Third-hand smoke: health hazard another reason to kick tobacco

By Karla Simon
U.S. Army Public Health Command (Provisional)

Tobacco smoke has added a new potential danger to its list of hazards: third-hand smoke.

Most people know that first-hand smoke is inhaled directly by a smoker, and second-hand smoke is the smoke passively breathed in by people near someone smoking.

The term third-hand smoke,coined in a study published in the medical journal “Pediatrics,” describes the interaction of tobacco smoke with indoor surfaces.

Researchers have determined that third-hand smoke is the residue left on surfaces from second-hand smoke. The pungent scent of smoke that lingers in enclosed spaces long after a cigarette has been extinguished gives away the presence of third-hand smoke.

Parents often smoke when their children are out of the house to try to reduce second-hand smoke exposure. They turn on fans to ventilate the room and let down a window in a car to dissipate cigarette smoke.

However, these actions do not eliminate the health hazards associated with tobacco smoke. A study published in the journal, “Tobacco Control,” found that the sticky residue from nicotine and tar can persist in carpets, furnishings, drapes, dust and on skin and clothes for several months after smoking had ceased.

New research has shown that residual nicotine reacts with a common air pollutant, nitrous acid, which is a combustion product generated with the use of gas-powered appliances and vehicle engines. The nicotine and nitrous acid combine to form more carcinogenic compounds. These small particles can enter the body either through skin exposure, dust inhalation or ingestion.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it can take two to three minutes for a smoker to stop exhaling the toxins of smoke after their last puff.

Third-hand smoke can remain on or in the smoker long enough to settle in places considered smoke-free. Babies and toddlers are of particular concern, since they have far greater exposure to contaminated surfaces.

There are ways to minimize the impact of third-hand smoke in residences and automobiles:

• Detoxify your home and vehicle. Tobacco smoke will infiltrate every crevice. Open windows and doors and let in fresh air when the weather permits.

• Wash all clothing, bed linens, drapes and furnishings, including windows, doors, walls, ceilings, kitchen cabinets, wall hangings, light fixtures, blinds and shades.

• Steam-clean carpet, upholstered furniture and car seats with a cleaning agent, not a deodorizer that only masks the smell.

• Remove smoke-infused wallpaper.

• Replace all heating and air conditioning filters regularly.