Cigarette Smoke Harm

Kay Lynn

Grumbler in Training
Sep 12, 2004
As a hope-to-be up-and-coming fine art photographer, I was delighted to have several of my matted and framed photos accepted on consignment at a newly-opened art gallery in my city about three weeks ago. The owner/director of the gallery smokes in the gallery, as well as does his assistant.

At first, this concerned me only as a non-smoker who dislikes being in the presence of second-hand smoke.

However, within the last several days another photographer whose work also is hanging in the gallery expressed his concern about this smoke, and just Saturday a professional framer/friend in a nearby city warned me (through her experience) of the great harm that this smoke can do to our work.

Would you please share your opinions/experiences about this potential damage, and how would you suggest I handle this concern?

If another forum is more appropriate for this question/concern, would you please direct me to it?

Thank you for your willingness to help.

Welcome, Kay. This is a perfectly reasonable place for this question.

If the photographs are properly glazed (glass or Acrylic) and sealed (paper dust covers) I would personally think the risk of damage from smoking on the premises would be minimal. (I question the business judgment of a gallery owner who smokes in the gallery, but that's another issue.)

I have, on occasion, been asked to clean the glass from a frame that was hanging in a household with smokers and discovered it was much more sensible to throw out the glass and replace it, but the work inside the frame didn't appear to suffer.
I never knew nearly as much about framing as Ron does, but he's right.

I smoke. The residue builds up on my car windshield, the ceilings. Probably my clothes; anything that 'lives' in my place has some form of cigarette residue on it.

One of the laws of physics is that matter (cigarettes, tin, wood, wax, ad infinitum) can not be destroyed completely. It can CHANGE STATES, but not be destroyed. Anything that burns, whether it's a cig or a scented candle, gives off a residue. Ever wonder where that 8 oz wax candle goes when it's burned to the bottom? The same places cig smoke does.

I'm not defending smoking! Lord knows, I'd LOVE to have the strength and will-power to give 'em up! I'm just saying that anything that burns gives off residue. Matter is changing states, and smoke is the result.

I also remember cleaning glass on work, and scrubbing, trying to get the nicotine stain off the glass. I suppose if the package wasn't sealed well, the same smoke residue could accumulate on the art.
I have taken apart a quite a few pictures that were in homes of smokers. One was actually stained on the inside of the glass. The picture was not sealed, nor was the frame. (Though it did have a dust cover.) Smoke will invade the smallest crack it can find.

I would inform the owner of the gallery that you fear for the art work, and would ask him to please not smoke in the building. You might even mention that some people (like me) are SO alergic to smoke, that the residue on the outside of the frame would be enough to prevent a sale of your art.

My alergies are so bad, that if I have a customer with too much perfume, or too much smoke smell, I will have a hard time breathing. I have even had an alergic reaction to a frame job that used to hang above a bowl of potpouri.

Be nice when you talk to the owner, just inform him of the potential loss of sales due to the smoke.
Originally posted by Susan May:
You might even mention that some people (like me) are SO alergic to smoke, that the residue on the outside of the frame would be enough to prevent a sale of your art.
Allergies aside, the smell alone is enough to turn me (I'm sure many others) off. For this very reason I will not allow my stuff to be hung in restaurants, bars, etc., due to the fact that the framed piece will ALWAYS smell like an ashtray.

I don't think you should ask the owner of the gallery not to smoke in his own bldg. I think your best bet would be to remove your framed photographs and find a facility/gallery that doesn't allow smoking inside if you are really concerned about your work.
Kay Lynn, you don't need this gallery. If you are serious about your art; Protect it untill you are compensated enough to let it go to a new loving house.

Isn't it amazing how cigarette/cigar/pipe/cooking/insense smoke collects only on the glass of framed art. NEVER on the frames. If you thought it etched glass, you should see (10x loop) what it does to wood finish. (Except ILOs) I have had some in back in the 70s & 80s that I just ended up convincing the people to throw the frame along with the glass.
One slow wipe with Formula 409 usually did the trick. Or the old Q-tip dipped in Turpintine and one pass down the ol' frame and point the way to the John. "We'll talk about a new frame when your done."

Smoke does cling to the frame as well as the glass, it just doesn't show as badly, because it is brown.

