Penny gave up smoking nine months ago. Her husband, also a smoker, has cut down to five a day in the flat, out of consideration for her, but she and the children dislike the smell of smoke and argue that it's a health problem as well as a human one. They have no garden or balcony. What should Penny do?

I'm afraid that for Penny, as Elvis used to say, if she's looking for trouble, she's come to the right place. I'm a fanatical anti-anti- smoker, and feel that her demands are quite preposterous, particularly in view of the fact that her poor husband is already smoking barely any cigarettes at all.

Like all born-again non-smokers, Penny wants to control the world and bring everyone round to her views. It happens with born-again Christians, who are frightful bores, and it happens in the world of cigarettes, too. "Oh, the smell!" say the anti-smoking brigade, holding their noses, without realising that there are numerous anti-odour sprays around that would fix that immediately. Indeed, even a lighted candle will burn up any few fumes that there are, in the same way as lighting a match in the loo burns up unwanted pongs. Or, "Oh, but passive smoking kills!" they cry, without looking at the evidence properly and finding that, if it's examined properly, it's shot full of holes. What anti-smoking is all about is control, and the smoker knows this and, rightly, gets angry.

After all, if someone comes to your house and pollutes it with his incredibly boring stories or stupid jokes, you don't say he can come again only on condition that he keeps his trap shut; and if someone comes wearing a cheap, sickly scent, you don't ask them to come again minus their perfume. If a disabled person were to come round to Penny's house and dribble throughout the meal, surely Penny would never say that he can only return if he stops dribbling? If someone is drunkenly argumentative, you either don't ask them again, or you have them, warts and all.

Love me, love my dog. Love me, love my habits. Smoking is, after all, part of someone's personality, and the fact that it is a part of their personality that Penny finds offensive is no reason to ask them to stop it.

In Trollope's The Way We Live Now, the smoking Felix puts his finger on it when he says to his mother: "Some women swear they like smoke, others say they hate it like the devil. It depends altogether on whether they wish to flatter or snub a fellow."

Penny is in the snubbing business, and no wonder her husband resists her moves to stop him smoking. After all, she was a smoker once, and she is hardly in a position to condemn him for his pleasures now.

Even John Morgan, a non-smoker, in his Debrett's New Guide to Etiquette and Manners, deplores the idea of preventing people smoking at parties, on the grounds that parties are a kind of stew that needs all kinds of different ingredients. Leave one out, and the recipe doesn't necessarily work.

I suspect there is some kind of hidden agenda working here; either Penny is turning into a control freak, or there is something else about her husband that she is starting to dislike and she is pinning her hatred of this on to his smoking. If he gives it up completely she will turn her eye to something else - the hairs in his nose, the way he coughs during television programmes, his mild snoring. His smoking habits are the tip of a much larger iceberg - and intuitively he knows it.

Penny should remember who introduced anti-smoking (and, incidentally, vegetarianism) to our society. None other than our old friend Herr Hitler. I rest my case. She should give her husband a break and let him carry on being himself. Let him smoke 20 a day, I say. With the windows closed.

what readers say

He needs your help

Penny's husband must be aware of what a nuisance it is to have to smoke, and how much simpler and more enjoyable his life would be if he could stop.

However, like most smokers, perhaps he believes that smoking really does something for him, and that in any case, he would find it impossible to give up - despite his wife's example.

Both these beliefs are in fact myths that smokers use to hide their unwillingness to tackle the addiction.

Penny's husband should try reading Allen Carr's book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and, if that alone fails to do the trick, attend an Easy Way session. There are clinics in most parts of the UK.

Jim Trimmer, Richmond, Surrey

Try the medical approach

Remind your husband that you gave up smoking for health reasons. Passive smoking increases your risk of heart disease and lung cancer by 25 per cent.

Define a bottom line (ie no smoking inside the house) and stick to it. Love may be blind but it ain't stupid!

(Dr) Steve Maric

Sheffield, South Yorkshire

Think of the children

This is a difficult poser which highlights personal rights alongside consideration for others. It also emphasises what can happen in a relationship if one person changes to a behaviour incompatible with the behaviour of their partner.

It is difficult to stop a smoker from smoking. Penny would like to enforce a complete ban on smoking in the house - justifiable on health and human grounds - but her husband has rights too. It is also his house, and he has a right to smoke there.

Penny's husband has done well to cut down to fewer than five cigarettes a day. That is a considerable achievement. However, there are also three children who dislike the smoke. Their needs are important, too. It might be better if Penny's husband smoked in a well-ventilated area, or in one particular room. It is possible to give up smoking, but he will do so only if he truly wants to.

Nicholas E Gough, Swindon

Learn to live with it

If I were Penny's husband, I would enlighten her to the fact that, although she may have admirably curtailed some risks to her physical health by giving up smoking, she should also have realised that she is at risk of damaging her emotional well-being with her lack of compromise and compassion towards him.

Penny's husband should not be made to suffer for a pleasure she now dislikes, but once enjoyed.

Short of suggesting a spell of marriage guidance counselling to get to the bottom of her dilemma, this lady should accept that her spouse has reduced his cigarette intake at home, and not yet produced divorce papers - and be rather more gracious about it.

It takes a lot of guts to become an ex-smoker; it takes even more to stifle the impulse to make it one's responsibility to foist one's fresh- breathed views on others.

Lola E Hatmil, Slough

Next week's dilemma

This may sound neurotic, but I am already dreading the summer because a neighbour a few doors down plays her radio loudly in the garden most afternoons. With this mild winter she has started playing it already, while she is sweeping up the leaves; and as the days grow longer I know the sound will get louder and for longer periods, too. She is a very aggressive person, so I daren't ask her to turn it down, and am thinking of moving. But then the same would probably happen wherever I am. Am I too sensitive? I am getting obsessed about this.


Letters are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send comments to me at the Features Department, 'The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax: 0171-293 2182), by Tuesday morning.

And if you have a dilemma of your own that you would like to share, please let me know.