I’ve been going to a local diner near my job every for almost 2 decades, but had an eye-opening experience today. It was pretty busy at the diner, so the host took us into a section I haven’t been before. As I talked to my dining companion, I started to notice many differences in this room versus the main dining area.
The first thing I noticed was a large, and very loud, air intake for the room’s air conditioning. Every time the A/C fan stopped running, the conversations in the room suddenly became awkwardly loud. The industrial scale air intake seemed out of place, and I noticed the other dining room didn’t have such a thing.
I didn’t quite assemble the pieces to this mysterious room until I looked at the walls. The walls were made of brown wood paneling, and I noticed they stopped at what must have been a doorway at some point in time. Now that I was looking at the walls, I noticed the main dining room was lined with wallpaper.
Excitedly by my new discovery, I turned to my dining companion and said I think we’re in what used to be the “smoking section”. He was caught unaware by my sudden observation, so I guided him through the clues which led me to this discovery.
- Notice the annoying air intake above our heads. You only need that if you’re trying to scrub the air.
- Look at the walls! They’re wooden, and brown. That’s to hide the inevitable staining cigarette smoke will cause.
- Even our dining table is different. The tables in this room have a brown or wooden look to them, as opposed to the light blue in the main dining area.
He was both shocked and amazed about the revelation. He was amazed that we were in a room where people had once smoked and ate at the same time. He liked my explanation of why this room was built so differently. But he was shocked that people actually smoked inside a restaurant.
I reminded him that we recently dined at a restaurant with a smoking section in a rural town, and that not all cities and counties have the same ordinances as Houston does.
I leaned in closer and asked if he thinks the restaurant scrubbed the walls during the conversion. He was obviously confused by my question, so I reminded him about us having to help clean his parent’s lake house. The previous owner was a chain-smoker and we had to scrub the walls and ceilings in every room. It was a disgusting, but necessary, task to prevent 3rd hand smoke exposure.
He quickly scooted away from the wall and window as I’m sure he was thinking about how revolting the walls were at the vacation house, even after several scrubbings.
I silently considered the possibility that employers cannot afford to pay employees to clean such surfaces, and employees who rely on tips cannot afford to divert their attention from the guests they serve. And now that it’s been over a decade since the smoking ordinance was passed, hardly anyone would think of the hazard that may still be lingering on those walls.
Except a wierdo like me.
There is such a thing as 3rd hand smoke exposure. A few years ago, I was listening to someone complain about having to breathe in someone’s 2nd hand smoke. I thought I was being clever when I jokingly thought of 3rd hand smoke while eavesdropping. But I was curious enough to Google it, and apparently, it’s a thing.
 Smoking was banned in Houston, Texas in 2007 (Houston Health Department, n.d.). It’s been normalized to the point that many people mistakenly think it is a county-wide ban. It might as well be a county ban since Houston occupies almost the entire county and even spills into nearby counties. The city swallows up most of the surrounding cities and towns who end up adopting or copy & pasting Houston’s ordinances.
 According to the Mayo Clinic (J. Taylor Hays, 2020), Thirdhand smoke is residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix including cancer causing compounds, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers, especially children. The particulates from cigarette smoke will build up on clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces long after smoking has stopped. Thirdhand smoke can’t be eliminated by airing out rooms, opening windows, using fans or air conditioners, or confining smoking to only certain areas of a home.