I can't stand smoking, like, at all.

I get repulsed by someone's smoking nearby or coming close to me after smoking. It's purely due to the smell, which I find about on par with eating foods I hate the most, if not worse, and ends up consuming a large portion of my thoughts - I don't have a moral problem with it. Spending too much time around smoke can also give me a headache. I might have hyperosmia (a heightened sensitivity to smell) - the smell of smoke isn't the only smell I have a problem with, but it tends to be the most consistently problematic.

Now I've recently found myself interested in someone who smokes "sometimes" (whatever that means).

Ideally I would like to find out:

  • How important their occasional smoking is to them
  • How often they smoke
  • Whether they could be convinced to try to work something out that involves not smoking around me (on the hope that their interest in me outweighs the desire to smoke that often)
  • Maybe find out whether it's strictly vaping or weed (which might not bother me).

I don't want to:

  • Give up on them before having brought this up (even if that might be the best idea)
  • Date them if they're going to smoke around me or before hanging out with me.

    I might consider one or two dates if that would put me in a better position to bring it up, but I doubt it would help and during that time it could become painfully obvious that I can't stand smoke if either they smoke or someone nearby smokes, which would prevent me from getting in ahead of it.

If possible, I'd also like to avoid seeming like I am:

  • Trying to get them to stop smoking altogether (that would not be some "ultimate goal" of mine for either short-term or long-term dating, even if I would obviously prefer it that way)
  • Trying to "fix" or change them

    I want to present them with the fact that I can't stand smoking (like telling someone you're deaf, or really disorganized, or a Republican), and let them decide whether that's a problem for them or they're willing to compromise. This would be different from asking them to cut down on smoking because e.g. I think it's bad for their health (like wanting someone to become a vegetarian because you dislike animal cruelty). Now you could probably argue them being a smoker is as much of a fact as me not being able to stand it, but maybe they already smoke rarely enough for it to not be a problem, or they can change that fact, if they want to.

  • Taking a moral position about smoking (which is not true and may offend them)

  • A negative person
  • A sickly person

So, how can I find out how important smoking is to them and ask them to not smoke around me considering all of the above? When is the best time to bring this up, assuming we're at the initial chatting phase and they haven't agreed to a date yet?

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    In the US? How prevalent smoking is in your culture may play a role – spiral succulent Jul 6 at 19:22
  • Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Comments are for clarifying and improving the question; please don’t use them for other purposes. – Arwen Undómiel Jul 10 at 11:45
up vote 105 down vote accepted

In my dating experience, I've found that prying too much about a topic I take an opposing stance on has been problematic.

For example, I met someone who was "420 friendly", so to speak, and began asking them questions to determine how prominent that was in their life. When I ultimately told them I wasn't as big of a fan of it, it ended up coming off standoffish - like I had been asking all of these questions about their habits to do some kind of judgement based on my own counter opinion.

Instead of asking questions about their habits, consider just putting your end of things out in the open in the form of an olive branch you can both work off of:

"So I was wondering - would it be a deal breaker for you if I asked you not to smoke around me? I don't mind if you smoke otherwise, the smell just tends to bother me."

The main benefit of this approach is that you're letting them know how you feel and opening the door for them to decide what they're willing to do to work with you. This encourages you to talk about it together and work towards a possible solution (or find out that it just won't work out), without risking making things confrontational by "gathering intel" on their habits before telling them that you can't stand the smell of smoke.

In a word: Don't. Don't date them. No matter what anecdotes you may hear about people accommodating nonsmoking partners, the fact is that a smoker will always smell of smoke, and is unlikely to stick with "no smoking inside"-type rules, either out of laziness or severe addiction.

The root problem here is that you appear to fear that losing this particular date may lose the "person of your life." Dating, and love, and partnership, just don't work that way. There are thousands of people with whom you are fully compatible, so find nonsmokers at the get-go. This is no different from, say, finding the right religion (where again, some couples manage to have a mixed marriage, but most fail, so why not start from any easy connection?)

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    The root problem is that the percentage of women I'm interested in and who are interested in me is too low to make filtering out a good chunk of them an attractive option. Although I'll concede that becoming more interesting, looking harder and not being so quick to judge are probably all better options. – NotThatGuy Jul 9 at 17:22

Spending too much time around smoke can also give me a headache. Yes, I have a really sensitive nose.

