We are dedicated to education and information on
how secondhand smoke affects our lives,
and how we can avoid the smoke as we live and work.

If you have questions about how secondhand smoke can affect you and your family, please email me. I am happy to help answer your questions.

Send questions by email to or by U.S. mail to:, 12274 Bandera Rd., Ste. 210, Helotes, Texas 78023-4387.



November 3, 2009

Q. I have a coworker that smokes yet she never smokes directly in front of me.  She goes outside on her smoke breaks; however the other day I realized she is not too far outside from our door entrance when she is smoking.  So, I'm unsure whether or not the smoke is getting inside our office or not?  I have been very ill for the past few months now with chronic coughing and major asthma attacks.  Doctor diagnosed me with severe sinus and severe asthma and gave me maintenance inhaler, attack inhaler, Prednisone pills (for one week), and prescribed cough syrup to help me sleep at night.  Please let me know all of your thoughts on all of this?  Do you think I'm ill due to coworker smoking (even though she is outside), but then I wonder if smoke on her alone bothers me possibly?  I don't have a sense of smell, so it's difficult for me to tell for sure.

And what do you suggest as remedies for my problem, if I may ask that as well?

Thank you! 'Chelle

A. Chelle: Because you lack a sense of smell you will have to rely on what I will tell you. It could be either or both of the problems you described. It is most likely from the residual smoke chemicals on her clothes, hair and the breathe she exhales (now termed third-hand smoke), but can also be from smoke coming back inside the building around windows or doors, or through ventilation systems.

I have the same problems you are describing and find just walking near or down an aisle at the grocery store where someone who smokes is or has just passed will cause an asthma attack. The chemical compositions in the smoke gas they carry with them is deadly and must be avoided by you at all times. 

You are going to find this not only difficult, but probably impossible to explain to your employer because most people will not have such a strong reaction. This is why I have a list of businesses (link on left side) that no longer allow employees to smoke. It is because my problem is the same as yours that I had to find a way to work from home. There are far too few companies that understand this and truly create a 100% smoke-free environment for their employees. 

If you cannot work far enough away from smoking employees and the outdoor smoking area you will have to find other employment, looking for a safer environment, or find a way to work from home. Your life and health depend on this. Because of exposure to residual smoke I have been confined to bed for sometimes months at a time with life-threatening bronchitis. Continued exposure will further exacerbate your lung disease and it will get worse. 

I am so sorry you have developed this problem and hope you will find a way to survive it in the workplace.

Jacque Petterson
Please tell your friends and family about my web site It supports this site for education.


November 30, 2007

Q. I was pleased to find the website and your insight on matters of second hand smoke. As a young woman who just turned 21 I have some concerns. I was struggling with college and tuition bills and managed to get a job for an insurance agent at above minimum wage which is a feat for where I live. My two employers were heavy chain smokers and already cancer survivors from it but refused not to smoke around me. I have always had big dreams about becoming a singer and was at the job to save money to leave for a town with opportunity. I knew I shouldn't work in the environment and kept the door open as much as possible to try to inhale as little of the smoke as possible. After 8 months I finally left because I couldn't handle it. I've done the math of working 8 hour days for 8 months five days a week around second hand smoke and its not pretty. I'm sulking as I write this and kicking myself. My throat has been giving me lots of problems and I saw an ENT about a month ago who said the swollen lumps on my neck were saliva glands from allergies. The swelling hasn't subsided and I'm seeing another ENT in about a week for a second opinion. I haven't noticed too much of a change in my singing voice expect for my lung capacity (probably from the smoke and I need to exercise to rebuild that) and it hurts to sing because of the swelling on the side of my neck. It causes a lot of pressure. I haven't sang in about 2 months like I used to to avoid permanent damage. Do you think that the smoke is what caused this persistent swelling? Is it possible to get cancer from the 8 months? Did you notice a change in your speaking voice? I just need some input. I'm freaking out.

A. I wish we all (including me) had learned to say no to working in secondhand smoke in the first place. We are just now getting to the point where we understand the dangers, and the government refuses to provide the education needed to make the right choices before it is too late. Here is a great news piece on CNN about the dangers of secondhand smoke.  (Note this link was posted 11/30/07 and may not be available at a later date.)

