I am working for a small company, during the day I will have a couple of smoking breaks. These breaks are always on my personal time; for example if I have 3 smoking breaks through the day that take in total 15 minutes, I will stay 15 minutes more.

I am not smoking on company ground not even company parking. I take small strolls around the neighbourhood.

Until now my boss was ok with that; he made some remarks about the time, but I pointed out what I do and he was ok.

Today he pointed out that the smell on my clothes and stuff bothers him.

What can I do about it?


As pointed by others, the smell is indeed unpleasant. The level of unpleasantness will vary, for example some people with asthma may experience strong discomfort.

Anyway, in the interest of good workplace relationships, I'll just tell you to buy a vape. I switched from tobacco cigarettes to vaping, and after a few days of adjustment, it is a perfect substitute, and it doesn't stink (unless you pick some crazy flavor like mango cheesecake, just don't). It really works, and your colleagues will be grateful. It's also less harmfull for your health, so everyone wins.

Another option is to wear a windbreaker jacket when you take your smoke break outside. The smoke will make it stink, but the rest of your clothes will be fine.

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    There's a reason that "smoking jacket" is an actual type of clothing. People didn't want their nice suit having a heavy smoke smell. – JPhi1618 Nov 30 '17 at 16:28
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    @JPhi1618 Mind. Blown. I am frequently amazed by how I can know a word for ages and never realize where it came from, even when it's a glaringly obvious case such as this one. – Cronax Nov 30 '17 at 16:30
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    In my younger days, I often went to a particular bar/pub/club that had heavy smoke. I kept an older coat in the trunk of my car specifically for wearing to that bar, just so my "normal" jacket wouldn't reek of cigarette smoke. I always called it my smoking jacket, but nobody ever got the joke... *grumpy old man arm wave* – Ti Strga Nov 30 '17 at 17:09
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    Obligatory link to the skeptics question on harmfulness of cigarettes / e-cigs for when this comparison is made: skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/8661/31557 – eirikdaude Dec 1 '17 at 10:14
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    @JPhi1618 Fun fact: in Dutch a tuxedo is called "smoking" and apparently in several other European languages "smoking" refers specficially to the tux' jacket) because of the similarity. So if you ever hear someone say "should I wear my smoking tonight?" you'll know where they're from. – CompuChip Dec 1 '17 at 15:50

I think you can reduce the comments by reducing the smell. I went to military school and we snuck cigarettes all the time. It wasn't a matter of not offending, it was a matter of not getting in serious trouble, so we all became experts at "ninja smoking". It's possible to smoke and not have anyone you don't hug notice. If someone doesn't even know you smoke, they won't complain about it.

Military School Smoking Tips, in order of effectiveness

Clothes: Keep smoke from your clothes: the cigarette should be downwind of your body at all times, which may entail rotating or walking around. Above all NEVER smoke inside or in a car where the stale smoke lingers and absorbs into your clothes.

Hands: wear gloves or wash your hands after smoking. After clothes, this is the biggest tell; your hands get the stinkiest tar on them through the filter. Purell and a paper towel is almost as good as actual washing.

Head: smoke can noticeably linger to casual observers in your hair for up to 2 hours, and indefinitely up close. Wear a hat, wash your hair after smoking, or at least run some scented product through it before returning to the workplace.

Breath: sounds like you have this covered, but brushing teeth, drinking coffee/pop/juice or chewing gum really helps. Worst case: rinse and gargle right after to get rid of what you can't cover up.

Attitude: you need to basically pretend you're smoking a joint, and trying to avoid getting "busted". You don't have to go to elaborate means to grab a butt, but just keep it in mind that you're trying "not to get caught", and remember the above tips. If someone does notice, perceive that as a failure on your part and try harder to "get away with it" next time.

With practice, you can have new people not even know you smoke, and people who know not even care or give it 2nd thought.

Aside: maybe your boss always noticed, but was having a bad day when he mentioned it, and in that moment it did bother him, even if it normally doesn't. People say rash things sometimes, and if he's been ok for years, i wouldn't get too worked up over a single side comment. If you can get rid of the part other people don't like (mainly the smell), you won't even need to feel defensive, much less be it.

