Even Discreet, Conscientious Smokers Leave a Trail of "Third-Hand Smoke"

By Eliza Strickland | January 5, 2009 5:04 pm

cigarette smokeIt doesn’t matter if they only smoke when the kids are out of the house, or when they’re alone in the car, or even if they only smoke outside; researchers still warn that toxic chemicals exhaled by cigarette smokers cling to their clothes and hair, and linger in upholstery, curtains, and carpets. In a new study, researchers say the public is well aware of the health effects of second-hand smoke, when nonsmokers are directly exposed to the cigarette smoke of others, but hasn’t yet caught on to the danger of what they call “third-hand smoke.” Lead author Jonathan Winickoff explains that third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette, he said, or in a hotel room where people were smoking. “Your nose isn’t lying,” he said. “The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ’Get away’” [The New York Times].

The researchers say that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke, and note that children are particularly susceptible to ill-effects from the toxic residue left behind long after a cigarette has been stubbed out. Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic [The New York Times].

Since babies crawl over and play on rugs, and since they’re more likely to put stray objects in their mouths, they have more direct exposure to the chemicals left behind by cigarette smoke that may have infused household materials. The researchers also warn that babies and other young children are more susceptible to ‘third-hand smoke’ than adults because their lungs are still developing. “When you smoke – any place – toxic particulate matter from tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothing,” said Dr Jonathan Winickoff…. “When you come into contact with your baby, even if you’re not smoking at the time, she comes in contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in your breastmilk” [Telegraph].

The researchers conducted a survey, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, to determine whether people are aware of the dangers posed by third-hand smoke; they found that 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers agreed that third-hand smoke harms children. Raising awareness of the risks of third-hand smoke could encourage more families to institute smoking bans in their houses, says respiratory health expert Joel Africk. “We see this as the right and authority of the family to decide that they are not going to allow those carcinogens in the house,” said Africk, who was not involved in the study. Africk emphasized that the Pediatrics study did not call for legislation that would ban smoking in private homes [Chicago Tribune].

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Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • http://na Grace

    here’s my advice. if you are worrying about third hand smoke, then you should just not smoke at all! i believe that there’s no such thing as a conciencious smoker. it’s an oxymoron. don’t smoke.

  • Mike

    Grace: The smokers don’t worry for the most part.

    The problem that non-smokers have, is avoiding first, second, third-hand smoke…

  • Chubbee

    nicotine is both physical and mental addiction, unfortunatly by the time you realise that you don’t want to be smoking anymore it’s too late, you’re hooked.
    The politicaly correct now all blissfully tout the evils of smoking, happily turning nicotine addicts into pariahs at every turn. Yet as long as the government continues to get its cut of the drug money collected from tobacco sales it remains readilly available to those who would like to quit.
    Speaking from experience I can tell you that cold turkey is the only way to quit and stay a non smoker. If it’s so bad for everyone… make it illegal to sell!

  • Danorock

    Cold turkey is not the only way to quit–there is a pill that lessens the brain’s reception of the “pleasure” of smoking. It helped me quit and stay quit. It is also important to find substitutes for some of the rituals of smoking, or else a quitting smoker will find his or herself craving cigarettes at the same times or in the same situations every time that they come up. Most importantly, never give up–you can quit as many times as you need to, just quit!

  • Mike

    Chubby wrote: “The politicaly correct now all blissfully tout the evils of smoking”

    The evils of smoking have been known for two generations. What I learnt as a youngster in the 70s was more than enough to put me off, if the stench of my father’s habit weren’t enough.

    “happily turning nicotine addicts into pariahs at every turn.”
    The choices of cold-turkey or nicotine patches etc have been available a long time. Unfortunately it’s only recently that nonsmokers have been able to assert their right to clean air.

  • Karin

    I have never been a smoker, but grew up in a house full of smokers. As Mike said – the stench of my father’s habit was enough to keep me from ever starting. But, one comment from Chubbie rings so very true – “If it’s so bad for everyone…make it illegal to sell!” I completely agree with this statement. And also, the reason he gave as to why it will always be available: The government gets way too many tax dollars from the sale of cigarettes. As long as they have money coming in, they will not care about the health of the people. Only when it affects their bottom line (money) will they care about it.