That's a reasonable point that you can bring up when discussing it with her. If it seriously affects you in that way, your date will most likely be understanding about the situation and make compromises. My grandma was an avid smoker and still is up to the ripe old age of 80, but my mom made it absolutely clear that she should not be smoking around my siblings and I when we came over. My mother didn't really care that she smoked, but just not to do it before or during our visit. My grandma complied without any complaints.

You can bring it up before hand or the first time it happens, but you would probably want to mention it before hand. Explain the symptoms you get when you smell smoke and ask if they could not smoke before or during any times you two meet up. You can even throw in a comment about how you don't really care that they smoke for moral reasons, but it's just for your well being. No judgement and no negativity.

Note: If your date vapes, you might not have that much of a problem with the smell. Vapes emit water vapor instead of smoke, which won't irritate your nose, unless you are allergic to something in the juice.

I don't smoke at all, while my girlfriend does. Like you, I really detest the smell of smoke. And since we've been together for almost a year already, I can tell you that a couple of a non smoker and a smoker can exist and be happy. :)

For us two, it boiled down to compromise. To get it, it was important to not make it a matter of principle, but a matter of what's important to me and what's important to her: she knows that I hate the smell when I'm eating, so during meals/snacks she sucks it up, whereas I know that the cigarette before going to bed is sacred for her, so I suck it up instead. When we're together, she smokes only when we're outside and we take care of being in the right position with respect to the wind. I never lectured her on the health effects of smoking and she never retorted my requests with lectures on the importance of personal freedom.

The essence is really investigating and acknowledging what's important to them. Every cigarette is different: there is the one you smoke while waiting for another person, the one for when you're bored, or nervous, or drinking alcohol, or the one after coffee. Depending on the person, it's easier to give up on some of them but not others. Ask them about their relationship with smoke: after all, it's an aspect of their life and you're interested in them, so it's just normal to ask. However, be extra careful in not expressing any judgment of any type (health, money, you name it) and be tactful ("If you don't mind, can I ask you..." / "You can not answer if you're not comfortable with it, but..." etc). Just be interested in them.

As for the type of compromise to reach for when you're together, ask them what's their suggestion:

You know, I'm really sensitive to the smell of smoke. Would it be too much to ask you to not smoke when we're together? What can we do to both be comfortable when we meet?

Maybe you'll find out that if you go and eat Chinese food, then the cigarette is just compulsory, but not if you just go to a park (just making these up), and you two will decide to postpone the Chinese food night for a while.


For the record: since we're together, my girlfriend smokes way less than she used to (>8 cigarettes per day versus 1-2). Being with other smokers is a big push towards smoking, whereas being with a nonsmoker whom you care about is a good reason to just postpone a little bit that one cigarette. She ended up just forgetting smoking when we're together :).

I smoke "sometimes", which is to say I smoke a cigar once in a while. It has ranged over my life from most weekends during grad school to once every couple of years. Right now, it's 1-3 times per year. There are other minor details, like keeping cigarillos handy if I'm going to be around heavy cigarette smokers (I find the cigarillo smoke less bothersome, especially compared to menthols), but suffice it to say I smoke infrequently enough that for medical purposes, I'm considered effectively a non-smoker. But if asked in a dating profile, I'd put "sometimes" so didn't appear dishonest or mislead someone who has a strong objection to smoking.

I wouldn't worry about it too much. I would treat this like you would any other part of someone's character. If they start to light up when you're there, just ask them politely not to smoke around you ("I'm sorry, but would you mind not smoking around me? I'm very sensitive to the smoke."). If it shows itself to be an issue, then it might be worth bringing up and discussing in more depth to see if it's going to be a deal-breaker for you. But even if it turns out that they smoke more frequently than you expected, it could be that they accommodate you readily, and it never becomes a problem. Just let the discovery process progress naturally.