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    This. Learn how to smoke w/o reaking of it. Even as a smoker I can smell it on myself if I've violated 'the rules'. – Mazura Dec 1 '17 at 3:07
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    Yes, this. I'm super-sensitive to cigarette smoke (allergic to the actual smoke, nauseated by the stench sans smoke). I once had a friend who was a fairly heavy smoker and it didn't bother me, because he knew how to keep it from sticking to him. And it wasn't like he hopped into the shower after every smoke break; it's a solvable problem. – Monica Cellio Dec 1 '17 at 3:38
  • I am in love with the pragmatism of this answer. And also with the irony in "Military School Smoking Tips"... +11111111 – Mindwin Dec 1 '17 at 12:08
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    @dandavis thank you for the answer! I am actually trying to follow the these rules, I cannot do something about the hair Because I have long hair. But I think it was partially my fault of it becoming more noticeable. Its quite cold outside so I would rush inside after a smoke. Keep my jacket with the rest of the coats, and also me and my girlfriend lately dont go out side of the house for a cigarette lately(Because lazy...). But its ok, I had a discussion with my boss, and the e cigarette sounds like a good idea. in general. – morningstar Dec 1 '17 at 12:32
  • I'm glad my "education" didn't go to waste! @morningstar: don't smoke inside before work, or blow it into a bathroom exhaust if you must. The e-cig should allow you to smoke fewer real cigarettes, and is really easy to sneak; good choice. – dandavis Dec 1 '17 at 18:18

As you noted, the problem is not the time but the smell.

Tobacco smoke, and especially cigarette smoke have a strong odor. This is a behavior you are willingly engaging in and can change. This does bother and offend people. Some people are allergic to it, some are simply nauseated by the smell.

Now, you stated that you found the fact that your boss came to you as insulting, and that you FEEL that if this was a problem, it should have been mentioned while your contract was renewed. What you feel is irrelevant. The problem exists, it is a problem you are causing through your actions and therefore a problem that you must address.

The first problem is your attitude. If you get insulted by a manager saying that something you're doing is bothering him, you're career isn't going to go very far. A lack of concern of what effect your behavior is having on your coworkers is also not an endearing quality to have. Change the attitude or change jobs.

The second is the smell.

People are becoming less and less sympathetic towards smokers. In my lifetime it's gone from what the "cool" people did to a disgusting habit that is barely tolerated. It would be best for you to quit altogether, but that's up to you whether you do or do not.

Either stop smoking on the job or do something about the odor. Those are your options.

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    As an asthmatic, the smell can put me into an asthma attack, so this is a health issue for other people and doubly obnoxious.. Plus I have had 4 people I loved die early due to smoking. And the second hand smoke is particularly bad for children (I am the poster child for this!!), so quitting smoking before having any or if you have any is critical. – HLGEM Nov 30 '17 at 14:51
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    @HLGEM I lost both my parents and my brother (age 47) to smoking related disease. I can relate. – Old_Lamplighter Nov 30 '17 at 15:00

Sadly this comes down to people's personal preference. I'm one of those people who detests the smell of smoke and it makes me feel sick. You can't ask your boss to close his nose, so the only choice is to deal with the smell itself.

You could:

  • Stop smoking

    Drastic and hard to do

  • Buy fabric freshener

    Allows your to spray your clothes and try to remove as much smell as possible

  • Start chewing gum

    Helps freshen your breath

  • Buy an air freshener

    Might help reduce the smell

  • Sit further away from your boss

    Smells travel, but the further distance would give them time to disappear

It's unusual that your boss has only just bought it up now, I assume something just irritated him too much and he had to say something. As for your job, it's unlikely you'll be fired because you smell of cigarettes. There are few jobs where that will cause a fireable offence.

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    RE: Fabric freshener, these usually just produce a "sweet smoke smell" rather than cover up the smoke/cigarette smell, which might just be more irritating. – C Bauer Dec 1 '17 at 14:30
  • @CBauer would recommend Febreze then (other products available) , that doesn't try to mask the smell, it neuters it – Draken Dec 1 '17 at 15:06
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    Air refreshers are great for migraineurs and clusterheads whose attacks are triggered by smells like those from , ... air refreshers. – phresnel Dec 1 '17 at 15:56
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    Overwhelming smoke smell with another noxious (but supposedly pretty) stink just means there are now TWO stenches in the air. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 1 '17 at 16:42
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    @Harper Worse than that. Smells can often work in a kind of disgusting synergy to produce a smell that is more obnoxious than the sum of its obnoxious parts. – Jonathon Cowley-Thom Dec 4 '17 at 14:05

You shouldn't be offended by someone pointing out that people smell bad after coming in from a cigarette. It's true.

Honestly it does take a lot of time out of the day and is annoying to co-workers who don't smoke. The smell is horrible, if you quit for a while you will notice it yourself.

I've been in the same boat and I am apologetic and try to make sure I wash my hands and don't come back smelling like an ashtray, if someone comments.

