As a PF Patient, I’m Begging You to Please Be Considerate of Where You Smoke

As a PF Patient, I’m Begging You to Please Be Considerate of Where You Smoke

younger than 30

I am writing this column from my hospital room, and I’m feeling pretty frustrated. As I was rushing into the grocery store this evening with my oxygen tank strapped to my back and a million things on my mind, I unfortunately didn’t notice the person smoking right outside the exit doors. I took a breath in — at what must have been the same moment he was blowing out a puff of cigarette smoke. This stranger likely had no idea of the impact his act had on me, as I was loaded into an ambulance and sent to the hospital after a coughing attack.

I try not to ask much of other people in terms of managing or coping with my lung disease. After being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in early 2016, I knew that it would be my responsibility to keep myself as healthy as possible. This means wearing a mask in large crowds of people or washing my hands frequently to avoid exposure to airborne illnesses. It also has meant, and still means, not attending social venues or events with friends when someone is feeling unwell. This latter limitation is hard to accept sometimes, but the risk of permanent damage to my lungs, if I get sick, is just not worth it. It is my responsibility to take the proper precautions to protect myself; however, sometimes the lack of knowledge as to others’ actions puts my health in jeopardy — albeit unknowingly.

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My experience was very unpleasant, and while it is anyone’s right to smoke, there are laws in Canada about smoking near a public entrance for a reason. This is where I get a little upset, because I am paying the price for someone choosing to break the law. I realize that this man did not know that I would be entering the store with a serious lung condition. However, that also means he would not be aware of a child with asthma, or a senior with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Both scenarios potentially put their health in jeopardy as well. The point of awareness I am trying to raise here is that we never know what someone else is going through, and if you engage in potentially health-hazardous behavior (i.e., smoking cigarettes), it should be in a designated area as per the law.

So, what is my responsibility or obligation now that this has happened? Well, my priority is ensuring I let myself rest and accept the medical help my lungs need to bring my oxygen saturations back up. Beyond that, I am thinking of having a conversation with the store owner, asking that staff keep a closer eye on those who choose to smoke outside their store. I’m not sure if this is asking too much, as I realize staff resources and time are limited. I can’t address my concerns with the individual who was smoking, as I have no way of contacting him. I’d also want to be sensitive in how I do this, as I know his intention was not to wreak such havoc on my lungs.

The only other way of raising awareness that I can think of is choosing to write about my experience in a column published on this website. Maybe it will engage others in a conversation with people they know who smoke, even if it is just sharing my experience so they’re more conscientious of where they light up a cigarette in the future. Perhaps this column won’t change anything, but I feel that writing about it is beneficial in more ways than one. It could start a conversation and save someone else from this experience, and it is therapeutic for me to get out my frustrations.

As a patient living with a serious and chronic lung condition, I know that I am at increased risk for environmental triggers or the hazardous habits of people (coughing, sneezing, smoking, etc.). Further, I know it is my responsibility to protect myself as much as possible against these things. However, as tonight, that sometimes is beyond my control. In these instances, I can’t help but feel a little frustrated or discouraged, as I will now have to miss work tomorrow as I spend a day recovering.

How do you deal with falling ill or being unwell with IPF despite your best efforts to remain healthy? Continue this discussion in our Pulmonary Fibrosis News forums.


Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.

Charlene is a fiercely independent 30-something woman who can’t sit still. She loves coffee, wine tasting, playing with her dog, and spending time on the beach with her family. She’s a lover of all things travel, and never passes up an opportunity for a dip in the ocean! A proud Canadian, Charlene was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2016 after 13 months of investigation into sudden shortness of breath, a chronic cough, and unusual fatigue. IPF has forced her to slow down, but she’s slowly learning the value of quality versus quantity in everything she does.
Charlene is a fiercely independent 30-something woman who can’t sit still. She loves coffee, wine tasting, playing with her dog, and spending time on the beach with her family. She’s a lover of all things travel, and never passes up an opportunity for a dip in the ocean! A proud Canadian, Charlene was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in 2016 after 13 months of investigation into sudden shortness of breath, a chronic cough, and unusual fatigue. IPF has forced her to slow down, but she’s slowly learning the value of quality versus quantity in everything she does.
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  1. Marjorie Kildare says:

    Sure hope you’re feeling better, Charlene. You are not asking the store managers, owners, property people, security and otherwise, to enforce smoking rules and laws. Perhaps, you may even want to inform the police. I would!
    Just yesterday on the Halifax boardwalk, I told a young man, not just pushing, but ramming a young woman in a hammock, “Excuse me, you can’t smoke on the boardwalk. If it starts on fire, the whole boardwalk would be gone…”

    With that, the creep dropped the lit smoke, ground his foot into it, grabbed the woman by the neck and dragged her out of the hammock while she desperately tried to turn to me, probably to say something, maybe even to pick up his mess, as so many women of all ages continue to do. But he just kept dragging her down the boardwalk, his arm around her neck.

