The other day, a friend of mine was telling me about a recent trip she took to the park with her preschoolers.

"Two women were sitting on the bench by the slide, chain-smoking," she complained. "They must've gone through an entire pack in the time we were there."

"I would have said something," I told my friend. A park may be a public, outdoor place, but I still don't want people blowing smoke all over my children. Neither does my friend.

"But they had their own kids," she added.

Oh. That complicates things. While I might have the guts to ask a stranger not to smoke near my children, especially given that my youngest is only two months old, what if the stranger is also a parent? Suddenly my request smacks of one-upmanship - or should I say, one-upmomship, that smug, I'm-a-better-mother-than-you attitude that turns my stomach. Is there a way to ask another mother not to smoke near your children, without implicitly accusing her of being a bad mom?

I'm not sure that there is. "I probably wouldn't have said anything," I finally concluded.

Coincidentally, that afternoon I read a Chicago Sun-Times article about a study that found that smoking is more harmful to women than it is to men: "A study presented Monday at the American Thoracic Society's annual meeting in San Diego found that women developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at an earlier age and after fewer years of smoking than men." The article reports that women smokers have a greater loss of lung function, again even after fewer years of smoking, than their male counterparts. Researchers are looking both at lung size - women have smaller lungs - and at hormones, specifically estrogen, to try and understand why.

Despite recent strides to curb the harmful effects of secondhand smoke, it's still pervasive - in our cities, in our parks, and in our churches. True, I don't know that I've ever seen someone smoking inside a church building, but I've seen plenty of smokers just outside, and the smell of cigarette smoke in the sanctuary isn't unfamiliar.

People who smoke know it's bad for them, just like people who overeat, or who ride their bikes without helmets (a habit I'm currently working to break). But it brings me back to my friend and the chain-smoking mothers at the park: When your bad habit affects others, affects my children, do I have a right to say something? What if the consequences of your actions differ based on gender? If smoking is worse for women, does that matter?

I don't have firsthand knowledge of the addictive pull of nicotine. But I've watched friends struggle, and quit and quit and quit again, and I've prayed with them for God's mercy and intervention. When cigarette smoke is polluting not only our bodies but our parks and our churches as well, how should we as a Body respond?

And if I may be so bold as to ask those of you who smoke: what do you think? Is there anything we can to do help, as nonsmoking friends or even strangers? Or would any overture smack of accusation?