Monday, July 19, 2010

NIP and smoking: If you don't like it, leave

Recently a DJ from an Orlando, Florida, radio station interviewed a midwife about nursing in public. The DJ would prefer that women not nurse in public, and his questions to the midwife were very anti-breastfeeding in nature. At one point he said something to the effect of, “Well, if women are allowed to breastfeed anywhere, then smokers should be allowed to smoke anywhere they want.”

Today's piece is part of a collaborative effort that seeks to demonstrate why smoking in public is not an appropriate analogy for nursing in public (N.I.P.). Please visit the other writers' sites to learn more as links post throughout the week. The schedule of posts is as follows:

  • Monday, July 19: Lauren at Hobo Mama gives suggestions on how to deal as the observer with either smoking in public or N.I.P.
  • Tuesday, July 20: Annie at PhD in Parenting writes about the public health aspects of smoking and breastfeeding.
  • Wednesday, July 21: Dionna at Code Name: Mama compares legislation on both smoking and breastfeeding.
  • Thursday, July 22: Paige at Baby Dust Diaries discusses the effect on bystanders of smoking versus breastfeeding.
  • Monday, July 26: Our posts will be posted as a whole at, where they serve as a complete resource anytime smoking in public is compared to nursing in public.

14th December 1951:  A woman having a cigarette break by the service hatch in a New York bar. Original Publication: Picture Post - 5784 - New York - unpub.  (Photo by Raymond Kleboe/Picture Post/Getty Images)When I was pregnant, I was fiercely protective of my unborn little one's health. I don't live with a smoker or have geographically close friends who smoke regularly, so I don't come across it that often. But when I traveled to be with my mother during a health crisis she was having in my third month of pregnancy, I had to walk the gauntlet of smokers lining the waiting area outside the airports.

What did I do? I took a deep breath before arriving near any smoker and held my breath as I passed, to the point that I could. When I had to stand outside waiting for a bus, I continually moved my position to be as far from smoke as I could.

What did I not do? I did not fake a cough or wave my hand in front of my face. I did not grimace at the smokers and point tellingly at my slightly protruding belly, reminding them that there were children present. I did not tell them that if they wanted to smoke, they should do so at home where it's decent, or that they should have planned their trips so that they smoked just before they left and just after they got back. I did not heckle them and threaten to call airport security on them.

I feel like there are a lot of people out there saying the sight of public breastfeeding offends them. And to those people I say, that's why you have a neck. That's why you have eyelids. That's why you have the right to go somewhere else or stay home.

In other words, we as citizens of this diverse planet have personal responsibility to deal with our own feelings and reactions to things that bother us but are perfectly legal. In a free society, I have the right to form my own opinions about smoking, about interracial partnerships, about homosexual partnerships, about children's presence in public, about breastfeeding in public or at all, about wearing low-cut tops or no tops at all (men in summer hereabouts), about being part of a religion or culture that requires dressing in a very distinct way, etc. (I hope it's clear I'm not listing things I'm against. I'm listing things some people are against.)

What I don't have the right to do is impinge on people exercising their legal rights to act as they see fit. I don't have the authority to hand a blazer to someone I think is too skimpily dressed and insist that person don it. I don't have the right to pull a cigarette from someone's mouth and extinguish it beneath my heel. I don't have the right to demand a couple remove themselves from my sight.

Granted, free speech does give me the right to be a jerk. It's not good manners, but I could certainly voice my opinions on everyone else's behavior and generally make everyone in earshot feel uncomfortable. But I don't have the right to coerce the people I'm targeting to abide by my opinions, or to call in authorities to enforce my opinions.

In short, people who are against breastfeeding in public should do what I do around smoking in public: Deal with it on a personal level.

If it bothers you, turn away. Leave the area.

Even better, educate yourself on why breastfeeding is important, and therefore why breastfeeding in public is important. Work through your own hang-ups about what you demand of nursing parents, and reconsider it from their point of view. (For instance, would you want to eat in a restroom or with a blanket over your head? Would you want to be told you had to stay home for a year or couldn't leave without a complicated preparation of sterilized feeding gear that must stay at a proper temperature?)

And even more so, meet people who breastfeed. Find out what it's like for them, and hear their stories.

This actually works for anything on the list of things that might offend you. The more you get to know the people who practice what bothers you, the more you realize: "Huh! They're humans, too."

In regard to smoking, I have done all of those things. I still don't agree that it's a good idea to smoke, but I know smokers I admire and like, and I know more now about the hold smoking's addiction can have on people. I also take steps to curb my exposure to smoke. Before indoor smoking bans were passed, I avoided restaurants that were too smoky for my taste; I've asked to change hotel rooms when I've been granted a smoking room inadvertently; and I will avoid standing near someone who is smoking. It's up to me to make myself comfortable. It is not up to me to make smokers bow to my every wish.

