Dear Prudence

Dear Prudence Uncensored: The Smoking Neighbors

Every week, Danny M. Lavery and Nicole Cliffe discuss a Prudie letter. This week: the smoking neighbors.

Daniel Lavery: have you, in your smoking days, ever been approached by a stranger or a neighbor you’d never met and told to stop?

Nicole Cliffe: NO

Daniel Lavery: i have!

they never told me anything i didn’t already know, and it was not helpful to me

Nicole Cliffe: OBVIOUSLY

it’s a ludicrous thing to do if someone is not blowing smoke into your face


Daniel Lavery: I absolutely understand your pain and regret about your own relatives, and it’s absolutely true that secondhand smoke is bad for kids

but you don’t know these people, and what’s more important is that you clearly already feel contempt for the fact that they’re not as rich as you


and if that comes out on your letter, i am confident it will come out in your attempt to tell them to quit smoking

Nicole Cliffe: This is just a clear-cut case of not your business

I too wish these people did not smoke around their kids! But you are not a member of the family or a close friend and you should detach emotionally.


Daniel Lavery: If you want to volunteer or donate to an organization that helps people quit smoking or sues tobacco companies or sets up anti-smoking legislation, do that

Nicole Cliffe: Yes: there has to be a better way for you to channel these feelings

Daniel Lavery: It falls under that broad category of things that people do that may be painful or difficult or frustrating or dangerous but don’t rise to the level of intervention unless you have some sort of standing or shared trust

and you just don’t have that here

if this were a friend of yours that you could take aside and ask if they’d considered switching to vaping or offer to babysit more often or figure out a way to go outside to smoke where they’re ten feet away from the kids or whatever, sure, you could probably push them in the direction of some harm reduction


Nicole Cliffe: Absolutely

Daniel Lavery: but you’re just a stranger who also thinks their yard looks tacky

Nicole Cliffe: I’m afraid so!

Daniel Lavery: and I don’t think that conversation is going to go anywhere

Nicole Cliffe: I can guarantee it

It’s 2020. They know

The world has made this information widely available

a stranger who feels contemptuous towards them is going to have zero impact on their behavior

Daniel Lavery: and let me fend off the obligatory follow-up question, namely,


“Well, what if i start making small talk with them and then after a few months of friendship, I mention the smoking thing?”

people know when you are trying to befriend them because you look down on them and want to scold them!


Nicole Cliffe: also, not a great time to get close to your neighbors

Daniel Lavery: oh lord, RIGHT

It’s rough — smoking is bad for smokers and the people around them; smoking is also unbelievably addictive and it addresses a lot of very real needs in people’s lives

like, you have to really tackle why people start smoking in the first place, the sources of pain and stress and fear and anxiety, etc


Nicole Cliffe: None of which is in your capacity to do. It’s a complex societal issue.

Daniel Lavery: right

yeah I don’t have much more advice to give this person

aside from just, I both understand your own grief and your concern, and i don’t think you’re in a position to offer it to your neighbor in this case

and I wish smoking were healthy so we could all un-quit

but I’m also GLAD in a larger sense that I am still not smoking these days

Nicole Cliffe: Yeah, their feelings are real! This is just not the venue to work them out

Oh, most definitely