    If I were younger, I’d have gone after him.

    Fortunately, four American tourists who were chatting with me, stood close by, two quite large husbands…so the creep said nothing, but his action proved again to me: Smokers are the most inconsiderate people! My childhood family (and their friends) were/are smokers. Family and people I rejoice daily I live provinces away from for more than ten years.

    I wish you the best and surely don’t expect you to post this. Nor do you need to respond! Just get well and do what you know is best for you. Blessings!

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Marjorie,

      Thank you so much for getting in touch, and for your kind comments! I am definitely on the mend, but yes, still processing what my role is in ensuring this doesn’t happen again to me, or to anyone else who may have an invisible lung condition. Mine was visible at the time as I was wearing my oxygen, so it could have ended a lot worse for everyone involved. I am just grateful that it didn’t!

      I was on the Halifax boardwalk just a few weeks ago, and I couldn’t believe the amount of people who were smoking everywhere. This was a huge thing that I noticed. You’re totally right about it going up in flames if it caught fire, let alone the health hazards it poses to those of us with a lung disease. I noticed so many people smoking right in front of the “no smoking” store signs. It was very frustrating!

      Sorry to hear that you witnessed such rude and aggressive behaviour from this man. That isn’t acceptable, and I hope the woman has the strength to address and keep herself safe in that situation. Doesn’t sound like a good one!

      Thanks for your kind words, I so appreciate your writing to me 🙂

      Warm regards,

  2. Katie says:

    Oh my goodness! I hope you’re okay. Nothing infuriates me more than inconsiderate smokers. A number of times we had to move away from people smoking or ask them to move when they came near my Dad who was also on oxygen. How incredibly frustrating for you! Sending all my love that you’ll be discharged soon and back to normality xx

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Katie,

      Thank you so much for your kind words, and as always, for reading my columns! I am doing okay, just a quick admission to hospital requiring more intensive oxygen support to bring my saturations back up. It was a really tough thing for me to experience and process, because he wasn’t really doing anything wrong (other than being too close to a store entrance, by law), however, I suffered pretty significantly from it and this individual wouldn’t even know that. Glad it was a brief thing though and that I am on the mend. Hope you’re also doing well! xx

  3. Steve Daggett says:

    Hey Charlene!
    I had my transplant surgery late Wednesday!
    I’m still in ICU but doing well. I’ll be in the hospital about another week or so. Got a single left lung. More updates along the way!

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Steve,

      Oh my gosh – this is AMAZING news! I am so happy to hear from you, especially since you are post-transplant and it must mean that you’re doing alright? Had you gotten back to LA from your visit with your family before the call came? I can’t wait to hear an update on how you’re doing. Please do let us know and congratulations. What a wonderful message to wake up to!!!!

      Sending you healing wishes and prayers!

  4. Phyllis says:

    I have ipf and was a smoker quit 8 yrs ago.
    I also believe that this is a free country and people who smoke have rights too. My experience is if you explain that you have a problem they will move or put the cigarette out.Being nice costs nothing.

    • Ken says:

      Congratulations on giving up smoking. Regret that you have IPF. I am 84 years; gave up smoking over 40 years ago; was diagnosed with IPF in 2015; been on oxygen for 2 1/2 years and have just been taken off Ofev after 2 years. Nearing the end. So I have a little experience.
      I would suggest that you re-read at least the first three paragraphs of Charlene’s letter and maybe digest the facts. A little empathy on your part, also, may help.
      As you say”Being nice cost nothing”. Try it!

      • Charlene Marshall says:

        Thank you for your support Ken, and for respectfully replying to this topic thread. I appreciate your input and comments 🙂
        Sorry to hear you’ve stopped your OFEV, and that your illness is progressing. Sending you love and prayers!

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Phyllis,

      Thanks so much for reaching out and for reading my columns.
      Congratulations on quitting smoking, that isn’t an easy habit to break so kudos to you for doing so 🙂

      You’re right – it is a free country, however, in Canada there are laws that smokers have to follow so it isn’t as easy as saying they have the rights to smoke wherever they want. They don’t, because by law they cannot smoke within 9 meters of store entrances. They have rights to smoke in their vehicles, homes, or essentially anywhere else that they would like but there are reasons why the law was set up that they cannot smoke near store entrances, because unfortunately, people like us (with lung conditions) can suffer like I experienced. With regards to people putting out their cigarettes, I have to respectfully disagree as this has not been my experience when I kindly or nicely ask them to move or put out their smoke, they don’t. I’m glad this has been your experience though 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words Andy!
      I am definitely on the mend now, and I appreciate you reaching out. Hope you’re doing as well as possible also!

