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My father-in-law is smoking hard, around half a package per day. He doesn't find it stupid even when we come with our child (1.5 years old with atopic dermatitis).

We meet each other around four days per month. What is the impact on a child by passive smoking four days per month?

It's around 45-50 days per year. How can I deal with such a situation? Not visiting the parents-in-law is an option, but that would harm more people than just the father-in-law.

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    To be clear, no one can be anything close to precise based on the information given. The most that can be said is that it’s not in the child’s best interest physically. There are risks, but they vary greatly depending on a number of circumstances not listed here, and if they were, it would be a medical question.
    – anongoodnurse
    Jun 15 at 15:28
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    Whatever you decide to do, make sure that you and your partner are on the same page before you take any action. You don't want there to be conflict in the marriage if you ask your father-in-law not to smoke around your child, but your partner is actually OK with it. Jun 16 at 1:05
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    Since the question seems rather "How to deal with my father-in-law smoking near my child when I don’t want him to", it may better fit interpersonal.stackexchange.com. Jun 16 at 9:08
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    @Michu93: Ok thanks for clarifying. Then it seems to me that you have to first have and be certain of a clear consensus with your spouse on the moral principles involved in this issue and what they imply, before coming to the question of how to deal with others. Can you at least confirm that your spouse also thinks it is "both immoral and dumb to smoke near a child"?
    – user21820
    Jun 16 at 12:47
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    @Michu93 Your wife will understand that the kids safety and health is more important than her feelings. And her feelings are more important than her parents feelings. If you cannot please everyone you should simply do what is best for the kid. That that may have negative consequences sucks, but it is less important than the kid.
    – Gantendo
    Jun 17 at 3:15

4 Answers 4

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Second hand smoke is bad for a child in several ways.

First, perhaps most relevant to your case, there are relationships between smoke exposure and atopic dermatitis. See for example this study. It also may lead to flare-ups, as mentioned in this article.

Second, there are many other impacts of second hand smoke. From this article, they list increased risk of ear infections, bronchitis, asthma, and other lung-related problems. In particular, I'd read this line:

Because babies and young children are still growing, the chemicals in secondhand smoke harm them more than adults.

Finally, children who are around people who smoke are twice as likely to take up smoking as adolescents.

Even "third hand" smoke can have some of these effects (third hand meaning being in an area where someone smoked in the past and still smells/etc. of it, but isn't currently smoking).

If your father in law smokes in the house, best would be to not be in the house at all - meet them in a separate location, like at the zoo or a museum. Not as ideal, but still better than nothing, would be to ask him not to smoke when you're there. If he's unable or unwilling to do that, it's probably not a good idea to visit them; but unless he really is extremely set on this, it should be possible to come to a compromise, perhaps through other relatives who can convince him if needed. I was able to come to an accommodation with a relative when I had my first child (that they would not smoke in the house while we were there); it did take some convincing from other relatives, though.

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    I upvoted your answer, but to be clear, your sources mostly assume the smoker lives in the same household. When the exposure is as limited as the OP is talking about, the most that can be honestly said is that there is no completely safe level of second hand smoke. It also varies with the individual’s genetic composition/predisposition. (Also, not to be too picky, but the first study you cited is pretty much worthless.)
    – anongoodnurse
    Jun 15 at 15:35
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jun 16 at 19:00
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The most proper course of action is to talk to the smoker and explain to them that 1) you do not find it okay to have smokers around your child, and b) that it can pose specific dangers, given your child's state of health.

Human relationships are a sensitive matter, and eventually only you can decide how to behave and whether and how to confront your parents and in-laws on this issue. However, you also need to be aware that conflicts between "young" parents and their parents is not something exceptional: grandparents are often too slow to catch up to their grandparent status and the needs of a small child and its parents, because:

  • it has been a long time since they had small children themselves
  • the views on parenting/health/etc. in their times were different from now (e.g., smoking around children could have been okay)
  • they are too much in a habit of being the ultimate authority to you, and do not realize that now you are the authority and it is you who is setting the rules in your home (especially regarding your child)
  • (also, they are not necessarily used to taking into account that the opinions of your spouse may be very different from what is customary in your family)

Naturally, this also applies to you: mentally switching from the role of a child, who expects one's parents to come up with a solution to a parent, who is responsible for solving the problems for their child requires some time, courage, and taking risks. This is why I suggest addressing both points that I mentioned in the first paragraph: objective - that it is not okay for the child for specific health reasons, but also the subjective - that you are not okay, and it is you who are calling the shots. Making the latter point may avoid many potential future conflicts.

