Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati have found more evidence of the potentially harmful effects of exposure to the residue and particles left behind by tobacco smoke.
In ‘Nicotine on Children’s Hands: Limited Protection of Smoking Bans and Initial Clinical Findings,’ published Jan. 16 in Tobacco Use Insights, Cincinnati Children’s attending physician Melinda Mahabee-Gittens and UC assistant professor Ashley Merianos found that not smoking around children doesn’t stop the children of smokers from being exposed to nicotine.
They also found that that higher levels of exposure to tobacco smoke residue, which likely includes carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines — may be linked to respiratory problems.
Third-hand smoke is residual, or leftover, nicotine and other chemicals that remain on clothing and surfaces after someone smokes in the area. Dangerous residue from tobacco smoke sticks to carpets, walls and other surfaces after the smoke clears.
Researchers believe these lingering chemicals can harm your body just like smoking and second-hand smoke can. Research continues, but there are some things we know now, says pulmonologist Humberto Choi, MD.
Here are the health hazards of third-hand smoke that you need to be aware about:
Third-hand smoke may be a culprit in more cancer cases
Researchers are investigating third-hand smoke as they seek to understand some puzzling lung cancer cases.
“There’s been an increased interest recently because we are seeing more lung cancer cases that are not related directly to first-hand or second-hand smoking,” Dr Choi says. “So we’re looking at other causes for cancer aside from direct exposure.”
Third-hand smoke may damage DNA
One study found that being exposed to third-hand smoke may cause damage and breaks in human DNA. Researchers tested human cells in a laboratory rather than actual humans. But Dr Choi says DNA damage is a real risk and can increase your chances of disease.
Residue may react with airborne chemicals to form carcinogens
When you smoke in a room or car, toxic chemicals like nicotine cling to walls, clothing, upholstery and other surfaces, as well as your skin. Results of a study published in 2010 found that when this nicotine reacts with nitrous acid in the air, it forms carcinogens, which are compounds that can cause cancer.
Although this suggests a dangerous connection, “It hasn’t been proven that third-hand smoke is correlated with any other conditions,” Dr Choi says. “And that will be very difficult to prove because we are all exposed to it no matter how hard we try to avoid it.”
For this reason, the specific risks of third-hand smoke are still not completely clear, he says.
Children are most at risk
“I think children are the most vulnerable to third-hand smoke because of exposure to surfaces like the floor and on their clothes and other objects in the house,” Dr Choi says.
This is particularly true for very young children who frequently touch objects and then put their hands in their mouths. This can increase their exposure to the toxic chemicals.
Non-smoking adults who live with regular smokers are also at a much higher risk for third-hand smoke exposure. Dr Choi says it may be helpful to study these individuals in the long term.
Removing the residue is very difficult
Third-hand smoke residue builds up over time on most surfaces it touches. It can remain for weeks, months or even years. It resists normal cleaning methods and you can’t air it out of rooms or cars with fans or vacuums, Dr. Choi says.
For this reason, sometimes the only solution is replacing carpets, repainting walls and/or cleaning ventilation systems. So it’s expensive to completely rid a room of third-hand smoke and eliminate the risk of exposure to future tenants or owners.
Dr Choi stresses that the best solution for managing the dangers of third-hand smoke is to stop smoking.
“The best way to reduce exposure risk is to have a smoke-free environment, especially where you live,” he says. “And it’s not just about cutting down, but being abstinent.
He concludes, “If you smoke, never smoke inside your house, because even if you don’t smell the smoke anymore, it’s still there. Still, the best approach is to avoid it completely.”
Source: Cleveland Clinic