I would not show my work anywhere it was going to get smoked on.

When I was in the antique business, cigarette smoke was my friend. People would bring in these awful looking figurines and things that had sat on their Aunt Whosit's vanity table for years collecting her cigarette smoke. They would be happy with whatever I would give them for the sticky things. Then, I would dunk the items in acetone, and presto! mint condition. The tar coating kept the ceramic from getting scratched and chipped.

But, I still don't want it on my artwork.

I think you have a valid concern. I agree that you should not ask the owner not to smoke in his place of business - smokers can be very defensive. You certainly can voice your concern and your feelings about the potential damage and get his feedback.

I might suggest that you suggest that the gallery purchase your pieces so that any damage will come back to them and their investment - not yours.

Also, finding another venue to show your work without the smoke invasion would be a good idea.

We are lucky in New York - there is a statewide ban on smoking in public places - of course the smokers don't feel the way I do about it.

I had ordered some items from a friend of mine down south that does embroidery and didn't the items come in smelling like smoke - aargh - and I am an ex-smoker with mild allergies to it...

Good luck,

Welcolm Kay, An interesting side issue in the effect of smoke on art and frames is very noticeable with respect to 19th century frames,hung in the houses of the emerging Merchant and Middle classes in the UK, where maids were employed to clean. Apart from the practise of glazing oil paintings as a protection against the smoke from,fires,pipes and cigars etc. maids were required to dust and clean the picture frames. They generally either couldn't reach to do the tops, they could manage most of the sides,but often vigorously overcleaned the bottom rails of frames, and in the process wore away some of the gilding.
So when we are presented with one of these frames today it is easy to see whether the frame was originally for an upright or a landscape picture.
As well as the tell tale holes for hanging hooks,eyes,rings etc the darkest outside edge to the frame would have been the top and the more worn of the inside face would have been on the bottom.
Hi, All --

What an amazing, gracious, and helpful group you all are! You have made me feel welcome with just my first post. I should add that a couple of years ago when I first started learning how to mat and frame my own photos (sorry, I cannot afford your professional work, but I sure have learned to admire the amount of devotion you successful ones put into your work) I somehow found this site and "read" you diligently every evening and soaked up as much information as I could. So you already had helped me!

Back to the present: Ron, I also question the owner/director's judgment about his smoking in the gallery. Charles, you took me back a few decades to my college days about the laws of physics; never dreamed back then that I would face a living example of that law!

Susan, I do believe that smoke "will invade the smallest crack it can find" and as my framer friend said, it can also permeate through the dust cover. I will indeed be "nice to the owner" when I express my concern about the smoke.

Mike, it's for the very reason that you mentioned that I have turned down the opportunity of exhibiting my photos at a very popular coffee shop in a neighboring college town.

Janet, I do believe that I will need to remove my framed photos from this gallery (because I doubt he will be able or willing to stop smoking in the gallery.) I hate to have to do this because this is the first and only gallery in my town of about 40,000 population. So that means I will have to seriously take the marketing route in our big metropolis capital about 50 or so miles down the road. And that is so not like what I want to do, but ---

Baer, as you said, I "don't need this gallery" because I do not want to harm my creations; they feel almost as much a part of my life as my grandchildren do.

Hanna, I certainly agree that I don't want the smoke on my artwork. Roz, I chuckled inwardly when I read your comment that "smokers can be very defensive" and I fully expect that reaction, even though I plan to "voice my concern" in a low-key manner. And wow, New York state is at the forefront in placing that statewide ban on smoking in public places, although I do understand the other side of that coin.

Alan, that was indeed an interesting sidelight on this subject which brought another perspective that this is not a new challenge in the framing and art world.

Sorry this response has become so long. Guess this is a throw-back to my first career as a newspaper reporter (we weren't called journalists back then), and to my second career as an elementary school teacher for 26 years.

Thank you all for helping me with my third career. I will keep you updated.

Tonight on Antiques Roadshow someone had a nice painting by a well-known artist. Turned out to be worth about $25K I think. Anway, they also brought a print of this painting that had been published somewhere. The colors in the print were strong and beautiful , but the original painting was covered with brown soot from hanging in a home with smokers. Yuck!..The appraiser advised having it cleaned by a conservator.