In short: Smoking is offensive to most people these days. You may have the right to smoke, but just as you will then force the offensive smell upon nearby co-workers without their consent, you need to be ready for their very valid comments about how offensive the smell is.

  • The first two sentences seem to be unrelated to what OP is asking (and are actually a bit insulting). The rest of your answer is acceptable. Would you mind rephrasing it? – DarkCygnus Nov 30 '17 at 18:50
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    @DarkCygnus How on earth is stating a fact insulting? Oh man, I went and rolled around in sillage for 5 minutes and now everyone says I smell! Je suis offensé! – Gusdor Nov 30 '17 at 22:00
  • @Gusdor stating facts is not offensive. Stating them in a rude way is offensive. Seems that this answer has been reworded and that part removed. Good, now I can +1 this. – DarkCygnus Nov 30 '17 at 22:10
  • People waste time even without smoking. Not trying to generalize, but my feeling is that a lone smoker having a smoke is often more productive than the group of chit-chatters hanging out at Mr. Doe's desk. Even without smoking, I often go out to think and untangle my synapserie. Some of my best thoughts were initiated on the outside, sometimes with, sometimes without a cigarette. – phresnel Dec 1 '17 at 16:00

Several people in my team are smokers and they go to take smoke breaks a few times during the day.

I'm pretty sensitive to the smell (I'm the type of who would cross the road to avoid someone smoking/vaping because I dislike the smell).

However, my smoking colleagues don't cause me any problems and they rarely smell of smoke (unless they speak to me on the way back from a smoke break and breathe in my face).

I'd recommend that you think about breath mints and possibly laundering clothes more often (or change out of your work clothes when you get home). The smell of smoke does tend to cling to clothing, so you may not notice this.

Public perception has been changing about smoking for some years now and people tend to get more sensitive to the passive smoking side of things now that less people are smoking (i.e. smokers are more noticeable now).


One point I haven't seen being made is that someone who doesn't work for your company may have been affected or made a complaint. For example, a guest, potential employee, new hire, or even a client could have come and then made a remark (or just visibly showed distaste). Your manager then might have forwarded it to you without mentioning the source, or said he himself had the issue.

To an outsider, whether you had worked here for two years or a single week wouldn't matter. If someone, especially a client or business partner, comes to the office and finds a particular employee or even the office itself unpleasant to be around, then it negatively impacts the company and its image as a whole.

Of course, this very well may not be the case at all, but I think it is something important to consider.

Also a lot of people are mentioning garlic smell as a comparison, but I think the smell of paint might work better. Smoke and paint are both toxic and the smell can cause headaches, nausea, etc. If a person (besides painters) came into work multiple times a day covered in and smelling strongly of paint, I'm sure it would not be at all tolerated in most workplaces.

  • It is possible, that it could just have been a blind spot for a very long time. Coworkers didn't admit because they didn't want to make bad relations. Eventually 'information' diffused somehow to the boss and he was brave enough to state a remark... – mpasko256 Dec 1 '17 at 13:14

A good amount of the smell of smokers (which is very apparent to non-smokers) is in the clothes. You go outside for smoking: that's good. Be sure that your work attire as well as your coat are not exposed to indoor smoking where the smoke has all the time to sink in. It's best to finish your cigarette several minutes before returning into the office as then the worst rush of cigarette smell has had a chance to clear out of your breath.

You probably would not particularly enjoy a colleague who leaves several times a day for eating garlic cloves. Smoke is worse.

It's not really too much to ask of you to minimize its impact on others as long as this can be achieved with a reasonable amount of circumspection.

It might have been prudent to ask your boss right away whether he can think of anything you can do to minimize the effects of your smoking on him: at least that way you'd not be fishing in the dark in case he can think of something other than just quitting. But he probably would have mentioned it if he had a good idea.


Just as a background I currently work in France and used to work in the UK some years ago. To me this type of situation clearly depends on the country your work in and how smoking is socially accepted. To be honest I was astonished about how smoking is way less accepted in London than in Paris. The answers here are on the same stance.

Although you could try to enhance the smell with spraying perfume all over you after each break, you could also make your manager understand that it is not a nice thing to say during a quick catch up, and that you will do your best to lower it. I am repeating myself but this could be seen as harassment under French law.

I am not a smoker myself but let me remind everyone that our parents used to smoke in planes not so long ago. Also, how would people who answered before react if they were being asked in an inquisitorial way what they had for lunch because they smell ? You have the right to be a smoker as much as people have the right to have garlic potatoes for lunch.


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