Jun 30, 2010

Stepdad’s smoke permeates small apartment

DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: In the recent letter from “Smoked-Out,” about her sister’s boyfriend sneaking cigarettes in their bedroom, at least she has house no-smoking rules on her side. But what if it’s your parent or step-parent who smokes? Our stepdad is a very heavy smoker — and heavy drinker — and his smoke permeates our small apartment. My sister and I stick to our room with the door closed and window open as much as we can. It helps some, but not that much. His attitude is, “I pay the rent and I’ll smoke if I want. Anybody who doesn’t like it can leave!” He’s very domineering and our mom, who is financially dependent on him, is afraid to stand up to him. She has no job skills and says that even skilled people are having trouble getting jobs these days, so we’d end up homeless if he left. If anybody has any ideas for our situation, I’d love to hear them because the smoke really bothers us. — Marie, Santa Ana, Calif.

Scot 23, San Luis Obispo, Calif. Ask me a question

This is a tough spot but there’s always options. Save up money and buy an air filter for your room, or a 10-inch fan to place on the window sill to blow in fresh air. My apartment gets super hot in the summer but this cools it down fast. You could also try getting a note from the school nurse about your breathing being affected, saying smoking in the house has to go. Other than that, it really depends on whether you can talk to him about it.

Katelyn 16, Huntington Beach, Calif. Ask me a question

That’s tough, so I’m going to give you a tough answer. If you really want to escape this, live with a different relative for a while. He did say, ‘Anybody who doesn’t like it can leave.’ So why not get some fresh air, physically and emotionally?

Akasha 16, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question
I know a girl who lives with her grandmother who smokes constantly. She already has asthma, and with the smoke, she is hospitalized regularly because she can’t breath. Second-hand smoke is dangerous, some say more dangerous than first-hand smoke because there is no filter. Ask your mom to consider getting a job. It doesn’t sound like they are in a true love relationship and maybe she could save up and get her own apartment.
Maureen 18, Redding, Calif. Ask me a question

It seems you are stuck until you can move out. It’s worth a shot to push your mom to stand up to him. Or maybe stand up to him yourselves; he probably won’t kick you out just for suggesting it. Or maybe get a nurse to talk to him about how bad second-hand smoke is. If he cares about his family at all he will smoke outside.

DEAR MARIE: I appreciate the idealism of some of the panelists who think your parents should care (they should!) and that you should pressure them to change. There are situations where I, too, would recommend applying pressure. But because you describe your stepfather as a domineering heavy drinker and your mom as unemployed and afraid for her (and your) welfare if he walks out, this isn’t one of them. The chances of it leading to smoke-free living are bleak. More likely, it will light up far worse problems than cigarettes. Instead seal the bottom of your door, keep it shut, buy the fan and air filter, immerse yourself in study groups, extracurricular activities, or part-time work that will earn you girls a ticket out of the house and possibly a free ride to college (private colleges have money for needy students with good grades). Above all, consider this man (and your mother’s relationship to him) great teachers of how not to live your life.

Editor’s Web Note: To all teens who smoke: Quit now. Not only is it easier when you’re young, but today’s letter could be written about you in a few short years. Do you think “Stepdad” ever saw this belligerent future for himself when he was your age? No, but it happens. I’ve had letters from gagging teens forced to dine together while a parent smokes at table. (Family values in action!) Tobacco is a great example of how addictions cause boorish behavior without the excuse of being “high” that alcohol and other drugs have. That’s how addiction works: whether the substance makes you high or not, when it needs to be “fed,” and can get away with it, it almost always cancels out doing what’s right. —Lauren

  1. By Linda, age , from Oakland, CA on 06/30/2010

    I’m in a similar situation and also can find no solution.  My parents are divorced and I spend every other weekend at my dad’s for visitations.  My dad, my stepmom, and my stepsisters who I have to share a room with when I’m there all smoke, so there’s no escape, not even a room where I can go and open the window and/or use an air filter like some of the panelists suggest.  The only one who doesn’t smoke is my 13 year old stepbrother.  I’d almost rather share a room with him notwithstanding the opposite sex room sharing issues that have been discussed in recent columns (and I’d certainly change in the bathroom or my stepsisters’ room unlike some of the others).  However, I don’t really think that’s a realistic possibilty and the smoke is so pervasive that I don’t think it would help that much anyway.  I guess I’m lucky that it’s only every other weekend unlike those who have to put up with it seven days a week, but it still really bothers me and makes me dread visitations rather than having it be a positive experience like it should be.


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  2. By Alicia S., age , from Lodi, CA, USA on 06/30/2010

    Our mom is a heavy smoker, but at least she goes outside so that my sister and I aren’t exposed to the second hand smoke.  She’s tried many times to stop, but says she’s “hooked” and can’t stop even though she knows it’s likely to shorten her life.  She says she started as a teenager because she thought it was “cool.”  It’s one thing for adults to smoke, and they have that right.  However, it’s totally wrong to expose their kids to it.  We have laws that protect adults in the workplace and other indoor public places, but kids, even babies, can be exposed to second hand smoke in the home.  Does that make sense? No.  I think that it should be banned even inside of private homes when there are minor children in the home.


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