      Kindest regards,

  5. Pat Young says:

    Long before it was acceptable to request people not smoke in our home we had asked our family & friends to please smoke outside. We had returned from the christianing of our son & daughter & it was a beautiful warm Spring day. Well, we had laughter, indignity & insults that we should have the nerve to ask this request. My brother refused to visit us for 10 years because of this. We were welcomed to visit at his home with all the cigarette smoke as we were at others. It was a long haul but we stood our ground. Today, people are much more understanding & we are very thankful for that.

    However, here in Canada as of October 17th recreational marijuana will be legalized. For those that wish to do so that is their prerogative. The media is always showing us clips of people standing around in public places smugly smoking or vaping it or whatever it is called as I am certainly not an expert on this. I am sure there are many who use it discreetly or with respect as many smokers choose to smoke in the privacy of their own homes or public areas where it is allowed. It is going to be a huge learning curve as we move forward with all of this
    However we have already had issues with this as our neighbours were in their backyard smoking marijuana. As the smell came across to our yard we had to go in as it was so strong smelling. We were not able to sit outdoors & enjoy our yard. This has also happened with regular cigarette smoke. We have smokers on either side of us. Although I don’t require oxygen on a continual basis there is a sign in our front window that oxygen is in use. Yes, they have the right to smoke in their own yards but I too have the right to sit in my garden as well. A catch 22 for sure.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Pat,

      Thank you so much for reading my columns, and for connecting via the comments. I always love hearing from those who read my work! 🙂

      I am so sorry to hear that the request you made of people to smoke outside was met with such insult and disgrace. That breaks my heart, because especially as family members, they should have respected your request and taken their habit outside in the warm spring day you mentioned you had. So sorry to hear that this caused a gap between your brothers visiting, although certainly this was on his part as the request to not smoke near someone should always be respected. I’m so glad the attitudes have changed around cigarette smoke and that your experience has been that people are more understanding.

      I am also in Canada and have my concerns about the legalization of marijuana. Although my doctor has brought up cannabis use for pain as I deal with my progressive IPF, he has also warned many times of the dangers of inhaling the marijuana and said if I do want to use it that I need to do so through edibles. I haven’t decided if I want to try it or not, but I do know that even inhaling the smoke from others could be detrimental to my health (all of ours who have a lung disease, of course). I worry about how often I am going to run into the smoke from recreational marijuana use, in addition to cigarette smoke. I may need to be wearing my mask more often, although I wish I didn’t have to. Like you, we deserve to enjoy clean, fresh air as well. Sorry this is your experience while sitting in your own garden … that is frustrating!

      Thanks for reaching out Pat.
      Warm regards,

  6. Mary says:

    Yes, even a campfire bothers me now, I was in line one time, and someone was smoking and wasn’t that close to me. The wind blew and I got the smoke, I couldn’t believe that it bothered me that much so I left the line.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Mary,

      Ah, I am so sorry to hear of this experience you had. It’s so tough when we have to adjust our actions because of someone else’s habits. Sometimes it is just easier to do this though, isn’t it? Take care and hope you’re well on the mend from this experience.

      Warm regards,

  7. Carol says:

    Charlene I hope you are on the mend. Read your posts everyday.
    Boy this column hits the nail on the head for me today. I’ve had IPF since 2016 and go to the “Wellness Center” 3 days a week to exercise. This morning after a 75 minute workout I leave the building only to run into a gentleman sitting on the bench where the “butt receptacle” is located. Just out side the main door.
    Why does a health center provide this service to smokers but appears to ignore the sick people who are coming to their facility to get better. I’m going to print this column and send it to the management. Maybe a non-smoking door with parking.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Carol,

      Thank you so much for reading my columns and for reaching out via the comments. I am so appreciative of your kind words, and that you read my posts! 🙂 I am on the mend for sure thanks, although still contemplating how to address this so it doesn’t happen to others in future… so sorry you had the experience you did at the Wellness Center. I couldn’t agree with you more, how frustrating this is and truly a risk to the health of those living with an invisible illness (like IPF) but going to the facility to try and make ourselves better. There should be a non-smoking door, or at least require people who smoke to be away from the entrance/exit doors into a public facility in my opinion! Curious to hear what the management team says about the column. I hope you have more luck than I have in similar situations! If you think of it, please keep me posted…

      Warm regards,

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