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PSA: Your Kids Know That You Smoke

Dear Man Sitting Near Me at Starbuck:

Your kids know that you smoke.


Image: Superfantastic via Flickr

You sounded awfully proud talking to your friend, telling him about how clever you are that you’ve kept your secret smoking breaks from your family so I didn’t want to lean over and pee in your proverbial Cherrios by telling you that I can smell the smoke on your clothes, and I am sitting several feet away from you.  So I’m fairly certain that your child doesn’t need to be a supersleuth to pick up on the scent if you’re giving her a hug when you come home from work or carrying her upstairs to bed.

There are plenty of things that you can get away with if you don’t want your kids to know about it but smoking isn’t one of those things.  You can, for instance, have a few beers after they go to bed and they’ll be none the wiser when they get up in the morning if you hide the evidence.  You can eat the dye-laden junk food that you withhold from them because it’s not healthy.  And you can, apparently, even get away with being a KGB spy.  But you can’t get away with smoking.  Even if you have that cigarette outside.

I grant you, it sounds like it could work in theory.  Pretend you’re going to take out the garbage and then stand by the side of the house to have a cigarette or two.  Smoke dissipates into the air.  Except it doesn’t.  It clings to your clothes like a drunk girl at a bar.

Which means that I can smell it on you.  And everyone at your workplace can smell it on you.  And yes, your kids can smell it on you.  They may be too young to know that the scent equals cigarette smoke — I have no clue how old your adorable moppets are at the moment — but I can guarantee you that by age five or so, they will know that the smell isn’t daddy’s funny soap or some musty detergent that you use to wash your clothes and your clothes alone.  They’ll know it’s cigarette smoke.

At some point, you will have a talk with them or they will hear the message at school or they will encounter it in their Weekly Reader: that cigarettes are bad and they should just say no.  Because we want our kids to say no to cigarettes.  And you will point out that you don’t smoke because you make good choices.  And your kids will be confused because they know you smoke, but they’re being told you don’t smoke.  At first, they may think that the smell is something else, and that they’re mistaken.  But then no, their original thought will be confirmed, and then they will be left contemplating the fact that you want them to be honest with you, but they have irrefutable evidence that you are not being honest with them.

And the first rule of parenting is cover your tracks.

Just kidding: the first rule of parenting is be honest with your kids.

Actually, that’s the time I’m really just kidding.  We all know that the first rule of parenting is cover your tracks.

Man at Starbucks Who is Awfully Proud of Himself, I’m not telling you not to smoke.  I’m telling you to be honest with your kids when you’re caught.  To either choose a vice that is not so easily noticeable, kick the smoking habit, or do it honestly while having an open conversation with your kids about how you wish you had never started.

See, you can have your cigarettes and smoke them too.

Honest parents raise honest kids, and this world needs more trustworthy people and fewer assholes.  So please do your part to not treat your kids like idiots.  They — like me — know that you smoke.


Woman Who Smelled You From the Next Table


1 Jennice { 05.19.13 at 8:11 am }

I am a smoker and my,5yo knows I smoke. She has made it very clear that she,doesn’t like it and she knows what can happen if I don’t quit. I told her she,has,every right,to,be,concerned about my smoking but I am an adult and have to,quit on my own.

2 Amy { 05.19.13 at 9:24 am }


3 Melanie { 05.19.13 at 9:25 am }

I used to smoke. I smoked for 10 years and I’ve now been cigarette free for 5 years. (We both quit when we started trying to get pregnant) its funny, I could not smell it at all on my clothes or on anyone else’s when I was a smoker. Now, I just walk past someone in a store and I know who’s a smoker and who isn’t. It really disgusts me that I was walking around stinking like that for 10 years. What was the point of wearing perfume or picking out which scent body soap to use. I’m now sure no one smelled anything except cigarette stench when I was near. So glad we quit before having kids!

4 BigP's Heather { 05.19.13 at 9:50 am }

I’m exactly like Melanie, BigP and I smoked and we quit when we decided to start trying for kids. I’m so ashamed I walked around smelling like that. I had no idea.

Also, now they are talking about the dangers of fourth hand smoke – the chemicals that come out through your pores 20-30 minutes after you smoke. Just going outside to smoke isn’t protecting the kids if you are near them when the chemicals come out your pores – also why smokers smell so bad. It isn’t just the smoke on their clothes and hair, it is coming out of their bodies little by little. So scary.

5 Tigger { 05.19.13 at 11:40 am }

I started writing a comment and it turned into a post, so I made one.


6 Stupid Stork { 05.19.13 at 12:50 pm }

I love cigarettes. I do. I quit-quit last year and have on and off had a flirtation with them after failed IVF (bad idea, yes. We are re-quitting).

When I smoke, I can’t smell it at all. When I don’t smoke, I can smell it everywhere.

For the life of me I can’t remember WHO but I watched a stand-up routine where someone was talking about a friend who had secret cigarettes and then always asked him after if he could smell it. To which he finally replied “Of course I can smell it. It’s like asking ‘I just crapped my pants, can’t you smell that?'”

7 Pepper { 05.19.13 at 3:03 pm }

Somehow, some way, kids know EVERYTHING. I learned this as a teacher and I am living it as a parent. They know, they know, they know. I don’t smoke and never have, but if I did, my daughter would know.

8 a { 05.19.13 at 4:00 pm }

I smoked, a long time ago. I quit in 2000. I can’t remember if I’ve told my daughter that I used to smoke – I think so – but we both agree that it’s kind of disgusting. I still miss it though.

9 Lori Lavender Luz { 05.19.13 at 5:23 pm }

It can be so damaging to tell kids not to trust what they know.