I do believe the damage to your throat is from the heavy doses of smoke you were forced to inhale. Although it is certainly possible to get cancer from the smoke after eight months of breathing it, it is more likely you will not. It would depend on your genetic makeup and whether your body is more or less prone to cancer. I am glad you are going to another ENT for a second opinion since the swelling is not subsiding. Hopefully they can find a solution, and get the problem resolved.

My voice has been changed, but I believe more due to the medications (inhalers) I have been forced to use daily to continue breathing. I can no longer hold a tune as the alto I used to be (some days are better than others).

f for some reason you should end up with a serious problem as a result of the secondhand smoke, please let me know. I know an attorney that might be interested in talking with you.


November 25, 2007

Q. I just returned this evening from visiting someone who is a smoker (inside the house). I was in the room approximately two hours while the smoking continued. This is my husband's sister's house so I was not at liberty to tell them to go outside and smoke. My husband is an ex-smoker so of course he was enjoying the smoke and the horrific smell. My question is this, have I suffered any damage to my lungs just for this short period of time (two hours) while breathing second hand smoke? At the moment, my lungs fill very "tight" and " heavy". Should I be concerned and will this go away? I have decided that I cannot visit this person again. I had no idea that she would smoke in front everybody. Thanks for your response.

A. Long term damage is not likely for such a short time, but it has been proven that 30 minutes of secondhand smoke can cause a heart attack. It restricts the arteries. I have copied below an article on a study that was just released. It has been found that when smoke-free workplace laws go into effect the heart attack rates drop dramatically, including for non-smokers. So, the tightness and heaviness in your chest is a concern, and this experience should not be repeated. It can also be an asthmatic reaction. If it does not go away you should see a doctor. As long as you do not go where people are smoking in the future you should be fine.

The big problem is finding nice ways to explain to those who don't understand. I have found for the heavy smokers, their families and friends, they rarely truly understand. You just have to remember they are in the great minority, your health is priority and be as nice as you can. Make a rule that you do not go where smoking is permitted and ask everyone before you go to their home or business, "Do you allow smoking?" and if they say yes, just politely explain you will not be able to go there. I don't know how your husband will react if you say you will not go to his sister's house in the future if she is going to allow smoking. This could actually require counseling.

I hope this helps.

BERKELEY, CA (November 19, 2007) – A new study released by Indiana University researchers shows that comprehensive smokefree workplace laws result in immediate and significant improvements in heart health, particularly in nonsmokers.  The study found a 59% net decrease in hospital admissions for heart attacks, also known as acute myocardial infarctions (AMIs), in nonsmokers with no prior cardiac history in Monroe County, Indiana versus the control county during the study period which tracked 22 months prior to and following the implementation of a comprehensive smokefree workplace law. 
According to Cynthia Hallett, Executive Director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, “The Monroe County, Indiana study proves that 100% smokefree workplace laws improve the heart health of workers and residents, particularly nonsmokers.  This adds to the ever-growing body of literature showing that smokefree workplace laws save lives, in the short term and the long term.”
The study, “Reduced Admission for Acute Myocardial Infarction Associated with a Public Smoking Ban: Matched Controlled Study,” conducted by Dong-Chul Seo, Ph.D. and Mohammad Torabi, Ph.D. will be published in the coming month’s Journal of Drug Education. It measured whether or not there was a change in admissions for acute myocardial infarctions in patients with no history of previous cardiac events or key risk factors for cardiac events [hypertension and/or high cholesterol] during the study period – the 22 months prior to and 22 months since the implementation of a comprehensive smokefree law that covers workplaces, restaurants, bars and clubs in Monroe County, Indiana vs. the control county, Delaware County, Indiana, which had no smokefree law during the study.
The Monroe County study is groundbreaking because it is the first to examine the impact of a smokefree workplace law on the heart health of nonsmokers, rather than the general population.
“This study, which goes deeper than earlier heart studies in Helena, MT and elsewhere, validates that there are important and immediate health benefits to smokefree workplace policies, particularly in preventing heart disease in nonsmokers,” Hallett said.  “The bottom line is simple: secondhand smoke kills.  Everyone deserves to breathe smokefree air in enclosed workplaces and public places.”
The new study is further evidence that strong 100% smokefree ordinances covering all workplaces reduce exposure to known carcinogens and immediately improve short term health outcomes.  This reaffirms the conclusions of the landmark 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Secondhand Smoke Exposure, which states that secondhand smoke exposure may have immediate effects on the cardiovascular systems of nonsmokers and also validates a 2004 warning issued by the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, cautioning that individuals at increased risk of coronary heart disease or with known coronary artery disease should avoid all indoor environments that permit smoking .
Previous studies in Helena, Montana and Pueblo, Colorado showed a 40% and a 27% overall drop in acute myocardial infarctions following the implementation of comprehensive smokefree workplace laws in those cities.  A 2006 study of the effect of a smokefree law in Piedmont, Italy similarly found an overall reduction in heart attacks following implementation of a smokefree law in that region of Italy.
“Smokefree indoor air is a mainstream idea whose time has come,” said Hallett.  “As the public has learned more about the health dangers associated with secondhand smoke, public support for smokefree polices has taken off across the country.  It’s no longer a question of who will be next to go smokefree, but who will be last.”
More than 655 U.S. local communities and 25 states have enacted local laws providing for smokefree air in all enclosed workplaces, including restaurants and bars, according to the ANR Foundation Local Ordinance Database (see smokefree map at Nearly 60% of the US population is protected by a smokefree law, but gaps remain in some regions and job sectors.
Cities and states without a strong smokefree law in all workplaces should take heed and pursue a smokefree law before more workers and residents are unnecessarily placed at risk for disease and possibly death as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.


Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights is a national, member-based, not-for-profit organization based in Berkeley, CA that is dedicated to helping nonsmokers breathe smokefree air in enclosed public places and workplaces.  
For more information:

Indiana University Press Release:

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights (ANR):

Bronson Frick
Associate Director
Americans for Nonsmokers Rights/ ANR Foundation
2530 San Pablo Ave., Ste. J
Berkeley, CA 94702
(510) 841-3032 phone
(510) 841-3071 fax

To search the localets-talk archives, go to: 


Q. I live in a small Georgia town and was wondering if it is a law for all restaurants to be smoke free?  I ate at one today - I mean a small one, and the smell alone was horrific. I had my grandsons (both preemies with lung problems) with me. At first I thought it was just the building and old smells until I saw one of the ladies there light up. Can you tell me what the law is and why this person can do that when all others in town cannot? 

A. My understanding of the law In Georgia is they can only allow smoking if no one under 18 is allowed in that business. I believe they were in violation and need to be reported to the health department or police department. Until the Georgia laws are stronger you should ask before entering a restaurant if they are "completely" smoke-free. Be careful how you ask that question as some think if they have a non-smoking section they are smoke-free, which, as you know, is not the case.


Q. Yesterday, I was in a rehearsal for three hours in a medium size closed window room, with about 10 people smoking cigarettes simultaneously, the entire time. Can this one rehearsal affect or damage my singing or vocal health in any way? (I'm an opera singer) J.

A. For most of us I would normally say it was probably not enough to cause noticeable permanent damage unless an illness resulting from the smoke, or medications taken for such an illness, affects the vocal cords. But, because you have special training, and even a minor injury could be a problem, I would say it might be possible. If this is happening on even an occasional basis it can definitely cause permanent harm. If you believe there has been damage you need to find a throat specialist - one that understands the dangers of secondhand smoke - and make an appointment. Never let any doctor intimidate you into believing your concerns are not valid. Many doctors are still ignorant about tobacco smoke and its dangers. I know singers who have permanent damage from ongoing secondhand smoke exposure and can no longer sing at all.

It is very hard to be the one who says I will not risk my health or my voice because people do not wish to be inconvenienced and go outside to smoke. It has been a learning experience for all of us. We have to learn to be strong and take the humiliation when they make fun of us until they get it. 

I do want to mention that being in a room full of people who come back inside immediately after smoking outside can also do harm on a regular basis as well. The chemicals "outgas" and can affect the throat, and cause asthma attacks or other health problems.


Jacque Petterson

Powered by Verio
Produced by Petterson Web & Design Services

© 2012 Smoke-Free Housing & Travel, LLC /  All rights reserved.