When other people are doing something that's perfectly legal and reasonable, even if I don't agree with it, I need to step aside and deal with my own objections. My objections do not trump their rights.

In the same way, my right to feed my baby anywhere I am allowed to be is legally protected, and no one's opinion is allowed to take that away from me.

P.S. This doesn't even get into the myriad reasons smoking is different from breastfeeding and the way public smoking impinges on my right to physical health (because other astute bloggers will be tackling those issues) or the fact that oftentimes now, I'll come across smokers breaking the law, smoking directly under No Smoking signs. In Washington State, it's now illegal to smoke within 25 feet of doorways, so that I should be able to wait for my bus outside the airport's sliding doors without being engulfed in a poisonous cloud.

Please visit the other bloggers when they post this week.

1951 photo of a woman on a cigarette break by Raymond Kleboe, Getty Images


Anonymous said...

Wow, how disappointing that the interviewer gave (I assume HIS?) listeners a laundry list of inaccurate and offensive ammunition-slash-emtpy talking points.

Nice post!

I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the week.

Michelle said...

I absolutely do ask people to stop smoking at play grounds. That is not acceptable and in no way comparable to breastfeeding. There are situations in which someone else's smoking infringes on my rights to personal health. Breastfeeding never does that.

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

LOVE! First of all, let me tell you that I had a good chuckle reading through the last half of your post. It was identical in each point (not the language to make it, but the points were the same) to an email I wrote last week to someone who left two very rude, ignorant comments about why bf'ing moms should cover up (the comments never saw the light of day): turn your head, educate yourself, find a breastfeeding mom and figure out that it's not so bad.
re: smoking on playgrounds: I find that to be incredibly tacky too. I think there is a way to ask a smoker to move back that is polite and non-confrontational. They probably just aren't thinking, and they'll move happily after a gentle reminder. I have been known to say "I used to be a smoker, and I know it's a pain, but would you mind very much moving back away from the kids?" I've also been known to lie (YES! I'VE LIED!) and said that one of the kids present has asthma. Hey, it's possible.
Anyway, I love the comparisons you make about the suggestions nursing moms get. Thank you, thank you for helping with this project!

Jenny said...

You are much kinder about smoking than I am. I do know and love several smokers--my brother is one--and I understand it's not simple or easy to quit. However, for instance, I couldn't help but be enraged when I would come to work at the hospital and see a group of smokers standing right in front of the sign that clearly states "THIS IS A SMOKE-FREE PROPERTY." I have had to walk through the grass in heels because smokers were blocking the sidewalk. It's the same door all the pregnant women enter through for prenatal appointments and to have their babies. Some smokers don't seem to grasp why non-smokers value fresh air. A woman in NC was kicked out of a Denny's for breastfeeding a couple of years ago, but they had a smoking section. So basically, if someone came up and said "the cigarette smoke is giving my son an asthma attack" they would say "too bad, it's their right to smoke!" But if (and this is what happened) people complained about the mere sight of a mom nursing, they kick her out. How backwards!

Slee said...

I strongly dislike the myth that everyone who coughs around a smoker is fake coughing. I know you're not saying that, but when I read the reference to fake coughing it surges up in me because for a lot of people the almost immediate coughing that occurs when they loose their holding-my-breath battle is entirely involuntary and part of a genuine struggle to breathe. So while yes, I have the right to leave and do exercize it frequently around smokers, I do think the bigger issue is that secondhand breastfeeding doesn't give you cancer, secondhand smoke can.

Unknown said...

I am literally clapping at the screen, AWESOME!!! :)

Mallory said...

The biggest difference between smoking in public and breastfeeding in public is that SMOKING IN PUBLIC CAN CAUSE EVERYONE AROUND PHYSICAL HARM and BREASTFEEDING IN PUBLIC CANNOT CAUSE ANYONE AROUND PHYSICAL HARM!! I am one of those people who is a big time jerk to other smoking in public. (Mostly, because my state has a law that says no one should be smoking within 50 feet of a business entrance. And the law gets violated all the time!) I figure I can be rude with my words to give those people a "warning", rather than reporting them (or actually the business) for not complying with the law. I personally believe that any habit that causes harm to others should be made illegal in the presence of others. (Basically, I think smoking -anywhere-, not just in public, should be made illegal.) But I know that's really not the point of this post. It is absolutely ridiculous to compare NIP to smoking!

Lauren Wayne said...

Thanks, everybody! I just want to reiterate: Trust me — I don't like smoking! Really, really don't like it. Someone was smoking in our building's hallway recently, and it still lingers and is grossing me out when I walk down that end, which is right near an always-open window. And I do comprehend all the ways breastfeeding is not like smoking, at all. I just had to go first, and that wasn't my topic. ;)

milkstained: Yes, his. It was pretty sad. And he sent a smoker to sit near some breastfeeders at a nurse-in. Although, there was another DJ recently who gave her listeners an earful, so, yeah, both genders are guilty.

