A Reader Asks: If Mother-in-Law Chain Smokes, Will Exposure Harm My Baby?

August 4, 2011 | By | Comments (10)
“My mother-in-law is a chain smoker. My husband and I have always put up with it. But now we have a baby.”
This week’s etiquette question comes from Quidditchgirl, who writes: “My in-laws live 3,000 miles away, so we don’t see them that often, but we are planning to visit later this year. It will be expected that we’ll stay at their house, but I don’t want to stay there with all the smoke. (I cannot exaggerate how EVERYTHING in the house is infused with the permanent smell of smoke.) How do I broach this subject?

“They are also planning to visit us next month and while my MIL doesn’t smoke in the house, it still bothers me when she comes in from outside, smelling like a cigarette, and picks up the baby. How do I deal with THAT?”

This is not one of those questions of etiquette where there are shades of gray — oh, oh, I’m afraid of hurting my in laws’ feelings, they’re so sensitive — but rather a serious health issue.

It’s their house, but staying there could kill you. Secondhand smoke causes cancer and a long list of other health problems. After you point your husband and in-laws to the page on the American Cancer Society’s website that explains this in no uncertain terms, they will not want your baby to be exposed to it. What grandmother would want to increase her grandchild’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome, respiratory infections and more severe asthma? Stay in a hotel.

A slightly trickier issue is dealing with the smoking odors on your mother-in-law’s body. While there is no conclusive evidence that smoking odors — sometimes called thirdhand smoke — cause cancer, research is underway. Which means it’s clearly a worry that health experts have. But telling your mother-in-law, “You smell awful and so does the baby after you hold her” isn’t the most tactful approach. Instead, explain to your husband that research already has shown that smoking byproduct particles on clothes and smokers’ bodies can form cancer-causing compounds that may be absorbed through skin or breathed in by others. Ask him to explain this nicely to his mother. He can start by telling her how good she is with the baby and how it’s important to both of you for the baby to spend as much time with her grandmother as possible. At that point, maybe her grandmotherly instincts will kick in, and she’ll offer to bathe and wear smoke-free clothing before handling the baby. If not, her son should suggest it (nicely).

Is there another solution? Do you have a relative who smokes? If so, how did you deal with the situation?

(image via Realsimple.com)