Although a majority of the population knows about the dangers of firsthand and secondhand smoke, not much is known about the newly coined term, thirdhand smoke. It refers to the contamination of surfaces, like furniture and clothes, due to tobacco residue that is left behind even after the cigarette has been extinguished. This WellnessKeen post provides facts about this dangerous effect of smoking.
The true face of smoking is disease, death and horror – not the glamour and sophistication the pushers in the tobacco industry try to portray.
We know firsthand smoke is bad and thanks to a whole lot of research, we can also say that secondhand smoke is equally bad. But have you heard of the term thirdhand smoke? A newly coined term by the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center, thirdhand smoke refers to the surface-clinging chemical residue left behind by tobacco smoke. So, the next time you get the pungent odor of a cigarette in an empty elevator or closed room, you know the space has been contaminated by cigarette smoke.
Even when you are alone in a room and think it is safe to smoke, without troubling your family with secondhand smoke, you might be wrong. The residual smoke from cigarettes tends to linger in the room, and clings to furniture and clothes. These toxic particulates in tobacco smoke, like arsenic, lead, and cyanide are absorbed by the upholstery and other surfaces, thus contaminating them. This can pose a significant risk to your family, especially younger children. Here are some essential thirdhand smoke facts that you should know.
What is Thirdhand Smoke
★ Thirdhand smoke (THS) refers to contamination by tobacco smoke even after the cigarette, cigar or pipe has been put out. It is present even after the visible smoke or secondhand smoke has dissipated.
★ The toxins linger on surfaces for a long time after the smoking has commenced. It can be found on draperies, furniture, clothes and hair of the smoker.
★ In confined spaces, like inside a car, the deposition of tobacco residue is much more. It can worsen if air conditioners and heaters are turned on.
★ These tobacco toxins also tend to build up. So, one cigarette leads to one layer of tobacco toxin, while a second cigarette adds a second layer to it.
★ The components of the smoke, like nicotine, tend to coat the surfaces of the affected area, and continue to emit toxins.
★ The nicotine reacts with the nitrous acid which is extremely common in indoor air, to produce extremely dangerous carcinogens like tobacco-specific nitrosamines, 3-ethenyl pyridine (3-EP), phenol, cresols, naphthalene and formaldehyde.
★ Since the tobacco residue stays on for days or weeks, it continues to produce carcinogens during this time.
★ An article in the journal Tobacco Control published in 2010, concluded that “thirdhand smoke accumulates in smokers’ homes and persists when smokers move out even after homes remain vacant for 2 months and are cleaned and prepared for new residents. When non-smokers move into homes formerly occupied by smokers, they encounter an indoor environment with THS polluted surfaces and dust. Results suggest that non-smokers living in former smoker homes are exposed to THS in dust and on surfaces.”
★ Studies by the AAP Richmond Center found that 43.3% of smokers and 65.2% non-smokers believe that thirdhand smoke causes harm to children.
Thirdhand Smoke Effects
★ ‘There is no “safe” level of exposure to tobacco smoke’ (The 2006 Surgeon General’s report on involuntary exposure to tobacco).
★ Children, especially babies and toddlers, are extremely susceptible to the dangers of thirdhand smoke. This is because they are often closer to surfaces like floors and walls where the nicotine residue remains. They can touch this residue or easily contaminate their hands.
★ According to the AAP Richmond Center exposure to thirdhand smoke in children results in respiratory infections, asthma, decreased lung growth, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
★ Thirdhand smoke allegedly poses a danger for developing brains of infants and younger children.
★ Pregnant women are also susceptible to the dangers of thirdhand smoke. Studies done by the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute found exposure to thirdhand tobacco smoke components in pregnant women led to disruption of lung development and functions in the unborn baby.
★ A study, published in the journal Mutagenesis found that ”the first time exposure to THS [thirdhand smoke] is genotoxic in human cell lines.” What it means is that thirdhand smoke leads to oxidative DNA damage, where the DNA strands break when chronically exposed to thirdhand smoke.
★ Studies by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have found that thirdhand smoke is as mutagenic (cancer-causing) as other kinds of smoke.
★ Women who are nursing should also avoid secondhand smoke, as the particles can accumulate on the skin and clothes. When nursing or cuddling the baby, the toxins can transfer to the baby’s hands and mouth.
How to Get Rid of It
★ Unlike popular notion, room fresheners, sprays and fans only mask the odor of the thirdhand smoke without removing the threats posed by it. Even normal cleaning and vacuuming does not remove the carcinogens completely.
★ Stricter rules for banning smoking inside homes should be enforced by both smokers as well as non-smokers.
★ If your spouse smokes, then make sure they smoke outside the house. Get them a special jacket and hat so that once they are done with smoking, they can remove these before getting inside the house.
★ Make sure a smoker washes his/her hands and face, and changes his/her clothes before picking up the baby.
There are not many people who understand the concept of thirdhand smoke. Since the concept is new, and the health implications still unclear, people are not often concerned by the tobacco smoke residue in their homes and at work. This however, does not mean that the threat posed by the carcinogens does not exist. Just because you cannot see the smoke affecting the child, does not mean your child is safe. Quit smoking or if that is not possible, take adequate steps to make sure that your loved ones are not exposed to thirdhand smoke.