Protecting Yourself from Secondhand Smoke

Charlene Marshall avatar

by Charlene Marshall |

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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.


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.


Burnette avatar


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 avatar

Charlene Marshall

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 frustrating! Free free to write/vent anytime, unfortunately many of us understand and can empathize with you. Take care, Charlene.

Ray Hayes avatar

Ray Hayes

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.


Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

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!

Neil Blakeley avatar

Neil Blakeley

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 avatar

Charlene Marshall

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,

Pam avatar


You sound so upbeat...I’m not dealing very well with my diagnosis and wish I could be more positive. Good luck.

Charlene Marshall avatar

Charlene Marshall

Hi Pam,

Thanks for reading my columns and reaching out via the comments. This disease is indeed so hard to deal with, and I am so sorry to hear you aren't coping very well. Have you sought out support to talk about how you're feeling or even connect with other patients? I found this very helpful for me at first because others who I spoke with just didn't "get it". There are even call-in support groups through the PF Foundation you could try so you don't have to go somewhere in person. I try to be positive, but it doesn't always work... this disease is very hard to deal with. Hang in there and feel free to write any time.


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