Second-Hand Smoking on the Job

14 September 2009 By Joanne MacKenzie

I’d like to quit second-hand smoking, but it’s hard to do it when you work with a crew full of smokers. On the dock, in the crew car, at a restaurant – they smoke. If I want to spend time with them, I have to breathe in their carcinogens.

Despite the obvious health risk, cost and smell of cigarettes, a lot of yachties smoke.

One chief stew wants to know, “Why do the smokers get all the breaks?” She says she gets mad when she sees her captain smoking: “Every time I look for him, he’s on the dock on a smoke break and he always stinks of smoke.” In her opinion, he should stop working on his smoker’s tan and start doing more work.

Another stew says she started smoking to fit in with her crew and to break the monotony of a very lengthy shipyard period. “All the boys I worked with smoked. There was nothing to do and if I wanted to join them for coffee or a beer, I was around their smoke. I gave up and started smoking with them.”

Some crew call themselves “social smokers.” One captain says, “I’m not really a smoker. I just smoke when I have a beer. [But] sometimes I have a beer so I can have a smoke.” Sound confusing?

Another captain says there’s no such thing as a social smoker: “If you smoke, you are a smoker. The only way you can smoke if you aren’t a smoker is if you’re on fire. If someone says they just smoke when they drink, they’re in denial.” In his opinion, denial is the biggest thing that keeps people from quitting, “I went cold turkey. I got sick so I had to quit,” he said.

Is there a polite way to ask smokers to quit smoking around you? One chef says, “Apparently not. I got into the crew car with the new boat I was joining. The captain asked if I smoked or minded smoke. I politely said “I don’t smoke and do mind it.” He didn’t light up, but the deckhand in the passenger seat did.”

Scientific findings about the hazards of second-hand smoke have launched an international trend toward smoke-free offices and restaurants. So why do some crew say they still have to put up with the smell of smoke in their cabin?

A chef who shares a cabin with a smoker says, “When she comes in, she reeks of smoke. It hangs in the air and you can smell it in the washroom. It bothers my allergies, but I can’t do anything about it.” She’d like to share with a non-smoker, but says, “A non-smoking cabin isn’t an option.”

A chef and captain couple who used to smoke say the only way to quit second-hand smoking is to avoid going where people smoke. “We can’t stand smoke now,” they say. “Unfortunately, if we want to stay away from smoky places, we have to avoid a lot of the typical yachtie hangouts, but that’s the choice we make now.”

Second-hand smoke has been proven to cause cancer and other health problems. For more information, visit the American Cancer Society Web site at, or consult your physician.