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How to Protect Yourself From Secondhand Smoke When Traveling

Secondhand Smoke Protection Tips from About.com Guides


Updated April 30, 2014

Secondhand smoke occurs as the result of inhalation of pollutants in the air from cigarette smoke and other tobacco products. According to the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 toxic chemicals, of which 40 are known carcinogens (cancer-causing).

While many people may be able to limit their exposure to secondhand smoke while in the comfort of their own homes, people who travel, especially to places that are not "smoke-free", are at particular risk for possible exposure.

After returning from a Guide Event in Las Vegas, Nevada, where guests of the casinos and hotels are still allowed to smoke freely, many Guides, including myself, expressed concern about exposure to secondhand smoke, in spite of staying in non-smoking rooms. Secondhand smoke being insidious in nature, seems to creep into other rooms through less-than-perfect, hotel ventilation systems.

Although I did not experience any severe consequences from the weekend exposure, people who suffer from COPD or other chronic illnesses may not have been so lucky. With this in mind, I asked a few of my fellow Guides how they go about protecting themselves from the dangers of secondhand smoke while traveling.

Here are some of their suggestions:

  1. Always Ask for a Non-Smoking Room or Cabin

    When I lived overseas, I quickly learned that smoking flights still exist in some areas of the world. I've been on planes where I couldn't see the other end of the cabin due to the smoke. There are non-smoking flights and cabins available, but only if you know to ask for them. They assume you don't mind the smoking if you don't clearly state otherwise.

  2. Jennifer Heisler, RN, Guide to Surgery

  3. Try an Emergency Escape Mask

    For people with asthma or COPD or other potentially life-threatening conditions, carrying something like this for emergencies while traveling might not be crazy:

    The Breath of Life Emergency Escape Mask

    Nancy Lapid, Guide to Celiac Disease

  4. Pamper Yourself

    • Take vitamin C. It may have something that counteracts the effects of smoking in the lungs.
    • Drink Green tea - same as above.
    • Drink lots and lots of water the entire time you are on your trip.
    • Surround yourself by nature with fresh air both before and after the event.
    • Do some form of deep breathing.
    • Try an essential oil spritz in the room/environment that you are staying in.

    Anne Asher, Guide to Back and Neck Pain

  5. Note a Sensitivity to Smoke on Your Reservation

    For ships and hotels that don't specify smoking vs. non-smoking rooms note a sensitivity to smoke on your reservation and request special cleaning. Call down and request it again if your room smells smoky on check-in. Cleaning staffs have extremely high powered ozone-based machines that can remove the leftover smoke in under an hour....you may want to arrange to be out of the room while its being cleaned though, as the machines are loud and can give off their own odor.

    Also, Febreeze does wonders for taking away the smell of smoke. I have no idea if it removes the toxins, but it definitely cuts the smell!

  6. Lisa Fritscher, Guide to Phobias

  7. Speak-Out for the Underdog

    Speak up for anyone with allergies, asthma, COPD or other chronic illnesses. Last week on a flight to San Francisco, the flight attendants asked that nobody open or eat anything containing nuts due to a passenger having a severe nut allergy. I didn't hear any squawks suggesting anybody was offended. It would seem secondhand smoke could be just as life-threatening, and perhaps smokers, or restaurant owners/taxi drivers/etc. would respect that?

    Have your kids join in. My children tend to make interesting comments around smokers. Loud comments like "mommy, that man really stinks" usually cause smokers to move away.

  8. Lynne Eldridge, MD, Guide to Lung Cancer

  9. Choose a Non-Smoking Hotel

    To avoid the issue of secondhand smoke all together, look for a hotel that is nonsmoking. When I did a search for non-smoking rooms in hotels, a few links came up to entirely smoke-free hotels, which is probably the best option.

  10. Barbara Poncelet, Guide to Teen Health

Thanks to some great suggestions from some of your favorite Guides at About.com, secondhand smoke may be less of an issue on your next trip out of town.

In conclusion, here are some of my own, personal suggestions on how to protect yourself from secondhand smoke:

  • Ask for a large fan -- this will help to circulate stale, smoky air in your hotel room.
  • Hang your clothes in a garment bag and remove items only as you wear them -- this way, the items that you don't wear don't get exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Join in the fight against secondhand smoke -- if you are staying in a hotel that allows smoking, make it known to hotel management that secondhand smoke is dangerous and that you are offended by their smoking policy.
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