Can’t see the forest through the smoke

Dear Annie: I am a nonsmoker who has asthma and early heart disease. When I am at family events and outdoor concerts or entering stores and public places, I often find myself exposed to secondhand smoke from cigarettes and cigars. Even though I make every attempt to avoid this smoke, it is sometimes impossible. This results in my having burning eyes, difficulty breathing, a wet cough, etc. At times, I’ve needed oral and inhaled steroids because the inflammation was so severe.

I am not particularly welcome in some circles because my attempts to avoid the smoke are seen as “grandstanding” or being a ridiculous jerk. My only other option is to stay home and miss out on time with family and the concerts, festivals and other outdoor activities I enjoy.

Smokers clearly know the dangers of what they are putting in their lungs, and I respect their right to do so. Why is there no consideration or respect for those of us who cannot tolerate the effects of tobacco smoke? When did we become the bad guys who just need to suck it up (literally) or stay home? I’m not trying to start a war between smokers and nonsmokers here. I am simply looking for intelligent, viable solutions to a common problem. — Gasping for Breath

Dear Gasping: We know how difficult this must be for you. Nonetheless, smoking is still permitted at most outdoor venues, in which case, there is little you can do other than avoid them or wear a surgical mask to act as a filter.

At family functions, you can suggest that the smokers be assigned a specific area so they can puff in peace and the rest of you can breathe more easily. Your family and close friends should be told about your medical difficulties and even given information so they understand you have a serious problem that should not be taken lightly. (Information is available through the American Lung Association at lung.org.)

Editor’s note: Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Email questions to anniesmailbox@ comcast.net, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.