Michelle: I would, too. I've never had that happen. There's a difference in certain situations like that, when it's affecting people who are particularly vulnerable or can't leave. There are limits to the smoking/NIP analogy, because smoking is bad for everyone around it, and NIP isn't, despite naysayers' complaints.

Dionna: Ha, great minds! :) And I would totally pull the asthma card, too. I used to love being around a friend of mine with CF, because it was a great way to ask people respectfully not to smoke around us; it was truly a health issue.

Jenny: Kinder or wussier, take your pick. And read the P.S. — I get very angry when there's nowhere for me to wait near the doors when it's clearly marked as a no-smoking area. But I feel there should be airport security or someone moving people in that instance; it shouldn't be up to me to do a citizen's shooing. I realize travelers might be from anywhere and laws about smoking in doorways might vary from state to state, but no-smoking signs don't… At a hospital, I would fully expect hospital staff to move the smokers, and if I worked there or went there regularly, I would ask someone in charge to send out a memo or post more signs or something. But, for instance, there's a certain hairdresser's I have to walk by every time I take my son to school, and there is always — always! — an employee out on the bench outside smoking, within 2 feet of the door. I don't say anything, because I go by in a few seconds. But it's still against the law. And Denny's? Yeah, they love to suck about a lot of things, breastfeeding and smoking included.

Slee: Is that a myth smokers perpetuate? I just meant, I personally don't ostentatiously cough. Sometimes I real cough. I was drawing a (supposed-to-be-funny) comparison to how some people act around nursing mothers by fake sighing or, well, fake coughing or clearing their throats, etc. And, yeah, the other bloggers will be commenting on the many, many ways smoking is different from (worse than) breastfeeding.

Cory: Yea!

Lauren Wayne said...

Mallory: That will be the point of the other posts, of course. There are big differences when smoking's illegal in a certain place and breastfeeding is not, which it is not, anywhere. (There are a few U.S. states not protecting the right of breastfeeders but not specifically calling it against the law.) My post deals with when smoking's not against the law, although even when it's somewhere legal, it's still possible to ask someone, politely, not to smoke around you in a specific instance. I need to take you with me to the airport so you can roust all the lingering smokers. I don't personally think smoking should be made illegal full-stop, because it didn't work so well for Prohibition, but that's just me. I do hope it phases itself out, though.

Lisa C said...

I'm very polite around smokers, too. I keep my mouth shut, even though I'm mildly allergic and may end up in a sneezing fit with watery eyes if I have to sit next to a person who just got off a smoking break. I didn't say anything to my neighbors who smoked in the apartment below us when I was pregnant and when Michael was newborn, so much so that we had to keep our windows closed all the time and never get any fresh air because otherwise our home would fill with smoke. And I haven't said anything to our current neighbor who smokes out on his deck where the breeze blows it right into our house or our backyard where my son plays. I've been very polite. Perhaps too polite? Can you tell I have an issue with this?

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...

Last weekend our neighbours left a note in the hallway saying: "We are having friends over to BBQ in the courtyard tonight. Please let us know if we are being too loud".

They were a bit loud at times and were there until the rain starting pouring down at 2:00am. The noise, however, I could handle. What really bothered me, although I didn't get up the nerve to say anything about it, was the fact that they were standing directly under my kitchen and bedroom window and smoking. It was extremely hot outside and we really counted on the slightly cooler evenings to let a bit of air into our apartment. I ended up spending the evening alternating between having the window open (when there weren't too many people smoking near it) and closing the window (when too many of them were smoking too close to my window).

They were within their legal right. I would say that they were inconsiderate and I am happy that there are more and more laws in place to protect people's rights to a smoke free environment so that situations where people are exposed to smoke against their will are lessened as much as possible.

Lauren Wayne said...

Lisa & Annie: It's funny you both mention people smoking beneath your windows, because we're having the same problem since we moved. We have windows on only one side of our unit, and the neighbors below us like to smoke outside. I was thinking of saying something to them asking them to keep it indoors since they like it so much. ;) But I haven't gotten up the nerve, because it is their right to smoke on their own patio. But we don't have A/C and do want the windows open in the summer. I would be happy if our building became non-smoking, but as it is the downstairs units, with a shared hallway, are smoking, and the upstairs ones, with a shared hallway, are non, as far as I can tell. Except that there was someone smoking up here recently, so who knows!

I am all in favor of laws restricting smoking from impinging on other people's space. I like the ones that have been passed, and Washington state is rather strict about it.

It's funny, because like my article on nursing and religion, this article wasn't really about smoking per se (as my article on religion was more on how our secular society had been influenced by religion, not how our churches had been), but people focus on the thing they feel strongly about, which I totally get. I'm just wondering if I should have written the post differently. But it is what it is, since that was the topic at hand.

