I recently started a new job and my boss is a smoker, so she frequently has smoke breaks together with my other colleagues who are also smokers. During these smoke breaks, they often discuss important information and as a non-smoker, I feel that I'm missing out. I tried to join them for a few of the smoke breaks in order to understand more but I found the smoke intolerable. What can I do to get into the insider group without subjecting myself to the second hand smoke?
I've actually seen things like this mentioned in association with diversity topics. Not that smoking is a protected characteristic - but that you can't underrate the subtle influences of a particular lifestyle choice, health choice or other pattern. Access to the boss should be available to everyone - but small choices like this can deny opportunities.
How much second hand smoke you're willing to take in is a question that I don't think can be answered here... but here's some ideas somewhere between your two solutions:
Make others aware of the situation in a manner that indicates that this is important to you, but also that it's not a crisis. One way is by joking - which I have done successfully with smokers who I knew well calling it something like the Cancer Conclave and suggesting that I should have Full Lung Capacity veto power on anything brought before the conclave. Joking has two major risks, though - it may not be seen as important (because it's clearly funny), or it can be taken wrong. Thus why I have only done it in situations where I knew the other parties well, and knew that the joke would be taken as a friendly warning shot.
Pull the boss aside and call him on it. He's not taking a "smoke break", he's having an impromptu info sharing discussion with the folks on staff who are willing to share in (and create) second hand smoke. You can reiterate that you'd be glad to go with them to get a breath of fresh air and share info - but you're really NOT OK with the smoke... so please either leave the work place inside or find some other way to share the info with everyone equally. Best done in private and probably the most fool-proof way to start.
Find a way to change the scene that is more subtle - being a conflict-avoider, I often do this. Find a place for smoke breaks with enough ventilation that the second hand smoke isn't an issue for you.... suggest taking walks... in essence keep the informal info sharing, but with a more healthy alternative break format.
With any of those options, going to HR remains an option as a next level step. 9 times of 10 in my experience, HR will point you back to the middle option - speaking to the boss. In most cases, that's the perferred first step, with the overriding exceptions being that the boss has done something so far beyond what is OK that there's no way the employee should have to have further contact with the boss. I don't think most people would find that the case here - smoking and chatting isn't a terribly offensive combination.
If you haven't talked to the boss about the issue - raise it. If nothing else, a good boss should appreciate that you're bringing up the issue in the most easy to resolve way.
When I was at my first job, the non-smokers took a break every day in the afternoon. Typically 10-15 minutes where we just sat and talked. Sometimes bosses would come out and talk with us, sometimes people from other groups who happened to be near us when we took the break would get invited, too.
Everyone was welcome to take this break with us and just relax for a few minutes. I'd suggest finding a few non-smokers and starting up your own daily breaktime where you all go out and just relax. Maybe even invite your boss, and let him sit downwind of you to smoke.