Great letter.

10 Ellen { 05.20.13 at 12:19 am }

Yes, yes, yes. If you smoke, you smell like smoke. End of story.

11 Shelby { 05.20.13 at 12:50 am }

Awww, yes, this one hits home. Not the honesty part (not that I don’t go for honesty-it’s pretty terrific), but the smoking part. My parents were heavy, heavy smokers their entire lives (hence their shorter time frames on earth). Everyone at school assumed that I smoked, when, in fact, I have always been the president of the anti-smoking league in my head. In fact, my husband also assumed I smoked when he met me in high school because of the smell that hung off me from being in the center of it and were in not for my mysterious womanly charms (hahaha, more like stumbling all over myself in front of a guy), he said it was almost a deal breaker for him, which I understood as it would have also been for me. He was relieved to find out that it was instead my parents who smoked.

Despite hanging my hat on the smoke theme, I also love the true message at the heart of this which is the honestly piece. Practice what you preach. But also-kids are smarter than you give them credit for, no matter how sneaky you think you’re being.

12 Catwoman73 { 05.20.13 at 1:04 am }

Love this!

My father lied to me a lot when I was young. And I always knew. I have (mostly) been able to let it go, and have forgiven him, but I will never forget how his lies made me feel. I felt like he thought I was just a stupid kid who didn’t know anything, and those thoughts had a dramatic impact on my self esteem for many, MANY years. Aside from Santa, the Easter bunny, and the tooth fairy, I will never, ever lie to my child. I respect and love her far too much to do that to her.

13 JustHeather { 05.20.13 at 5:42 am }

There are few things I hate in this world, but cigarettes and their smoke is something I truly Hate, with a capital H! After my ex, smoking became a deal breaker for me, good thing my hubby doesn’t smoke (an occasional cigar with friends, never at our house and I don’t want to be around and he had better get rid of the smell as much as possible before coming home, hahah, I’m serious) nor does he drink often nor much.

love the whole post though. 🙂

14 Chickenpig { 05.20.13 at 7:02 am }

I LOVE this.

My mother smoked and was very honest with us. She wish she had never started and she knew it was very bad for her. One New Year’s morning when I was in high school she threw away her last pack and never smoked again. You can’t hide that smell. But, if you are around other people that smoke, it sticks to you. So if I was trying to hide my habit, I would just say that I was hanging out with smoking friends.

In the same vein, I don’t understand all the TV shows and movies where cheating spouses leave one person’s bed and hop in another without showering. I turned to my husband and said “I would totally know if someone was cheating on me, how can you not SMELL it on a person?” (I wasn’t hinting or anything, honestly) His response being of course, you take a shower. But if my spouse took a shower at an unusual time, or didn’t smell like our soap, I would still know. There must be a lot of people who walk through life with their noses turned off.

15 Tiara { 05.20.13 at 7:21 am }

I couldn’t agree with you more about being honest with our children. How will I convince Elena she can trust & depend on me if she realizes at 5 or 7 or 12 years old that I’ve been lying to her about anything? I can’t remember the exact context but I remember you writing about you kids knowing about their conception (I think, I apologize for my hazy memory ) & reminding them that they know more about reproduction than what they’re friends parent are likely telling them. This stuck with md because I loved that you were being so straight forward & honest with them. Kids deserve that!

16 Gail { 05.20.13 at 10:01 am }

Thank you for stating the obvious. Just wish I could print this post and give it to the next smoker that I meet, but I don’t have the guts.

On another note, I totally love The Americans tv show on FX. I started watching it on your recommendation and am totally hooked. Just sad that they had the season finale already and we have to wait for the next season to start again.

17 Denver Laura { 05.20.13 at 10:56 am }

Ugh, I hate smoke! Hubby thought he was sneaking it by changing clothes and washing his hands, but nope! I’m so glad he stopped because it smelled like something crawled into his lungs at night and died.

In college, I secondhand-smoked 8 packs a day. Four roommates, all smoked 2 packs a day… When I moved out, I had to take EVERYTHING to the cleaners. I ended up throwing out some leather and suede becuase the smell just wouldn’t get out. I’m really spoiled when it comes to bars now. Colorado banned smoking in public places for years now, so when I visit another state I forget that smoking is still allowed in bars. I really don’t miss the bloodshot eyes and hacking cough after a night out.

18 Amy { 05.20.13 at 3:06 pm }

Ashamed to say that I am a smoker. I quit for my pregnancy but sadly the going got rough a few months after he was born and I caved. I hope to quit again well before it becomes a topic of conversation, but I would never lie to my son and say that I never smoked. Instead I will tell him about the elaborate routine I use and force his father to use too: only outside, ever (have never smoked in our home), wear a jacket/hoodie that covers my hair (even if it’s ninety degrees outside), too, or cover with a bandana, wash hands immediately afterward, leave all the smoking gear outside, etc., etc., and hope it helps him realize how dumb it is that I ever started, and hope he won’t. It’s definitely not as good as quitting, and by no means do I think it fools anyone, but I have to believe it’s a lot better than taking zero precautions along those lines. Le sigh. Definitely not proud of this weakness – but I would never even want to hope that my son would be dumb enough to believe an obvious lie like that!

19 loribeth { 05.20.13 at 4:03 pm }

I have never smoked, but my dad, my sister & her boyfriend all do. They used to smoke in my parents’ house until about 20 years ago, my mother banished them to the patio (in the summer) & the garage (in the winter). Even so, I can STILL smell smoke on my clothes when we get back home & I open my suitcase (although not to the same extent as when they smoked in the house). Sad to say, but I could never stay at my sister’s house because the entire place is completely saturated in nicotine. :p

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