Maybe here's another analogy: I am fat. I have the right to eat junk food. Someone might say junk food should be made illegal, and that's a channel people could take in the future, but right now it's legal to buy. Some people think that fat people cost society too much in terms of healthcare, and some think fat people are too disgusting to be seen in public. But, it would be the height of rude to come up to me in the grocery store while I'm shopping and lecture me about calories and tell me I should keep my fat self at home. It would be illegal to snatch the junk food from my hand and forbid me to buy it because I'm too fat. I believe in people's rights to do what is legal, and I believe that people should generally be polite to other people (there are exceptions!).

And, of course, the point is — I believe in breastfeeders' rights to breastfeed even around people who think it's something they should keep at home. I believe that those other people are wrong and breaking the law and/or common decency. Do we agree on that, regardless of how we feel about smoking as an act?

Anonymous said...

Yes. Yes. Really, all that's required is a little courtesy, and an understanding that we can't infringe on the rights of others. That's all. And the rights of others end where my health and safety begin. Breastfeeding does not hurt anyone else, so it really should be a non-issue, wherever it happens.

Annie @ PhD in Parenting said...


I think what I am struggling with is that although I didn't go down to my neighbours and ask them to stop smoking below my window, I do think it would have been reasonable of me to do so. If they did it repeatedly, I probably would ask them if they could keep the smoking to the other side of the courtyard where it wouldn't waft into our apartment.

But if someone is "bothered" by breastfeeding in public, I absolutely do not think that it is reasonable for them to ask the woman to stop or to move to the other side of the courtyard.

There are times when it is easy to avoid and/or live with something that bothers you, whether that is smoking or breastfeeding. But with smoking, I do think there are situations (some currently legislated and some currently not), where it is reasonable to ask the other person to change their behaviour.

Kayris said...

I think some manners in both scenarios goes a long way. In just about any situation, actually.

I have asked my neighbors to please quiet down when they were making noise late at night. I asked another neighbor to please ask his guests to not put their cigarette butts in my planters or their beer bottles on my windowsills. I have asked smokers of they minded moving away from the kids at my son's softball game. I have asked teenagers to stop saying the F word over and over. I think the difference is trying to be polite. If you go in guns blazing, even if the law is on your side, do you really expect to be successful?

No one ever hassled me when I was feeding my babies, but if someone had said, "I'm sorry, but I'm a little uncomfortable, could you pull your shirt down a little?" I'd be happy to comply. Not everyone is comfortable with the human body, especially breasts. But if someone sighed and huffed and acted annoyed, I'd be less likely to try to make them happy.

And the smoking-breastfeeding analogy is ridiculous. Smoking is a CHOICE that KILLS PEOPLE (and not just the person with the cig in their hand). Babies need to eat and breastfeeding does not kill people.

Anonymous said...

I love that "that's why you have a neck" part!

I do tend to get frustrated when someone is smoking in the same area as me. The only time I do anything (which is mostly just giving them the evil eye) is when it's somewhere where the smoke is right up in my child's face and we can not move away. Like when we were at an outdoor concert that we literally could not move because the place was packed and the people right next to us (and many other people with kids) started smoking. I gave him one look though and he stopped.

Still though, if someone gave me a look expecting me to stop breastfeeding in public, I would probably rip their head off. That's where I think the big difference is—it does not affect your health for me to breastfeed near you.

Lindsay said...

It is interesting that it's considered taboo in so many circumstances to say anything to smokers, yet perfectly ok to harass breastfeeding moms. So far the only negative reactions to breastfeeding I've had are people looking away, giggling, making their kids look away, and leaving church early (although I guess that couldve been unrelated. I don't think it was). For smoking, I tend to go to people in authority, like complaining to my apartment manager about my upstairs neighbor throwing their cigarette butts on our patio, or complaining to the student services director about people always smoking outside the main doors to the cafeteria in college!

♥ Sarah @ FFP ♥ said...

You have a very good point! ....But I am so lost in all the rants I could post about how many times I was forced to inhale cigarette smoke against my will that I better just shuss.

I will say that those complaining about public breastfeeding have only to turn their EYES away. No one is soaking them a substance that might cause them a disease so they have nothing to complain about imo ;).

Melodie said...

My husband smokes. He does it outside the house and away from us as much as possible but I H.A.T.E. it. Everytime there is smoke around my kids from his doing my head starts kicking the D word around. Because of this I am not always using my best manners around other smokers who provoke my wrath. I'm not outwardly verbally rude but I will definitely do the hand wafting thing and remove myself and my kids away with a comment about why we are moving. I know it's not that cool, but smoking is one thing that really makes me mad!

Nena said...

Here here! Fabulous post!

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