How Smokers Can Be Responsible Backpackers

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Smoking is a common habit among many people. Some do it to relieve stress, engage in social situations, or follow their peers. Even though many people have grown accustomed to others’ smoking, backpackers should be more wary of their habits. This is especially important because a study entitled “Trajectories of Smoking Among Emerging Adult Backpackers and Their Antecedents” reveals that participants who embarked on a backpacking journey reported increased smoking levels. A few reasons may be behind this, such as coping with the stress of traveling, visiting a place with a smoking culture, and keeping them awake on long journeys.


However, backpackers also encounter different people, cultures, and places that may not be so welcoming when it comes to smoking. While we absolutely do not encourage smoking, some people may find quitting hard before traveling. If this sounds like you, here’s how to be a responsible smoker while backpacking:

Smoke in designated areas only

As mentioned above, some destinations do not allow smoking—at all. One place is Mexico, which implemented one of the strictest smoking bans this year. Starting in January, they have banned smoking in all public spaces, including outdoor areas. Violators will be fined as much as $550.

Apart from anti-smoking laws, other travel areas—like national parks, camping grounds, and tourist attractions—have their own smoking rules. Most of the time, these places provide designated smoking areas for visitors. It is important to smoke in such spots only to respect other travelers and avoid trouble with the establishment.

If you can’t see any smoking areas or signs, ask an employee if they have one. Doing so ensures you’re mindful of the places’ rules, locals, and other guests.

Make sure to put out your cigarette

One of the dangers of smoking is leaving a lit cigarette butt on a surface where it can catch fire. If you’re backpacking through fields and mountains, for example, this can cause a widespread wildfire that can be fatal for nearby residents and animals. Not to mention, the fire will also destroy trees, plants, and natural vegetation. Lit cigarettes can also cause fires in camping grounds, lodging areas, and rentals you share with other travelers.

To avoid this, ensure your cigarette is put out before you dispose of it. You may also opt for fire-safe cigarettes that reduce ignition propensity, preventing them from staying lit. Although, keep in mind that these aren’t 100% fire-proof, so always double-check.

In the forest
In the forest

Most cigarettes sold in California and the majority of the US are required to be fire-safe. One brand you can trust to be fire-safe is Wave Blue, a so-called 'premium-quality' American cigarette.

Dispose of your cigarette waste properly

Besides being fire hazards, cigarette waste harms the environment. An environmental impact report by WHO informs that roughly 4.5 trillion cigarette filters annually end up in oceans, rivers, sidewalks, and soil. These filters contain microplastics that can clog drainage systems, resulting in floods. Animals like fish and birds can also ingest these, making them sick or even causing death.

Cigarettes also contain harmful chemicals, like arsenic. This inhibits plant growth when absorbed by the soil. If it comes into contact with groundwater—which people may use as drinking water—it leads to an increased risk of cancer.

Prevent damaging the environment and other people’s health during your backpacking journey by properly disposing of your cigarette waste. Always look for an ashtray on top of trash bins to place your used cigarettes. If you’re in the middle of traveling, use a can filled with some sand as your portable ashtray.

Mask the smell of smoke as much as possible

Other than causing fires and damaging the environment, cigarette smoke can bother other people. Some simply do not like its smell, while others with asthma or allergies can get irritated by inhaling secondhand smoke. Even though you’re in a designated smoking area, ensure that the smoke you exhale isn’t reaching the personal space of other people.

Aside from this, the smell of smoke can stick to your hair or clothes. This may make strangers uncomfortable, such as backpackers you share a room with, seatmates on public transportation, or fellow travelers on tour. Keep the smell away from your body by packing a dry shampoo, a type of fragrance, and a fresh set of clothes with you.

Use smokeless nicotine products instead of cigarettes

Some destinations you may visit may not have smoking areas at all. Moreover, you may get cravings when riding transportation that prohibits smoking. For these instances, use smokeless nicotine products, like pouches and lozenges.

Nicotine pouches are kept in the mouth for nicotine absorption. The ones from ZYN come in enjoyable flavors, like wintergreen and coffee. Nonetheless, use them moderately. This is because the side effects of ZYN pouches include an upset stomach—due to a strong dose or overconsumption—and a sore mouth if the pouch stays too long in one spot. These may affect traveling, so use lighter doses and regularly move the pouch in your mouth.

Meanwhile, nicotine lozenges dissolve in the mouth. The better lozenges are made with specialty food-grade equipment and are FDA-approved, so you can assure they’re safe for consumption. Even so, they can cause side effects like nausea. Given this, don’t consume lozenges if you’re about to do slightly risky activities, like hiking.

Smoking whilst backpacking is not something you should do if you can avoid it at all - it's anti-social, restrictive and detrimental to health. However, if you absolutely must, you can be a responsible smoker while backpacking by smoking in designated areas, putting out your cigarettes properly, disposing of your waste correctly, masking the smell of smoke, and using smokeless nicotine products when the situation calls for it.

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Rulo Luna Ramos

Rulo is a contributor here at Backpacker Travel for Mexico City. He is passionate about travel and photography.

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