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Help! My Roommate Smokes and I Don’t

Help! My Roommate Smokes and I Don’t

Even though you’ve staved off the temptation and tried hard to avoid second-hand smoke, you just found out your roommate smokes (next time you’ll make sure to use a roommate finder that prevents unpleasant surprises like these). Smoking cigarettes used to be in vogue, but their well-known health risks have made the practice less socially acceptable today. Still, there are an estimated 40 million smokers in the U.S.  So naturally, you have your concerns. Your roommate’s crumpled clothes reek of smoke, and they always seem to miss the ashcan outside the apartment, leaving a fine carpet of rain-washed butts for you to trod over on your way in. You’re worried about that unrelenting cough your roommate gets occasionally, or maybe you’re just grossed out and wondering what to do now. You enjoy your co-living situation, but the smoking is really getting to you. Not to worry; communication is key, and though your roommate has a right to their habits (no matter how detrimental), that doesn’t mean you have to suffer. We asked some nonsmoking roommates on how to clear the air when your roommate smokes.

Help! My Roommate Smokes

Preventative Measures

If you’re living with a smoker and you don’t smoke yourself, one of two things happened: They either moved in with the habit (and didn’t mention it) or they picked up later. In either case, you should set up some ground rules ASAP. Just like with taking out the trash or washing the dishes, you should settle on an agreement. Are you okay with them smoking on the landing even if it lets some of the smoky air in? What about when it’s cold outside? Be clear what you’re willing to compromise on and what is a total dealbreaker. Some habits affect everyone, and you have a right to make your needs known. It’s always important to communicate your issues with habits like smoking to potential housemates. And if you’re cool with the habit but need rules, make sure to set them down in your roommate contract. This will prevent some of the problems discussed here.

Smelly Situations

Of course, it’s entirely possible that you knew your roommate smokes before they moved in, but now it’s become an issue. Such was the case with Courtney Mixon, whose #1 roommate (her husband), recently ceased a 20-year smoking habit. Mixon, not a smoker herself, affectionately recounted the ups-and-downs of her hubby’s habit.

“He would leave the butts and stuff in the ashtray…and it would annoy the crap out of me. But I emptied it. And the wrappers were everywhere cause the cats loved the crinkle sound.”

Fortunately, the Mixons know that a little communication goes a long way.

“He got better after I pointed out both issues,” says Mixon, adding that they’ve moved to a new house where they do not allow smoking inside.

Barbara Denzer had similar complaints when she lived with a roommate who smoked for 15 years, noting that the consequences went beyond simple pet peeves.

“It turned the ceilings in our house yellow. It made the house and all our clothes smell. It was a lot of work to combat that, but I also worried about our lungs,” she says.

Denzer says after moving away from that housemate, it was easier to avoid these situations.

“People went outside to smoke. Smoking wasn’t allowed in restaurants. It seemed like it was safer to live with.”

But smoke and smell might be the least of your worries.

A Hazardous Habit

It goes without saying that smoking is bad for you. And though everyone is entitled to their own habits, you’re also entitled to worry. According to TheRealCost.gov, smokers die about 10 years sooner, and almost one in five deaths in the U.S. can be tied to smoking. Denzer knows the dangers first-hand: Having lost a husband to lung cancer, she soon after found herself at risk for the deadly disease.

“Three years [after my husband’s death] I had a pulmonary embolism, or blood clots in the lungs, which I barely survived. Two years after that, I had another pulmonary embolism, also a narrow escape from death,” says Denzer.

If you can help it, Denzer’s advice is to avoid living with a roommate who smokes, or to “try to get them to quit — for their sake.”

Mixon is thankful that her husband stopped while he could.

“He made it a point to quit because he has asthma,” she says, adding that she’s very proud of his success. “His asthma has gotten so much better! He doesn’t use an inhaler as much as he used to. He went from using one inhaler for three to four weeks and now he’s been using the same one since August 2015.”

Perhaps your roommate can’t be scared into quitting, but it doesn’t hurt to talk about it. If you’re concerned about their welfare, tell them. It’ll let them know you care. If you don’t want to combat their personal choices, but it affects you, politely ask for some space from the habit. The simple act of smoking outside or cleaning up their cigarettes might make all the difference for your peace of mind.