The Dangers of Third-Hand Smoke

The American Chemical Society recently announced that third-hand smoke — the residual nicotine and other chemicals that settle on indoor surfaces through tobacco smoke — is likely more dangerous than previously thought, possibly causing asthma, wheezing and COPD.

“When tar mixes with pollutants in the air, it forms chemicals, tobacco-specific carcinogenic biomarkers, that are potentially more toxic than cigarette smoke itself,” explains Cheryl Horn, RRT, CTTS-M, tobacco treatment specialist with ProMedica Tobacco Treatment Services. “These chemicals rub off onto surfaces and even go back into the air as ultra-fine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs.”

While there is a lot to learn, early studies suggest that third-hand smoke may hurt the liver and cardiovascular system, cause cancer, slow down wound healing, and may even cause hyperactivity in children.

Some of the most common places for third-hand smoke to linger include:

  • Hair, skin and clothes
  • Walls, carpets and drapes
  • Car seats
  • Toys

With carpets and toys both susceptible to third-hand smoke, babies and children are at particularly high risk. Kids may crawl on the floor, stick their fingers in their mouths, and interact with objects that have come in contact with third-hand smoke. Horn states that children breathe faster than adults, inhaling particles at a quicker rate, and kids can also absorb chemicals through their skin. Additionally, pets are at risk because they clean themselves by licking third-hand smoke off of their fur or feathers.

The best way to avoid third-hand smoke is to not smoke in your house or car, and encourage others to refrain from smoking indoors and in your personal space. Everywhere smoke goes, there is third-hand smoke, Horn warns. And while you can clean floors, walls and carpets, smoke particles tend to settle deep. Third-hand smoke has been detected in homes that have been thoroughly cleaned, years after the smokers have moved out.

Even if you live in a smoke-free environment, traveling can be a challenge when you are looking out for your family’s health.

“Children must rely on those who care for them to make healthy life decisions,” Horn says.  “Learning that a hotel room, a rental car, or even a grandparent’s home can harm the health of their children allows the parent to protect themselves and their family.”

To learn more, please watch this video on the dangers of third-hand smoke.