By David Joel Miller
How do you work around smokers if you are allergic to smoke?
This question originally came to me as an email from a counselor who is allergic to smoke. While they love the work if it’s difficult being around people who are heavy smokers. This problem also applies to those who have allergies to perfume or other strong scents. I thought I would pass this along for whatever it is worth. If any of you out there have other ideas feel free to leave a comment or contact me.
This is an extra problem, I believe, for anyone who works in mental health or substance abuse treatment areas. The comments also apply to those who work with the homeless or in social service agencies.
Smoke also affects the family members and children of the smokers. When there are children involved we suggest that the smoker refrain from smoking not only when the children are around but also suggest that they not smoke in areas that their children will be.
See the post on Third Hand Smoke to find out more about the lingering effects of having a smoker in a room where others later go.
As an ex-smoker, this is less of an issue for me. I often do not notice the scent of smoke but others may. I am not suggesting anyone take up smoking to reduce the issues they have with being around others who smoke.
I have written previously about how tobacco (nicotine) is the drug of choice among the homeless. See: What is the Drug of choice among the homeless?
Smoking and mental illness.
Heavy smoking is common among those with serious and persistent mental illnesses, substance abusers and the homeless. Smoking is not the only reason that these clients may have a strong odor. Lack of hygiene facilities makes the problems worse and so do illnesses like depression that make it overwhelming for many people to do their activities of daily life.
The conventional wisdom used to be that smoking calmed down people with psychosis or emotional issues. So if you were trying to treat someone hearing voices or abusing street drugs, why make then give up tobacco at the same time?
Today, more and more places, treatment facilities and self-help meetings are going smokeless. What we have found is that helping people give up tobacco does not hamper their recovery from other substances and may help improve their mental health symptoms.
Increasingly stop smoking programs are finding their place in the treatment of people with mental illness and substance use disorders.
Here are some thoughts to help those of you who find yourself around smokers who are triggering your allergies.
What do you do if you are allergic to smoke?
This is a serious challenge. I would hate to think that anyone would need to give up their profession because of allergies. This is a severe challenge for people with allergies since so many clients are heavy smokers and the smoke smell lingers long after they have put that cigarette out. Heavy smoking is common in people with psychosis, schizophrenia, substance use disorders and so on. I did have a colleague who had severe allergies and even someone wearing perfume or having flowers in their office set off their attacks.
Six suggestions for coping with smoke:
- See your doctor, especially an allergist. Untreated this is only likely to get worse. Taking medication may help prevent the allergies getting worse.
- Consider a fan or air purifier for your office
- Try to work in larger offices or rooms where the smell may be less overwhelming.
- See if you can do some distance counseling work. We have a law here (California) that helps people who are in rural areas, shut-in’s etc. see their therapist via the internet. Other professionals may be able to do more of their contacts via phone.
- See if you can get assigned to a school-based program or work with children. Their parents may smoke but you will have less smell on your clients.
- See if you can work in an inpatient facility that has a no smoking policy
Not sure if those suggestions will help you but that is the ones I have thought of so far.
If any of you readers come up with any other solutions let me know. Let’s see what blog readers can come up with.
Is being around smokers or strong odors an issue for you?
Staying connected with David Joel Miller
Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!
You can recover. Your cruising along the road of life and then wham, something knocks you in the ditch. If you have gone through a divorce, break up, or lost a job your life may have gotten off track. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.
Casino Robbery is a novel that explores the world of a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.
Other books are due out soon; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller
Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.
Want the latest on my writing projects, speaking and teaching, along with comments on recent news in the field of counseling – sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page or my Facebook author’s page, David Joel Miller. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.