For a graduate project I need to work together with a fellow student who smokes a lot (every time we take a break); the smell is really strong and actually distracts from the work at times. Some days we work from about 8am to 6pm together, which is quite a long time.

I'm not sure how to approach him about it, you can't really forbid someone to smoke, of course. Surely not for the duration of a whole day (I doubt someone who is addicted to it can go without for that long anyway). In a workplace setting, as ff524 mentioned, I might go to a manager, etc, but that is not always an option in academia.

In addition, I'm quite sure that he's unaware of this..

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    I would have a big bottle of Febreze (an odor-masking spray) and spray him before he came in to work with me. Smokers know they smell and they know the smell carries. – RoboKaren Nov 27 '14 at 19:34
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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about dealing with smelly colleagues, not specific to academia. It would be on-topic at Workplace; see @seteropere's answer. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 27 '14 at 20:49
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    @RoboKaren: “Smokers know they smell and they know the smell carries.” – I wouldn’t be so sure about that. Most people (not only smokers) have an amazing ability to selectively not preceive certain unwelcome aspects of reality. – Wrzlprmft Nov 27 '14 at 20:50
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    I disagree with the close votes; I think this is academia-specific. At Workplace, a lot of the answers would assume the possibility going to HR or a manager, which is not available in the context of two students in a university course (they're not even employees, for all we know!) – ff524 Nov 28 '14 at 19:15
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    Contrary to popular opinion, smokers are human beings, spraying them with deodorant is disrespectful and idiotic. People can have a variety of odors that other people don't like to smell (example: dog smell). If the smoke smell is really more than a simple annoyance to you, discuss the matter like two decent human beings. – Cape Code Nov 28 '14 at 20:27

I believe the best thing to do is to be honest and tell him that the smell is very strong.

Engage him in a discussion about smoking and ask him whether he has any plans to quit. From my experience every smoker wishes to quit. Then tell him that the smell is strong and sometimes you can't focus because of it. Take into account that this is maybe the first experience for him to work in a lab. Later on, he would definitely be aware of this, such as a non-academic workplace.

Things you can do:

  1. Try not to discuss or meet right after smoking.
  2. Share gum with him.
  3. Bringing air freshener to your office

In the end, there is nothing you can do if he's not willing to cooperate.

There are related questions discussing the same issue on Workplace.SE containing additional advice.

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    ask him whether he has any plans to quit how is this anyone else's business? – Cape Code Nov 28 '14 at 21:09
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    @CapeCode it is not. However, I think as they both are students (around similar age) and work together 10 hours daily they most likely have good relation and involve in discussions out of their work scope (Did you see last night game? ). – seteropere Nov 28 '14 at 22:05
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    @CapeCode: It would seem to be the business of everyone whose performance is influenced by the smoking. As the OP feels the smell originating from the smoking "actually distracts [the OP] from the work at times", the OP could be said to belong to that set of people. – O. R. Mapper Nov 28 '14 at 23:12
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    @seteropere Most of our discussions revolve around the work we're doing, even outside of it. We don't much discuss varia ^^ – Dylan Meeus Nov 29 '14 at 0:37

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