Bringing it up right away might make you appear to be morally opposed or a worry-wart. If someone asked me up front, directly but politely, I wouldn't be offended and would just answer honestly. I might be concerned that they could become a schoolmarm later and scold me about it, but since I value open communication, I wouldn't jump to conclusions. But I'm not everyone. Then again, if you're concerned that they might get a little defensive about the habit, that may be something you want to know now. I'd argue if that's the case, you might want to reconsider whether or not you're actually comfortable with dating a "sometimes" smoker.

Think about it this way: If someone had a few drinks, or even a few too many drinks on an outing, would you immediately become concerned and question them about it? If it happened twice in a row, though, I think you would be justified in asking, "Should I expect this every time we go out?" I would probably laugh the first episode off, but two in a row would make me consider whether I was compatible with that person. I have no problem with drinking, or even occasionally getting a little sloshed. I drink, and one of my best friends is a high-functioning alcoholic. But I wouldn't want to date someone for whom I'll always just be a designated driver. I wouldn't start worrying about it based on someone putting "drinks: yes" on their profile, though. Applaud the honesty and see if there's something there.

I've been in this exact situation and it all panned out great in the end. Basically when my wife and I started dating she smoked, which I hated with a passion, quiet often. I have family members who had died due to smoking which triggered my hatred towards smoking.

After explaining this to her, she understood and actually took steps to quit smoking purely for me. On a holiday we both went on together, she made the effort to only smoke while I wasn't around, she would go find somewhere out of 'smelling distance' and always wash her hands etc to make sure I didn't get whiff of it.

In the end she quit smoking all together and we're now married.

My advice is to be completely honest about why you'd like to find out those details and what kind of comprise you can come to, hopefully she'll understand your reasons. Good luck to you, it can work out great!

I'm a former cigarette smoker, but now do vaping instead. I can tell you without a doubt that smokers have a peculiar relationship to their vice. Ignoring health concerns, a smoker with any sort of self-awareness will be acutely aware of how disgusting it is and how much it stinks. That is, smoking is offensive to the senses of a non-smoker.

What has this got to do with anything? Well, if smoking is disgusting and unattractive and if she vaguely likes you, then she will want to present her most attractive self that would make you more likely to want to kiss her. You only do disgusting things around people you don't care about impressing or with whom you're very comfortable.

Now I've recently found myself interested in someone who smokes "sometimes" (whatever that means).

If she tells you she sometimes smokes, there's two ways to interpret this:  

  1. It's possible she only smokes sometimes, and if this is the case, she's very unlikely to smoke around you. If you're a "sometimes" smoker, then you aren't the type of person who happens to carry a packet of cigarettes on your person. Instead, it more likely means that when you're really drunk at 1 a.m. you might bum a smoke off someone if you really feel the need to smoke.

  2. If I know smokers, "sometimes" actually means "regularly" or at least on the weekends. Her saying that she only smokes sometimes, however, is a positive sign: it means she's trying to downplay her vice, at least initially. If you were to commence a relationship with her and she's done trying to impress you as much, she might feel more comfortable showing you her vices.  

Trying to "fix" or change them I want to present them with the fact that I can't stand smoking (like telling someone you're deaf, or really disorganised, or a republican), and let them decide whether that's a problem for them or they're willing to compromise.

I doubt she'd smoke around you, at least on the first few dates, but if she does I would suggest that you convey your feelings with actions rather than words.

If she lights up in front of you, just swipe the smoke away as you would any irritant but don't let it distract from whatever conversation you're having with her.

If she sees you do this, it will simplify the matter for her, because it means you find the smell of cigarettes very unpleasant to your senses and you don't want unpleasant smells around you.

When is the best time to bring this up, assuming we're at the initial chatting phase and they haven't agreed to a date yet?

Realistically, don't say anything. Just go on a date with her.

The best way to get an idea of how "important" smoking is to place her in a position where you're someone she's interested in romantically, or at least wanting to get to know.

I don't think it's possible for you to bring up the issue of smoking with her until it directly affects you. That is, if someone started asking me about my smoking habits, I would interpret it as some sort of moralising on their part: if it doesn't affect them, what business is it of theirs if I do or don't smoke?

Personally, I would use it as a litmus test. If you're out on a date with her and she's perfectly comfortable with imposing an unpleasant sensory experience upon you, then it will demonstrate to you that this "sometimes smoking" of hers is actually quite important to her.

