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How should I approach a co-worker on matters of personal hygiene?

I spend 3 hours of my time on an average everyday in meeting rooms. The rooms are generally very small and people sit close to each other. I have few colleagues (from another team) who smoke cigarettes. Some are contractors from another vendor and some are regular employees. They come to the meeting room right after smoking. Some of them don't use gums. Some don't wash their mouth either. It smells very bad. It is not only me but my other non-smoking colleagues share the same uncomfortable feeling.

Is it appropriate for me to tell them on their face that they should use gums or wash their mouth before entering the meeting room (I don't want them to think I am rude. I just want to ask politely but the conversation might end up messy)?

Or Should I just escalate and leave the matters to my boss?

Both the above has some probability that they don't heed to my request. As I mentioned, there are some people who are not regular employees. What can be done in that case?

Thanks for helping.

  • 1
    What would you do with someone who wore too much aftershave? What if they had body odour? Bad breath? Do the same thing.
    – pdr
    Oct 19 '12 at 0:37
  • 4
    I think this is pretty different from personal hygiene as smokers often see this kind of attitude as an affront to their personal freedom (also they are addicted to smoking, so not as easy to remedy).
    – tjb1982
    Oct 19 '12 at 0:49
  • 3
    @tjb1982: No. Stopping someone from smoking at all leads to all those arguments, and only while the generation who used to be able to smoke everywhere grow old and die off (speaking as the youngest of that breed). Telling them that they smell and they're making you uncomfortable in meetings is exactly like telling a person with body odour or bad breath the same thing. For what it's worth, I would happily chew some gum before a meeting with Ramnath, if it made his life better.
    – pdr
    Oct 19 '12 at 1:12
  • 12
    I would object to spending 3 hours a day in meeting rooms.
    – user8365
    Oct 19 '12 at 4:03
  • 2
    @kolossus: "I hate to come off as one of those non-smokers, but we spend a lot of time in close-quarters in that meeting room and I'm finding the smell of smoke overpowering and uncomfortable. I don't want to tell you to stop smoking but is there anything we can do ... etc. etc."
    – pdr
    Oct 19 '12 at 11:34

As a former smoker, I can tell you that it would be very embarrassing to me if you confront me and so I would probably stop if you just tell me exactly what you wrote here. Especially if you tell me it makes you feel kind of gross. In the old days, I might have reacted by shittalking you when I go out to smoke (out of insecurity, some smokers have a penchant for sort of cliquish behavior), but in the end I think if you start conveying the message, your nonsmoking colleagues will support you and that would make me feel pretty uncomfortable and self conscious about it from then on.

But, yes, it is entirely appropriate to ask someone not to bring in an offensive and socially unacceptable odor, especially into a confined space.

  • 10
    The more I read this answer, the more I dislike it. Sorry. You are making a prejudgement about about a person's reaction, grouping all smokers' personalities together, and then you suggest using peer-pressure to make them do something about it.
    – pdr
    Oct 19 '12 at 1:46
  • 5
    Peer pressure is just a fact of life. I'm advocating being direct, but assuring the OP that peer pressure will take care of it from there. I'm not suggesting to use peer pressure as much as let it run its natural course.
    – tjb1982
    Oct 19 '12 at 1:52
  • 6
    since when has cigarette smoke become a socially unacceptable odor?
    – squeemish
    Oct 23 '12 at 15:38
  • 1
    Well, I can only speak to my own experience, and where I've lived, which has been for the past decade between North Carolina and Virginia, USA, that has certainly been my experience.
    – tjb1982
    Oct 23 '12 at 20:25
  • 4
    "since when has cigarette smoke become a socially unacceptable odor?" Depends how you define it, but the trend is undeniably in that direction, starting in the 1970s and stronger than ever now.
    – Chelonian
    Jun 7 '13 at 17:19

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