Living with smokers

Sharing space with anyone can be tough, but if you live with someone who smokes it can be much harder. Avoid harming your health and your relationships with our guide.

Girl smoking on bed next to a pillow

"Great, my pillow is going to smell of fag ash."

How can I cope with living with smokers?

We all know passive smoking can damage your health, but if you’re living with a smoker it can be unavoidable. Your health concerns are completely legitimate, but it’s better for both parties if you don’t get hysterical about them. Make your worries clear, but avoid nagging incessantly as it can be counterproductive.

Try to remember that smoking is an addictive and legal habit. Appreciating someone’s craving to smoke will help you be more understanding, so:

  • Have the confidence to ask them to smoke outside, or in one particular room, to limit how much you breathe in.
  • If you’re asking people to go out of their way for your comfort, be clear about the reasons why you don’t like them smoking
  • Set ground rules – be clear, honest and open about what you want right from the start if you’re living with someone new
  • Take other factors into account – if you’re living in a house owned by a smoker, or it’s raining heavily on the outside smoking area, things can get murky

Can I get rid of the smell of smoke?

Cigarette smoke has a habit of lingering on clothes and furniture, but there are ways you can reduce the effects – even if someone smokes inside:

  • Open windows as much as possible, especially when people are smoking
  • Empty ashtrays and wash them every day (or better yet encourage the smokers to do this), and sprinkle a layer of bicarbonate of soda on the bottom to absorb odour
  • Use an air purifier or an anti-allergy filter in your heaters

Can I ask them to quit?

No one will suddenly stop smoking just because you ask them sweetly – no matter how much support you offer. It has to be their decision to quit. Here’s how to help them:

  • Remember you’re fighting their addiction, not them, so you could offer support by quitting a habit of your own
  • Arm yourself with information about how quitting will benefit them and what they’ll go through if they quit
  • Suggest they call the NHS Smoking Helpline if they’re interested, or they could take an addiction test to get started
  • Don’t make negative comments if they relapse
  • Read our article on helping someone else quit for more tips

My housemates smoke

If you’re living with friends you’re likely to hang out with them, which is when cigarettes tend to become involved (they don’t call it social smoking for nothing). Rachel finds it hard when her housemate who smokes invites other smokers over. “They leave the door open while they smoke outside, or leave it on the latch so the smell goes down the corridor and into our rooms. It has caused friction and arguments,” she says.

  • Stress the ground rules on smoking inside when you’re having a drink – they tend to slide when everyone’s had a few
  • If you live in a rented property, find out if the landlord has a policy on smoking inside
  • If you’re going to move in with smokers, talk things through early on – bringing it up six months down the track won’t get a good response

My boyfriend/girlfriend smokes

Spending time with a boyfriend or girlfriend means spending time with their smoking, too. “It doesn’t bother me as long as my partner doesn’t smoke in front of the children, so he usually smokes outside or out of a window,” says Abbie.

  • If a partner isn’t likely to stop smoking, have a good think about whether you can handle it in the long-term
  • Don’t assume a partner will ‘change’ for you – this can cause bitterness on both sides

My parents smoke

If you’re living with the folks you may have no choice but to put up with their habit – especially if you can’t afford to move out. Treenz is a non-smoker who grew up in a smoking family. “Now I’ve moved out, I go home to visit and realise how smelly it is. When I visit my mum, both she and her partner smoke and I notice it catching my throat and my chest at times.”

  • Attitudes towards smoking can be different between generations, so it’s worth explaining how you feel if you’re worried about their health
  • A sibling might ask you to hide their smoking from your parents – it’s your decision, but try to avoid backing something that you feel strongly against.

Photo of girl smoking by Shutterstock

Next Steps

  • NHS Smokefree offers all sorts of advice and support to help you quit smoking.
  • Use the NHS smoking calculator to see how much your habit is costing you.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Louise Ridley

Updated on 29-Sep-2015