We all have habits and likes and dislikes. If you refuse to date someone because they have some incompatible habits or preferences, you could be cutting yourself off from a lot of good potential matches.

The questions are, How important is it to you? How important is it to the other person? And, Is compromise possible?

Just for example: I have a beard. At one point my wife told me that she didn't like me with a beard and wanted me to shave it off. So I did. It just wasn't that important to me, I had no problem giving in on this point to make her happy. Later she changed her mind and wanted me to grow it back. So I did.

On the other hand, if a girlfriend or wife said she wanted me to give up my religion, no, I wouldn't do that. If she asked me to change to a different profession, that would be hard, I don't know what I'd do.

Can you give in on this and put up with her smoking around you? I gather from your question that the answer is no. I've never smoked but I understand that quitting smoking is hard, most people can't just decide to quit one day and never smoke again. So for her to give it up completely for you would be tough. If she really loved you maybe she would. But you haven't even been on one date yet if I understand you correctly, so I think it would be very premature to ask that.

So all that said, here's my advice. Tell her that being around someone who is smoking makes you feel ill -- or whatever is a fair description of your situation -- but you want to go out with her. Can she go without smoking for the duration of a date. Would this be a problem? That's a fair request to make of her. If she gets defensive, make clear that you are not judging her, you're not saying that smoking is evil or anything, it just causes you literal physical trouble. If she has any sense she should realize that this is going to be a factor in any long-term relationship. If she wants to go out with you, she might agree to go without smoking for the duration of the date. If you hit it off and want to continue, you'll have to talk about what to do longer term. But I'd postpone that conversation until you have reason to believe that there will be a longer term.

I know some people say that you should resolve issues like this before your first date. If you can't come to an agreement, there's no point wasting time pursuing the relationship. I understand that, but I respectfully disagree. You haven't built up enough mutual understanding and commitment to have a serious conversation.

You can see the bottom of this answer for the first thing I would tell a friend who came to me with this question, however its not an answer within the bound of this site. Instead here is an answer which should fall within the guidelines of the site.

My advice would be to not talk with this person about it at all, especially if the conversation wouldn't be face to face.

The basis of my answer is that: 'Can I be with somebody who occasionally smokes?' is an intrapersonal issue for you to find out for yourself. Smoking is not an issue that exists between you and this person to figure out. Further, anecdotally, cigarette smokers often feel, not unjustly, morally attacked or judged for their habit and trying to get exact details of their habit may come off extremely negatively, no matter how polite and circumspect you are trying to be.

Entering into a relationship wanting to change/ being averse to a behavior of your partner is not going to lead to a good dynamic, however since you posed this question, I take it that there exists some theoretical threshold of smoking which you would be fine with. If you want to find out if this person exceeds that tolerable level, then the best way to gauge that would be to spend time with them. If you do more than mention in passing that smoking really bothers you, you may influence the results of the experiment.

I would suggest trying to go on (a) date(s) somewhere outdoors, or a place where smoking could happen, but won't bother you if it does. Observe if/when your date smokes and see if it is unbearable for you. If it is, then break it off there.

My other strategy if this is not to your liking would be Jess's answer.


Unsolicited NAA advice: I know you specifically called this out, but if smoking is a big problem for you and one of the first things you learned about a prospective partner is that they smoke, then I would advise dropping the prospect.

Especially given the fact that its the smell that you take issue with, smell and taste are closely linked, and if your relationship with this person got far enough you would be facing the fun aspect of kissing somebody whose mouth tastes like smoke.

  • 1
    I had hoped my question would make it clear that I already know that I can't be with someone who occasionally smokes (around me), and I wouldn't need to go on a date to figure this out. – NotThatGuy Jul 6 at 19:40
  • At least at the time of writing my answer, I was not able to draw that conclusion from your question – spiral succulent Jul 6 at 20:49
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    But if you already know that, then I don't understand where you think this relationship will go – spiral succulent Jul 6 at 20:54
  • 3
    You don't think there exists a single occasional smoker who could be convinced to smoke selectively enough, or take appropriate steps (e.g. mints), such that I wouldn't be bothered by them smoking while dating them (in the short or long term)? – NotThatGuy Jul 6 at 22:22

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