Thirdhand Smoke: An Unexpected Health Risk

Thirdhand Smoke: An Unexpected Health Risk

It seems that each day a new threat from smoking tobacco emerges. Whether another disease directly linked to the habit or how it peripherally affects non-smokers, this once thought of benign “relaxation” tool has a wider reach than previously thought.

It turns out that studies show how thirdhand smoke remains an unexpected and unknown risk leading to the potential for non-smokers, beyond secondhand smoke exposure, to still possibly stand in harm’s way.

If you are concerned about your body; have children, especially an infant; are over 65 or caring for the elderly, thirdhand smoke may be a factor worth protecting against.

Non-Smoker Stats

You may know of someone who struggled with or succumbed to lung cancer even though they never smoked tobacco in their lives.

Various causes could be a factor, including:

  • Family history
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Medical treatment
  • Outdoor pollution from fossil fuels
  • Naturally occurring radon found in rock formations
  • Occupational threats such as asbestos, arsenic or silica
  • Indoor pollution from combusted biomass, coal or cooking fumes

These causes as well as unexplainable scenarios are the result of a combined statistical study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, International Agency for Research on Cancer, the American Cancer Society, and the National Cancer Institute, which states,

“More than 161,000 lung cancer deaths are projected to occur in the U.S. in 2008. Of these, an estimated 10–15% will be caused by factors other than active smoking, corresponding to 16,000–24,000 deaths annually.”

These are the most recent stats which means that in nearly nine years this etiology may have certainly risen. It is often difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of non-smoker lung cancer but it looks like thirdhand smoke may be added to the list.

Residue Footprint

Second-hand smoke is easy to see and smell so most of the time courteous smokers will take their smoking session away from non-smokers. However, something happens when those smokers return to someplace like an office, home, car, locations they frequent. It turns out that there is a significant residue footprint.

A new study has shown how this footprint, coined thirdhand smoke, can accumulate in porous material such as rugs, furniture, pillows, and even walls. It happens when the tobacco residue attaches to the smoker’s skin, nails, hair and particularly their clothes while smoking a cigarette. Even though the smoker may return, wash hands or splash on perfume the microscopic nicotine eventually settles into surrounding surfaces and even mixes with dust to travel throughout the space contaminating other surfaces.

Found on Children

When it comes to children, people take notice. That is why a study by researchers at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati, and San Diego State University that showed the effects of thirdhand smoke has raised eyebrows.

The study titled, ‘Preliminary evidence that high levels of nicotine on children’s hands may contribute to overall tobacco smoke exposure’ tested nicotine levels in saliva and skin samples from 25 children with a parent or parent’s that smoke.

According to The Week, results were,

“The average nicotine level on the kids’ skin was dramatically higher than what’s typically found on nonsmoking adults who live with smokers, suggesting children who crawl and play indoors are particularly vulnerable to thirdhand smoke.”

US News reported in 2016,

“Previous research found that a compound in thirdhand smoke damages DNA in human cells and adheres to it in a way that could potentially lead to the development of cancer, and subsequent animal studies have found that thirdhand smoke damages the liver and lungs, impedes the healing of wounds and can contribute to hyperactivity.”

The accumulation of thirdhand smoke is certainly beginning to show a threat to children who are still forming immune systems. This unseen culprit could be an unknown cause of childhood illness as well as adult non-smoker lung cancer and other diseases.

It’s more important than ever to avoid secondhand smoke but you may need to be more vigilant when it comes to protecting you and your loved ones.

Protection Techniques

There are some simple ways you can set up extra precautions when it comes to avoiding thirdhand smoke. One is using baby wipes.

In the discussion of the ‘preliminary evidence’ study cited above it was stated that,

“The higher-than-expected nicotine levels and significant association with cotinine [tobacco alkaloid] indicate that THS [thirdhand smoke] may play a role in the overall exposure of young children to tobacco smoke toxicants and that hand wipes could be a useful marker of overall tobacco smoke pollution and a proxy for exposure.”

Other options include:

  • Support quitting
  • Educate friends and family
  • Launder pillows, cushions, etc.
  • Change clothes after smoking
  • Immediately shower after smoking
  • Thoroughly clean or replace carpeting
  • Instill a zero tolerance smoking or nearby smoking household
  • Vigilantly clean counter tops, furniture and high traffic areas with an acid based cleaner like vinegar (be careful not to damage items)

Don’t let thirdhand smoke worm its way into your life and threaten your health. As more people become aware, this additional fallout from tobacco use will certainly be another nail in its hopeful coffin.



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