My father needs to stay away from my mother with his cigarette smoke, but he refuses. How do we make him understand?

4 answers | Last updated: Jan 21, 2014
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom has had two heart attacks and just now has been diagnosed with recurring bladder cancer. My dad smokes in the house and refuses to go outside or into the bathroom - where there is an exhaust fan. Mom has been told to stay away from any type of cigarette smoke. Does anyone have any suggestions on how to get him to stop blowing smoke in my mom's face? She is 75, he is 82. He says because he hasn't had a heart attack or bladder cancer, cigarettes do not cause either of these and there is no need to quit. Their doctors have told him cigarette smoke does cause cancer but he doesn't believe them.

Expert Answers

Bonnie Bajorek Daneker is author and creator of the The Compassionate Caregiver's Series, which includes "The Compassionate Caregiver's Guide to Caring for Someone with Cancer," "The Journey of Grief," "Handbook on Hospice and Palliative Care," and other titles on cancer diagnosis and end of life. She speaks regularly at cancer research and support functions, including PANCAN and Cancer Survivor's Network. She is a former member of the Executive Committee of the CSN at St. Joseph's Hospital of Atlanta and the Georgia Chapter of the Lymphoma Research Foundation.

Chances are, your dad will not listen to logic, nor will he change his highly-addictive habit of smoking. Would he be willing to have the window cracked or the door opened while he does?

In general, you need to keep your mother away from the smoke as much as possible. Managing smokers around cancer patients can be a difficult situation. Here are a few suggestions: Could she go for a drive, take a walk in the park, or try not to be in the same room with him when he smokes? Can you start aerating the house through open doors and windows when he’s gone? It is wintertime, and if not, maybe you could find/buy a portable fan. Use it to push the smoke away from your mom if she wants to be with him when he’s smoking.

Another option is filtering the air with an Ionic air cleaner. There are portable units that could be placed beside her favorite chair or bed and help clean the air while she sits. While this option costs a little more than a regular fan (from $75-a few hundred dollars), it might be worth investing in. Just getting her out of the house to shop for such items might be a welcome breath of fresh air too.

Community Answers

Beatbreastcancer answered...

It's got to be hard for you, loving both your parents and having one suffer because of the behavior of the other. In the same e-mail as I saw this question, there is also a wonderful report that you should print off and show your father. It is a major study that found smoking bans in public places really work at reducing heart attacks from secondhand smoke. It was done by a very cautious and conservative medical group, and the article is full of facts and comments from other reputable groups. Maybe reading that will help your dad realize that he's hurting your mom. I'll be praying for all of you, and for success in opening your dad's eyes.

Uncle joe answered...

Everyone is a victim around this father who is selfish, arrogant, ignorant and stupid. Going easy on him and forced to make self-protective moves that involves more then inconvenience, but also unnecessary costs guarantee he will continue unchalleneged. I am incensed reading the plight of your mum.

Loving is two things: emotion and action (behavior). We often confuse loving with indulging and tolerate harmful effects from others we love, rationalizing their behaviour. We became enablers so they can carry on damaging themselves and others around them.

You need to consider your own and mum's mental and physical health and the toll he extracts. He in fact is killing your mother faster and the cancer has an easier run. Becoming assertive and self protective does not mean you don't love this creature who makes parents and spouses a bad name. Tolerating his behavior is harmful and silly. I sense you are not too happy to read this. While you may not be able to control his behavior, you certainly can yours.

May I suggest you seek support from a professional to teach you the skills you need to use? This thing needs to be brought to a head and he to be restrained. The only thing would make me an exception to the above is if he is diagnosed with serious brain injury, severely altered brain chemistry making him incapable to understand. This is not the case I am sure. This man is toxic unfortunately. Because he is your father it does not grant license to subject all around him to the harm he creates. You need to put your foot down. I suggest you both open as many doors and windowns and rag up but also with comments on the go with the tone of voice that is matter of fact, does not sound as an insult: " ah we must ventillate the place; another smoking danger!!" Make it annoying for him at least. You could escalate it a bit. I would be more severe myself despite I am known to be a gentle soul.

Let me know how did you go.

Be well!

Y not answered...

A couple of thoughts - 1. Does he love his wife? 2. Does he want to kill her? (Why not ask him the questions?)

If the option exists, suggest that if he insists on smoking, you will remove your mother from the environment ... indefinitely! That might just wake him up!

I also knew better, never developed cancer but, within weeks of stopping smoking I was diagnosed with COPD - wish now that someone had hassled me to stop!