You thought "ashtray mouth" was the worst thing you could get from kissing a smoker.
Cigarette toxins strip away immune defenses in the throat, which explains why smokers are likelier to harbor a bad bug called Neisseria meningitides
. While those with healthy immune systems often beat it back, it can manifest as meningococcus, an illness that causes fever, severe headache, confusion or coma and a purplish-red rash. The bacterium spreads through droplets that come from the back of the throat…which makes deep kissing an obvious route. But there's also evidence that prolonged household contact—kissing cheeks, cuddling—may spread it too
, even if the carrier is asymptomatic, found an Australian study. And while there's no hard data on actual transmission rates from smokers, the risks are serious: 1 in 10 children who contract the disease die from it.
Apart from persuading your smoker to quit, reduce your chance of transmission by avoiding V-J-Day-in-Times-Square-style kissing
when you have a cold. (Any respiratory infection primes your raw nose and throat for a bacterial invasion.) The Australian study recommended immunizing children, in particular, with the meningococcal conjugate vaccine
. (Young adults and the under-5 set are the most susceptible.)