  • jackie

    So I just have to say this… there are people who smoke and it is awful for you and not good for the people around you either and I agree totally with enclosed spaces being smoke free but I cannot agree with this idea that if no one in the world smoked.. the air would be clean!!

    or that there would be less carcinogens for us to be exposed to or that everything will be healthy and shiny (have you read your food labels- people find all sorts of ways to slowly kill other people and get paid)

    and healthcare costs would plummet…I think wanting someone you care for not to begin smoking or to quit is good. I don’t think making them into a pariah is good. I don’t think lack of empathy is good… after all- do you shake your fist at every city bus that spews out nasty air or bully obese people to stop eating because your healthcare costs are up… really. clean air?.. Move to Montanta.

  • http://www.smokershistory.com CarolT

    More than 50 studies show that human papillomaviruses cause over ten times more lung cancers than they pretend are caused by secondhand smoke. Passive smokers are more likely to have been exposed to this virus, so the anti-smokers’ studies, because they are all based on nothing but lifestyle questionnaires, have been cynically DESIGNED to falsely blame passive smoking for all those extra lung cancers that are really caused by HPV.


    The anti-smokers have committed the same type of fraud with every disease they blame on smoking and passive smoking, as well as ignoring other types of evidence that proves they are lying, such as the fact that the death rates from asthma have more than doubled since their movement began.


    And it’s a lie that passive smoking causes heart disease. AMI deaths in Pueblo actually ROSE the year after the smoking ban.


  • aby

    Well, smoking is like having sex people don’t want to stop it.
    They will enjoy smoking until consequences of deaf catches up with them.
    With Sex you enjoy a baby but with Smoking the regret is cancer.
    The people who smoke does not care of you or me but of the sensation of smoking, it must feel like sex.

    Well, about danger from food hazards well we have to eat
    but we don’t have to smoke. Enjoy your food.

    From a non-smoker wait a l-2-3 hand smoker.

  • http://www.smokershistory.com CarolT

    There have been NO actual studies of the pretended health effects of thirdhand smoke. This entire Nazi-style campaign of defamations is based on nothing an opinion poll of imbeciles.


    Furthermore, there never will be any real scientific evidence to back it up, because the largest exposure to so-called carcinogens is from ordinary food. For benzo[a]pyrene, which is one of the common polycyclic hydrocarbons produced by combustion, “[T]he food chain is the dominant pathway of human exposure, accounting for about 97% of the total daily intake of BaP. Inhalation and consumption of contaminated water are only minor pathways of human exposure [2% from air, and 1% from water]. The long-term average daily intake of BaP by the general population is estimated to be 2.2 micrograms (ug) per day. Cigarette smoking and indoor activities do not substantially increase human exposure to BaP relative to background levels of BaP present in the environment.” And, “[A]verage smokers (i.e., individuals who smoke 20 cigarettes a day) are taking in an additional 780 ng of BaP daily, which means that smokers get an additional 16% BaP from smoking” [based on pre-1979 cigarettes, which contained about twice the quantity of BaP as newer low-tar cigarettes]. Also, the exposure from cooked beef (0.2 -24.1 ug/kg) is less than the exposure from leafy vegetables (7.0 – 48 ug/kg). And, this research was sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (Benzo-a-pyrene: Environmental partitioning and human exposure. H.A. Hattemer-Frey, C.C. Travis. Toxicology and Industrial Health 1991;7(3):141-157.)


  • Alex

    No CarolT!
    You have to be the biggest imbecile if you think that there are not health effects of third hand smoke.
    It is not a “Nazi-stlye” campaign, it is reality!
    You are obviously an ignorant person that either smokes or more than likely makes their money from the cigarette market. You come on this site and try to throw around your attitude so that people think you’re making a point. Well Carol, if that is your name, smoking is not a fine, healthy behavior and I’m quite confident that this market is where you make your corrupted income.


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