Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

When smoking could be hazardous to your business


(Photograph: Bernhard Classen/Alamy)

When doing business abroad it is a general rule to respect the culture of the country you are in. But what do you do if you think that culture might kill you with their habits?

That’s a problem a friend of mine faced recently. She’s an American biochemist and went to Shanghai with her boss to discuss a technology transfer agreement with a prospective Chinese partner.

Their business week started and ended with traditional Chinese banquets. She knew before she left that the feast was an important step in building the business relationship. And she was looking forward to eating authentic Chinese dishes and even prepared a few toasts for the drinking she knew to be prevalent.

What she hadn’t expected was the chain smoking during dinner.

As a junior employee, she felt uncomfortable asking her hosts to stop smoking, which she said took place continuously throughout the meal by five of their Chinese counterparts. Instead, she suffered through it.

She felt so strongly about the experience that, upon returning home, she obtained a doctor’s note to submit to her boss stating she should not be exposed to second-hand smoke.

In her home state of North Dakota, she says it’s customary for smokers to ask permission to smoke when in the company of non-smokers. That scenario is now moot because 67 percent of North Dakota voters recently approved a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars, joining more than 30 other states with similar restrictions.

(Maryland passed a law banning smoking in all public transportation vehicles, enclosed public places and enclosed workplaces, including bars, restaurants, casinos, and private clubs. Maryland smokers are likely to be further restricted; earlier this year the state began discussing smoking restrictions in private cars.)

While smoking is becoming less acceptable in the U.S., it is still cool in many places around the globe. Several French scientists I’ve worked with chided me on how Americans are health-obsessed smoke-haters. I’ve risked perpetuating the “ugly American” reputation many times when I’ve asked friends abroad to avoid smoking around me.

But I’m still stumped on the best way to respond when I’m with a client and they pull out a cigarette. Should I just accept it as a cost of doing business? Should I carry a letter from my doctor explaining why I can’t be exposed to second-hand smoke? Should I avoid travel to countries where smoking is acceptable? What other options are there?


  1. “Ugly American”? I would have gone for obnoxious American. But, concerning antismoking, I suppose “ugly American” will do. Shiela, the situations that you call “compromising”, where you are exposed to smoke, were the norm in America not all too long ago. America has been the leader in the antismoking insanity of the last 30 years. Unfortunately, America has been down this twisted path before – early last century. The way those that have been brainwashed by the antismoking propaganda onslaught conduct themselves is like a deranged supremacist cult – “Oh, I’m so pure and important; please don’t smoke around me, a superior person”. Thankfully there are those in other countries willing to point out to the rabid antismoker that they are no more than neurotic bigots; that while they are obsessed with physical health to the point of cult beliefs, they pay no attention to the state of their mental health.

  2. Antismoking is not new. It has a long, sordid, 400+ year history, much of it predating even the semblance of a scientific basis or the more recent concoction of secondhand smoke “danger”. Antismoking crusades typically run on inflammatory propaganda, i.e., lies, in order to get law-makers to institute bans. The current antismoking rhetoric has all been heard before. And when it is supported/funded by the State, all it produces is irrational fear and hatred, discord, enmity, animosity, social division, and bigotry. The two major antismoking (and anti-alcohol) crusades of early last century were in America and Germany. The bulk of claims made by antismoking zealots were baseless and highly inflammatory.

    The current antismoking crusade is much like previous crusades. It is a moralizing, social-engineering, eradication crusade decided upon in the 1970s by a small, self-installed clique of fanatics operating under the auspices of the World Health Organization (the Godber Blueprint ). This little, unelected group decided for everyone that tobacco-use should be eradicated from the world. These fanatics were speaking of secondhand smoke “danger” years before the first study on SHS, together with advocating indoor and OUTDOOR smoking bans. Secondhand smoke “danger” is a concoction to advance the social-engineering, eradication agenda. The goal this time is not to ban the sale of tobacco, but to ban smoking in essentially all the places that people typically smoke. Unfortunately, America is again the world leader in the current antismoking derangement. Once the State falls into the trap of supporting/funding zealotry – particularly physicians exploiting/prostituting their medical credentials as occurred in the eugenics of early last century – the inflammatory rhetoric that constantly plays on fear and hate starts flying.