While it sounds very forceful, in practice this can be sometimes communicated with a casual inoffensive remark, telling a seemingly unrelated story, etc. Think about how healthy people are often oblivious to the needs of sick ones (e.g., allergic), how men do not understand concerns of women, or how childless people sometimes have little understanding for people with children.

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You wrote: "By stupid I mean both immoral and dumb - like smoking near child is something common without any impact on health. Moral principles but what is more important - child health. I don't mind a lot if someone is smoking near me however I do mind a lot if someone is smoking near child or pregnant woman. My wife also doesn't like when he smoke around kid but because of close relation with mother, she doesn't want to go into any consequences to father because that would harm her as well. Once we told father-in-law that if he smoke then should change t-shirt at least so he was angry with us for a weekend and then nothing - like we didn't talk about it, like he didn't remember etc. Just continue smoking around kid or even taking kid on arms during smoking."

Based on this, I think there are a few separate things you need to do. Firstly, as I mentioned in a comment, you need to first obtain a clear consensus with your spouse on the moral principles involved in this issue and what they imply. Notice that although I asked you to confirm that your spouse also thinks it is "both immoral and dumb to smoke near a child", your answer evaded the question and phrased it in terms of consequences to her father. That is in my opinion a big issue. Before we talk about how best to deal with others, we need to be clear in ourselves what is our moral bottomline. This applies to you as well as your spouse. You both need to think carefully through what you believe is immoral. Don't reflexively respond with "But others will think/do this/that in reaction.".

Secondly, after you come to a consensus, you both need to be firm on it and not be pushovers. Being firm does not mean that you refuse to change your mind forever, but it does mean that you always go back to your core moral principles when evaluating any new ideas or courses of action. Being firm includes being able to explain clearly why you both believe it is wrong for others (e.g. your father-in-law) to do certain things to your child. Be as generic as possible (talk about smokers if it applies to all of them) without being imprecise (do not say "we don't like it" if you mean "we can't tolerate it").

Thirdly, affirm that you understand that your father-in-law feels the need to smoke frequently, and affirm that you both do not wish to keep him away from your child, but that you feel that it is your duty to protect your child (which is true as far as I can tell from what you said). Explain that because of that you have no choice but to request that he avoid smoking during your visits. If possible, get a doctor to write a letter explicitly stating that cigarette smoke is harmful to your child, and show it to him. That way, if he continues to brazenly defy the scientific consensus (e.g. smoking while holding the child), it will be in direct opposition to a medical professional.

On the other hand, depending on your moral bottomlines (which I do not know), you may choose to compromise regarding third-hand smoke. Would you and your spouse find it morally acceptable if he does not smoke around your child but may be wearing clothes contaminated with third-hand smoke? One possible reason for trying for a compromise is to increase the likelihood that he will accept it instead of forcing you to decide between two worse options (stop all visits or have child breathing in second-hand smoke) because of failure to come to agreement.

In other words, your moral considerations should take into account peace in the family, which is important for emotional stability, and weigh it against the health impact on the child, carefully. This is not easy, but you and your spouse will just have to try your best. As before, what matters is that you try your best, not whether you manage to get an optimal solution.

The scientific evidence is strong enough that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke. As the CDC says: "Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can damage the lining of blood vessels and cause your blood platelets to become stickier. These changes can cause a deadly heart attack.". And exposure to second-hand smoke is estimated to cause disproportionately greater disease burden in children than adults.

For third-hand smoke, however, it is dificult to tell how bad it really is, as there does not seem to be sufficient studies. Of course, it is most sensible to be cautious and prevent exposure to third-hand smoke, but personally I suspect the risk from 1 hr/wk of third-hand smoke is small enough to be worth compromising over. Since I am not an expert in any related field, I emphasize that this is just my personal opinion based on my own estimates.

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Protecting your kid from smoke is important. Having a family that is united and loving is also important for him.

I start with a personal note: my grandmother was an adorable grandmother and a heavy smoker. My father was not happy with me being around, but he let me nonetheless stay at her place frequently. I loved to be close to her and now have many found memories of her. I would have missed something important in my life if my parents took actions that separated me from her in order to protect me from her smoking.

Second hand smoking is bad, but so are many things (fast food, sun, pollution, lack of sleep, ...). Sometimes you need to compromise.

You should aim to find a consensus with the grandfather which reduces the exposure to smoke as much as possible while maintaining good relations between all parties.

Maybe propose some actions acceptable for him and diminishing second hand smoking. For instance:

  • Open windows while and after smoking, and smoke at or close to an open window
  • Smoke less when the kid is present
  • Go in another room/outside to smoke
  • Instead of changing T-Shirt after smoking, maybe putting a jacket while smoking and removing it after.

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