Grandma’s Cigarette by Mr. Philip Galanes

Philip Galanes writes a Social Q’s column for The New York Times that offers “lighthearted advice about awkward social situations.” In one column, a subscriber recognizes the dangers of tobacco pollutants for children and posts a question about how to navigate her mother-in-law’s smoking around her newborn child.

January 24, 2019
By Philip Galanes

I am seven months pregnant and happily awaiting the birth of our first child. The problem: My mother-in-law is a serious cigarette smoker. She smokes in her home, her car and before going into other people’s homes. She laughs off the dangers of second- and thirdhand smoke. My husband doesn’t want to talk to her about this, but I’m adamant that our daughter have a smoke-free environment. Help!

I get hammered by readers when I answer questions like this. Still, I persist. As parents, it is your job to keep your baby safe. The perils of secondhand smoke are well known. Thirdhand smoke (the toxic residue left on furniture and other surfaces by cigarette smoke) is less often discussed. But it is particularly dangerous to babies, who are famous for touching things and then putting their fingers into their mouths.
Please don’t forget that last paragraph when I add: It is also valuable for your child to have a loving relationship with her grandmother. I doubt that your mother-in-law means to endanger her family. Isn’t it more likely that she’s skeptical of science (Hello, climate change deniers!) or defensive about her inability to quit smoking?
The question for you and your ostrich husband is how to balance safety with family. You probably won’t change her mind about the dangers of smoking to herself and others. But it would be a shame to keep her from knowing your child. How about limiting her visits to your place (where she will not smoke), with a smoke-free sweater on hand for when she holds the baby? It’s a touch elaborate, but compromises often are.

Mr. Philip Galanes


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