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Sunday, September 16, 2001

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Before you light up

Dear Hilka,

At a recent dinner party, the hostess became upset with me when I lit up a cigarette. Wasn't it rude of her to chastise me, a guest in her home, in front of others?

Cloud of Smoke

Dear Cloud of Smoke,

YOUR hostess should not have chastised you in front of others. Instead, she should have quietly and politely explained that they do not smoke in their house, and then requested that you put your cigarette out or step outside to smoke. However, she was certainly within her rights to ask you not to smoke in her home, especially if you lit up during the meal. A considerate host or hostess should either inform guests at the time of the invitation that smoking will not be permissible or provide a comfortable place where smokers can retire any time they feel the need to light up without offending other guests or permeating the host's home with the smell of stale smoke.

The greater offence may well have been yours. Whether you are in someone's home or place of business, never, ever light up if you don't see an ashtray. In fact, you should not even ask to smoke if there are no ashtrays visible. Even if you do see an ashtray and your host is not smoking, don't ask, "May I smoke?" Wait for the host or hostess to signal that it is permissible to smoke. And, a considerate host would never light up without first asking his visitors if they object to him smoking.

Nor should you excuse yourself and go to the bathroom to enjoy a quick cigarette. Even there, the smoke can linger in the air for hours, even days, if it was absorbed by the towels and the curtains. Any fabric, especially drapery and upholstery, will absorb smoke and retain the smell, very offensive to non-smokers although seldom noticed by smokers, for an extended period.

Smoking affects your ability to taste and enjoy food. During a meal, whether in a restaurant or in someone's home, it is discourteous to the others at your table to smoke while they are still eating because it can affect their enjoyment of their meal.

Nor should you ever smoke in between courses while dining. Wait until coffee is served at the end of the meal to light up if smoking is permitted.

When you do smoke, always keep an eye on the direction of your smoke and make sure it is not blowing into someone else's face. Even other smokers can get annoyed at errant smoke wafting into their face. If a non-smoker tells you your cigarette is an irritant, be considerate and move elsewhere or extinguish the cigarette; your smoke is invading their personal space.

And, be neat; never litter with your ashes or your cigarette butts. Nor should you ever use a plate to stub out your cigarette. You may not leave a permanent burn mark, but you will make it more difficult for that plate to be properly cleaned. Nor should you drop your cigarette on the floor and put it out with your foot. Years ago, during a cocktail party in my home, a friend of a friend dropped his cigarette onto my white wool broadloom, then ground it out even though the nearest ashtray was less than three feet away. I was chagrined, to say the least. While accidents do happen, such wilful negligence is inexcusable. Use an ashtray; that's what they are for.

In a smoking environment, it is polite to offer others a cigarette if you decide to light up. If you're not prepared to share your cigarettes, wait until you are alone to smoke. However, if someone else is smoking, it is impolite to ask for a cigarette unless it is offered.

Cigars and pipes are much more pungent than cigarettes and much more likely to offend others. Therefore, you should only consider smoking a cigar or a pipe in someone else's home if the host invites you to join him in a cigar, preferably in a well- ventilated area and after the meal is over. In a restaurant be considerate of fellow diners; never smoke a cigar or a pipe unless it is a cigar-smoking establishment.

In your own home or car, empty and wash your ashtrays frequently so that the stale smell does not impregnate it unnecessarily.

In fact, it is a good idea to ventilate your home and your car frequently so that the smell is not so offensive to any visitors or passengers you may have. If you have passengers in your car, it would be very inconsiderate to smoke because there is no escaping the smoke except to open the windows wide. And, as a passenger in someone else's car, don't even think of smoking.

Smokers must also realise that, no matter how fastidious they may be about their appearance, smoking leaves a telltale odour on their clothes and on their body, especially their breath and their hair, that can be offensive to those near them but is seldom discernible to the smoker. Invest in breath mints and mouthwash, and make sure you are even more meticulous about your grooming.

Smoking is not only hazardous to your health, it can also be hazardous to your career. Whenever you are being interviewed for a job, don't even think of smoking, no matter how nervous you may be. It could be a trap. Because of the health issues and higher absenteeism related to smoking, job interviewers often offer applicants a cigarette to find out if they are going to be a liability to the company.

And before all you non-smokers get too excited at the thought of sending this column to all your family and friends who smoke, remember that it would be rude of you to sermonise to a smoker about the hazards of their habit. A polite non-smoker does not preach about the sins of smoking. Nor should a non-smoker be anything but polite in requesting that a smoker extinguish a cigarette. Since smoking is increasingly seen as a sign of weakness rather than a sign of manliness or sophistication, it would be considerate of you to treat the smokers' addiction with compassion just as the smoker should be considerate to non- smokers.




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