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

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 Answer

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.