Protecting Yourself from Secondhand Smoke

Protecting Yourself from Secondhand Smoke

I want to increase awareness about the impact on those of us with lung disease when people smoke in public places.

Since being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), I’ve twice inhaled secondhand smoke at the entrance of a grocery store. One of those times, I was rushed to the hospital, coughing so hard that my lungs and thoracic muscles felt like they were on fire. It was a horrible experience, and one that I believe was preventable.

In Ontario, Canada, where I live, smoking is prohibited within 9 meters (about 30 feet) of an entrance to a public space such as a grocery store, mall, or movie theater. It is frustrating when people do not abide by this rule.

According to an Ontario health unit, tobacco smoke can be detected 30 feet away. How are those of us with chronic lung conditions supposed to avoid this?

The unfortunate reality is that we can’t always avoid cigarette smoke. Tonight, I inhaled secondhand smoke while inside my car at a drive-through window. The cigarette smoke from the car behind me forced me to close my sunroof and my windows. It wasn’t fair, but I had to protect my lungs.

The danger of inhaling secondhand smoke — and the need to proactively spot smokers — is an unfair aspect of living with IPF. This summer, it was risky to drive with my windows down because inevitably I’d be beside someone smoking at a stoplight.

I also had to decline a visit with a neighbor who wanted to introduce our dogs while I was out for a walk. I told her that I couldn’t approach her while she was smoking because of my chronic lung condition. It felt like a missed opportunity.

Recently, I’ve had problems with colleagues who step outside to smoke during a meeting break and return with the scent on their hands or clothing. They are aware of my lung condition and try to avoid transferring the smoke into the meeting room, but it can’t be avoided entirely. A trace of cigarette smoke is enough to throw me into a coughing fit where I risk oxygen desaturation.

There has been talk of banning smoking at my workplace, but employees are resistant. It is a difficult topic for human resources departments to address.

I try to respect other people’s behavior, even if it is unhealthy. I want to be understanding, but I am tired of navigating situations where my health is at risk because of secondhand smoke.

How do you navigate this as a patient living with IPF/PF? Do you inform others of your lung condition, or proactively avoid areas you know permit smoking? I’d love to hear from you.

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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.

Thanks for stopping by my column! My name is Charlene Marshall and I was diagnosed officially with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) on April 7 2016 after 13 months of various tests, hospitalizations and misdiagnoses, such as bronchitis and asthma. Due to my age, the specialist disclosed that he was unsure how the IPF would manifest itself in terms of progression, and whether it would be fast or slow and what the course of my illness might look like. Not much has changed since then, meaning there is still a lot that remains unknown, which is largely due to my age and how “rare” it is for someone under 30 to receive a diagnosis of IPF. That being said, a lot has changed for me in the time since diagnosis and I am looking forward to sharing some of those changes with you through this online platform, and I invite you along for the ride! Throughout this column I intend to chronicle the experience of living with an invisible, yet fatal disease as a young adult and share some stories about how IPF has impacted every aspect of my life, both good and bad, thus far. I plan on highlighting the challenges (and where I can, the positives…) that come with living with IPF and the impact on social and intimate relationships, finances, family dynamics, facing mortality, infertility, travelling, medication side effects, career goals and so much more as it arises for me as a “new” patient. I hope others’ with similar experiences will reach out as no story trumps any other, nor should any go unheard. For now, let me leave you with some personal details about who I am, outside of my IPF diagnosis. I grew up in a small town in south-western Ontario and still live within Ontario, although in a much bigger city. My favorite sport is/was underwater hockey (yes, it is a thing: look it up on YouTube), I love working with people, I work full-time in the Social Work/Social Services field, I am an avid learner filled with heaps of curiosity for the world, which lead me to start my Masters Degree in 2014. I am in the last few months of my Masters Degree and am looking forward to an upcoming trip to Australia more than I’ve looked forward to anything before. Welcome to the shambles and chaos that is my life!
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Thanks for stopping by my column! My name is Charlene Marshall and I was diagnosed officially with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) on April 7 2016 after 13 months of various tests, hospitalizations and misdiagnoses, such as bronchitis and asthma. Due to my age, the specialist disclosed that he was unsure how the IPF would manifest itself in terms of progression, and whether it would be fast or slow and what the course of my illness might look like. Not much has changed since then, meaning there is still a lot that remains unknown, which is largely due to my age and how “rare” it is for someone under 30 to receive a diagnosis of IPF. That being said, a lot has changed for me in the time since diagnosis and I am looking forward to sharing some of those changes with you through this online platform, and I invite you along for the ride! Throughout this column I intend to chronicle the experience of living with an invisible, yet fatal disease as a young adult and share some stories about how IPF has impacted every aspect of my life, both good and bad, thus far. I plan on highlighting the challenges (and where I can, the positives…) that come with living with IPF and the impact on social and intimate relationships, finances, family dynamics, facing mortality, infertility, travelling, medication side effects, career goals and so much more as it arises for me as a “new” patient. I hope others’ with similar experiences will reach out as no story trumps any other, nor should any go unheard. For now, let me leave you with some personal details about who I am, outside of my IPF diagnosis. I grew up in a small town in south-western Ontario and still live within Ontario, although in a much bigger city. My favorite sport is/was underwater hockey (yes, it is a thing: look it up on YouTube), I love working with people, I work full-time in the Social Work/Social Services field, I am an avid learner filled with heaps of curiosity for the world, which lead me to start my Masters Degree in 2014. I am in the last few months of my Masters Degree and am looking forward to an upcoming trip to Australia more than I’ve looked forward to anything before. Welcome to the shambles and chaos that is my life!
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6 comments

