Smoking Etiquette: For Both Smokers and Non-Smokers

Smoking can be quite the polarizing topic and to be honest this is a little difficult for me to write as I’m on the non-smoking end of the spectrum. But I will attempt to remain neutral, as with all etiquette everyone’s feelings should be considered.

It may seem that smoking etiquette applies to smokers alone but there’s a thing or two to learn for those bothered by smoking. Let’s begin with that group.

How to politely tell someone to stop smoking.

If you’re in a non-smoking environment where it’s clearly obvious or stated, then you have every right to say something. Now, how you go about it differs depending on location.

If you are in your private home or own event then you can directly tell the smoker, politely, that you do not allow smoking and then direct them to the nearest available place to smoke, whether it’s outside, a rooftop, or a designated area of the house.  It’s best to confront them as soon as you see them light up, and stick to your guns. If you allow one person to smoke you must allow others.

If you are in a public place where it’s forbidden such as a restaurant, theater or public transportation then the best course of action is to usually give your complaint to someone working at the location. Do so quietly and discreetly and if all goes well they’ll enforce the rules on your behalf.

Now what happens if you’re in an environment where smoking is allowed? This can be trickier and in many cases you must, simply put, “suck it up.”

If you’re with a friend whom you feel close to simply grab the ciggy out of their mouth and throw it to the ground. OK perhaps that’s not the best plan. But you can politely mention it bothers you or ask that you sit according to wear the smoke is blowing.

When it comes to strangers, unless you’re in a forced confined space, then try to change your position. If it’s an outdoor restaurant ask to move tables or at a public park go sit on another bench. Do so discreetly though, it’s unnecessary to cause a scene or make the smoker feel ashamed or angered. You must remember everyone has the right to do what he or she wishes. You don’t know their situation or backstory.

If it happens to be a case where you’re confined to a small place and cannot remove yourself, then you may politely ask if they wouldn’t mind putting out their cigarette. You can mention you’re sensitive, maybe even have asthma. Just be sure to keep your tone light and non judgmental. If you’re too shy or dread confrontation, then sometimes a little cough may do the trick. If the smoker is considerate they may view this as a signal and extinguish.

How to smoke politely.

If you’re a smoker you’re probably already aware of the places you can and cannot smoke. The important thing is to be aware and respect the rules in place.

If you know you’re in a non-smoking environment then abide by the rules. If you’re unsure if smoking is allowed it’s respectful to first ask the hostess or an employee of the establishment. If there’s no one to check with and it’s a place that appears suitable then by all means light up. If someone of authority confronts you then efficiently put it out. You may ask where the nearest smoking area is located.

What happens if you’re confronted by a stranger, someone who is not the host or an authoritative figure?

In this case it’s best to respectfully consider their request. You never know if someone is extremely sensitive and if it’s for the sake of children I would always comply. If they are being unreasonable or rude then you can politely suggest they change their location. If you’re not violating any rules or if you were occupying the space first then it’s your right to puff away in peace.

Now, just because smoking may be permitted in a certain area doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider your surroundings.

If someone is sitting on a park bench enjoying the fresh air I wouldn’t advise sitting right next to them for a smoke if there’s space available else-wear. If you are smoking near another person, whether you know them or not, position yourself so the smoke is not blowing directly at them.

Be sure to dispose of your butts responsibly. See that they are fully extinguished before tossing them into a trash bin and if possible ask for an ash tray.

If you want to go above and beyond it’s a nice gesture to wash your hands and/or pop a breath mint after a smoke to avoid offending anyone sensitive to scent.


In general this is one of those situations that’s all about respect, and it goes both ways. Both smokers and non-smokers should respect the other’s decision and adjust their behavior to best accommodate the other. It doesn’t mean they should give up an enjoyed habit or subject themselves to polluted air, only that they should each be mindful and considerate of their surroundings.

HOMEWORK: Are you a smoker or a non-smoker? If so how do you handle confronting or being confronted? Have you witnessed any rude encounters? Let me know in the comments!



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