Smoking in a freezer can be less noticeable to others because of condensation and slower odor movement. However, the exhaust ventilation for walk-in freezers is not enough to entirely remove smoke and odor particles from the freezer. It can even cause extra health risks.
If you are looking for how to get in a quick smoke under the watchful eyes and noses of bosses and parents, you may have heard about the old freezer trick. But does it really work, or is it one of those old wives’ tales? Of course, no one wants to find out the hard way.
If you are up for a small science lesson on particles and cold, we can get to the bottom of what happens when you blow smoke into the freezer—walk-in or otherwise. People think that the cold somehow makes smoking in a freezer a great covert option, but the real reason is exhaust ventilation, which won’t work the way you think it will.
What Happens to Smoke at Cold Temperatures?
Gas particles speed up when heated, meaning that they travel faster. This is because heat provides molecules with energy. In comparison, the colder the particles get, the slower they move.
This means your smoking is less evident in the cold because those odor-carrying gas particles aren’t traveling as fast. They actually don’t have enough energy to separate, which is the reason that we can see our breath in cold weather.
There is also the fact that cold air causes moisture to condense because your breath is warm and contains water vapor. The air that leaves your lungs is capable of holding that water vapor; however, when it comes into contact with cold air (in this case, the freezer air), the amount of water that air can hold onto drops.
When air cannot hold onto its water content, condensation occurs. That means that exhaled smoke particles will condense with the water vapor and won’t float around.
But the smoke does not disappear or get absorbed in cold air.
Blowing Smoke Into Non-Walk-in Freezers
If you were to try opening the door of a non-walk-in freezer and exhaling smoke into it, you would find that you don’t have a problem with billowing smoke, especially if you shut the door quickly enough. However, this doesn’t eliminate the smoke and odor particles; they are still sitting in the freezer.
Condensation is the reason that there is no billowing. The cold slows the smoke particles, but also the sudden drop in temperature as warm air from your body meets cold freezer air results in condensation, causing the smokey air to stick to surfaces in the freezer.
This is the flaw of using a freezer. The smoke and odor are still in your freezer. Meaning that you are subjecting your food storage to these influences.
The cold environment of the freezer will help suppress the smell of smoke (smells need to be carried to your nose to be perceptible and cold air moves very slowly). It cannot be a longer-term solution, though. Normal freezers don’t have ventilation aside from the freezer door, and they don’t defrost regularly.
Over time, you may find that the smoke that condenses and builds up in the freezer will show discoloration, and you may not be able to disguise the smell forever. Especially when your food is coming out with funny tastes and smells.
Blowing Smoke Into Walk-in Freezers
Blowing smoke into a walk-in freezer is the method most people seem to recommend. The reason for this has very little to do with the freezer itself; this is, in fact, due to the laws requiring walk-in freezers to have exhaust ventilation.
It is also assumed that people smoking in this type of freezer are usually trying to sneak in a smoke at work. In this case, should someone walk in on you, the cold should disguise that you are exhaling smoke—in addition to condensation and no billowing smoke as previously discussed, of course.
Section 403.3.1 and Section 403.3.1.1 and Table 403.3.1.1 of the International Mechanical Code (IMC) provide the ventilation rates for certain occupied spaces in order to supply air to the breathing zone.
Part of this ventilation rate required is exhausted air rates. Large, walk-in freezers require an exhaust system capable of 0.75 CFM per foot.
However, it is important to know that these guides assume that these spaces (aside from smoking lounges) will be smoking-free areas. If this were not the case, different ventilation rates would apply as the space would need more ventilation.
Please note, this means that if you are smoking in a walk-in freezer, you are causing that space to violate the ventilation rate laid out by the IMC and you are compromising your own health as well as the health of others using the freezer.
Smoke Removed by Exhaust Fan Still Evident
Like bathroom exhaust fans, the freezer fan is not designed to remove cigarette smoke.
The problem with trying to use the exhaust fan in a freezer in such a fashion is the factor of your body heat and the ventilation rate.
The air you blow out is warmer and wetter than the air in the freezer. This means that before the air can even get to the exhaust fan, it is being caught in the condensation process. You will not be able to get rid of all the evidence.
There will likely be a build of smokey particles in both the freezer and the exhaust vent. You will likely also notice yellow condensation marks building in the part of the freezer you prefer to use. Smells can also noticeably accumulate around the vent terminal and might be discovered.
The benefit of if this is a business freezer, for example, in a catering company or restaurant, is that these spaces get thoroughly cleaned regularly. So, maybe there won’t be as bad a build-up.
However, in the same line, you are now compromising the health and safety of food storage in these businesses. Additionally, it can be difficult to clean smoke stains, which can disqualify regular cleaning as a justification to use the freezer.
You are contaminating the food within as the exhaust rate is not high enough to compensate for the addition of smoking and smoke removal from the air. This also means that you cannot guarantee that the evidence of smoking will be sufficiently clear.
Smoking in the Cold Can Be Worse for Health
Smells are less intense in the cold due to the sluggish moving air and the fact that our olfactory receptors tend to shy away from the chill. However, the health impacts of smoking can be made worse in the cold.
Cold air is dry air, which makes sense since we now know that it cannot hold much water vapor. Dry air is very irritating to the respiratory system.
It can actually be quite dangerous for people with lung disease, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). They are so severely affected by the cold because their systems are already irritated and distressed.
Smoking is known to inflame and irritate your lungs, trachea, and larynx. This happens as you smoke a cigarette, not just over time. Coupled with cold air and the now slowed cilia, your lungs cannot function properly to clean themselves and your airways will swell, restricting airflow and oxygen intake. This puts you at higher risk of coughing fits (which can damage your lungs) and infections.
The hopes of not getting caught are not necessarily worth the risk of smoking into the freezer since there is no guarantee that you will be able to cover up the clandestine break.
On top of that, you could compromise the code-compliance of the freezer, there will be a risk to the quality of the food, and increased risk to your health, so I don’t recommend doing this.