  1. Burnette says:

    Hi thanks for all the great columns .
    Second hand smoke is a real problem for me . Even when i am wearing my oxygen i still get dirty looks from smokers when i voice my health concerns. It seems that i am ultimately responsible for my well being when i’m out in public . I guess we can add it to all the other frustrating things we have to deal with when you have a lung disease.I actually had a smoker inform me that because i got a lung disease i had to quit smoking ,nothing worse than an ex smoker .
    ps i never was a smoker
    Thanks Burnette

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Burnette,

      Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts on my column via the comments. Yes, I completely agree – being responsible for our health while out in public is frustrating, especially when it seems some folks have a blatant disregard to the needs of others even when we visibly have a lung disease (ie. using oxygen). Sorry to hear of that experience with the individual who made a comment on you quitting smoking…how frustrating! Free free to write/vent anytime, unfortunately many of us understand and can empathize with you. Take care, Charlene.

  2. Ray Hayes says:

    I can empathize with the thoughts that are shared. It is odd how we as humans view the struggles we see others dealing with on a daily basis. We are too quick to assign the attitude that those struggle were brought upon them by themselves. Those views quickly change as we grow to realize that those struggles we will all deal with in one form or another; some are understood while others never ill be.
    I have IPF. I have little doubt that my smoking for 50 years brought it about. Then too, perhaps I was destined to acquired it even if I had not smoked.
    Smokers have no idea of what they are risking much less the harm that can be done to those around. They believe that they can slide down a razor blade; others may get cut but not them.
    I hope that you find it in your heart to forgive them of their lack of caring, sensitivity but abundance of stupidity.

    Ray

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Ray,

      Thank you so much for reading my columns and getting in touch via the comments. Everything you said really resonated with me – especially the line about smokers having no idea what they are risking to themselves and the impact on others around them. It makes my heart ache that I still know folks who smoke despite knowing I am living with a fatal lung disease and the kicker: I never smoked! I do forgive them, I have to believe that everyone is responsible for their own choices but I certainly wish they made better ones. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I always appreciate hearing from others. Feel free to write any time and wishing you nothing but the best!
      Charlene.

  3. Thank you for all useful information you give, if it was not for this publication I would not have found out you could have treatment for IPF I am now taking Ofed I has to ask my Lung Specialist for these tablets as he never prescribed them to me until then.

    • Charlene Marshall says:

      Hi Neil,

      Thank you so much for reading my columns and connecting via the comments. It makes us so happy at Pulmonary Fibrosis News to know that others are benefitting from our publication! We do this so no one has to feel alone, and I’m grateful for all the folks who read what I write. Thank you for connecting with me and best wishes on your use of Ofev.

      Kind regards,
      Charlene.

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