Thirdhand Smoke (THS) is a Public Health Concern

Thirdhand smoke (THS) is now recognized as a health hazard. Nicotine is the most abundant organic compound emitted during smoking, deposits on indoor surfaces and lasts up to months. THS is residual secondhand smoke that imbeds into upholstery, rugs, walls and other surfaces. New studies indicate that THS may be more dangerous than secondhand smoke, since it does not dissipate quickly, and continuously emits respirable particles long after smoking takes place. Learn more from an April 1, 2010 ABC interview with Dr. Jonathan Winikoff, a pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children in Boston.

The Stratford, CT Health Department (SHD) has received a 2011 Healthy Community Grant from the EPA to reduce children’s exposure to THS through a community-based campaign to educate residents about the dangers of the poisonous chemicals that stick around long after a cigarette has been put out. They have developed a toolkit that community partners can use to teach parents about the issue, and they are providing free smoking cessation classes. This is part of the SHD’s long-lasting campaign in the greater Bridgeport region to help residents better manage asthma symptoms and avoid triggers in the environment that can make asthma symptoms worse. From their website, "...Smoke permeates wall, floors, carpets, furniture, hair, clothing, and more, and lingers long after a cigarette is extinguished. Health effects of third hand smoke are long lasting and can be severely impact a child’s health."

Recent Studies, Journal Articles and Presentations

  1. New A March 2014 medical symposium discussed third-hand smoke health hazards, such as the creation of carcinogens indoors as the compounds in secondhand smoke can have harmful reactions with indoor pollutants. There is also evidence of at least one of the tobacco-specific nitrosamines, NNA, causing DNA damage by binding to it and causing genetic mutations. Children and babies are of greatest concern as they crawl and put items in their mouths which have been exposed to the thirdhand smoke compounds.

  2. A University of California - Riverside study published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE in January 2014 reveals that third-hand smoke can cause hyperactivity and significant damage to the liver and lungs, and can delay the healing of wounds. The study’s scientists recommend not to be exposed to 2nd- or third-hand smoke, and conclude that the results can help inform for "potential regulatory policies to prevent involuntary exposure to third-hand smoke. See summary in UC-Riverside press release.
  3. A study published March 5, 2013 in the journal Mutagenesis demonstrate for the first time that exposure to THS is genotoxic in human cell lines. Read the study abstract or the full study. Read an article from the Berkeley Lab News Center in which the researchers involved in the study wer einterviewed.
    “This is the very first study to find that thirdhand smoke is mutagenic,” said Lara Gundel, a Berkeley Lab scientist and co-author of the study. “Tobacco-specific nitrosamines, some of the chemical compounds in thirdhand smoke, are among the most potent carcinogens there are. They stay on surfaces, and when those surfaces are clothing or carpets, the danger to children is especially serious.”
  4. A March 6, 2013 news article about a recent study conducted by University of CA, Riverside (UCR) finds that toxicity caused by second-hand smoke remains long after the smoker leaves in the form of microscopic particles that stick to the dust and to surfaces that have absorbed it. UCR researchers are concerned that chemical transformations that take place as smoke remnants age could be particularly harmful to toddlers and the elderly, as well as anyone who comes in close contact with contaminated surfaces.
  5. On September 27, 2012 a web-based presentation by The Smoking Cessation Leadership Center (SCLC) and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) entitled, “Thirdhand Smoke: Clinical and Policy Approaches,” was given. This includes an overview of secondhand and thirdhand smoke with information on promoting a smoke-free home and work environment including a discussion on strategies providers can use to address exposure to both secondhand and thirdhand smoke among patients.
  6. In April 2012, the University of California's Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program assembled a consortium of investigators to study the health risks caused by thirdhand smoke. Visit their website to read more about the research.
  7. The May 31, 2011 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives published a review of studies on thirdhand smoke, Thirdhand Tobacco Smoke: Emerging Evidence and Arguments for a Multidisciplinary Research Agenda. Highlights of the review:
  8. The October 30, 2010 issue of Tobacco Control Journal published the San Diego State University study, "When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure". The researchers concluded:
    "THS in a home lingers for more than 2 months, after the smokers move out." THS accumulates in smokers' homes and persists when smokers move out even after homes remain vacant for 2 months and are cleaned and prepared for new residents. When non-smokers move into homes formerly occupied by smokers, they encounter indoor environments with THS polluted surfaces and dust. Results suggest that non-smokers living in former smoker homes are exposed to THS in dust and on surfaces. Researchers visited homes of 100 smokers and 50 non-smokers, both before and after the residents moved out. Nicotine measurements were take on residents' fingers, in dust and the air, and on surfaces, and cotinine levels were measured from children's urine samples. New nonsmoking residents who moved into these homes were recruited and similarly tested, along with the dust, air and surfaces. "Finger nicotine levels among non-smokers living in former smoker homes were significantly correlated with dust and surface nicotine and urine cotinine."
    Read this Tobacco Control Journal editorial "Thirdhand smoke: here to stay" by Suzaynn Schick, discussing the above study and the health concerns with thirdhand smoke.
  9. Time magazine's November 8, 2010 story (pg. 66), New Smoke Alarm reports that "current evidence surrounding thirdhand smoke should be enough to convince parents that no level of cigarette smoke exposure is safe for their children, not to mention themselves." Time writer Alice Park concludes: "Of the 22 million children in the U.S. who are exposed to smoke in the home: it's not enough to have smokers stand outside on the porch-unless they're planning to take a shower and change their clothes before they rejoin the party in the living room."
  10. Researchers have found that clinging residue from tobacco smoke may linger and mix with common pollutants to form carcinogens and tiny particles that are potentially hazardous to children. Read about the September, 2010 University of California studies on the harmful effects of thirdhand smoke exposure.
  11. The scientists at the Institute for Hygiene and Biotechnology (IHB) at the Hohenstein Institute studied whether and to what extent "third-hand smoke", in the form of the toxic substances on clothing, could damage the health of infants by examining whether there are other health risks to infants if the transmission channel is the skin. Mainly, they wanted to find out exactly what happens when parents have a smoke outside on the balcony and then, after their break, take their baby in their arms again. Click here to read the article from September 22, 2010 entitled When Baby Smokes Too.
    "Parents should be aware", says Prof. Dirk Hofer, Director of the Institute for Hygiene and Biotechnology at the Hohenstein Institute, "that their own clothing can transmit toxins from cigarette smoke."
  12. A new potential health hazard from thirdhand smoke was revealed in a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Energy. The study concluded that nicotine in thirdhand smoke (which is tobacco smoke residue that imbeds into surfaces, e.g. furniture, carpet, clothing, skin, etc.), when it reacts with nitrous acid, a common indoor air pollutant, forms dangerous carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), such as NNN and NNK. Key findings as noted in the study's February 8, 2010 press release:
    "TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke."
    "We know that these residual levels of nicotine may build up over time after several smoking cycles, and we know that through the process of aging, third-hand smoke can become more toxic over time..."
    "... [T]he results of this study should raise concerns about the purported safety of electronic cigarettes.... A battery-powered vaporizer inside the tube of a plastic cigarette turns a solution of nicotine into a smoky mist that can be inhaled and exhaled like tobacco smoke.... What we see in this study is that the reactions of residual nicotine with nitrous acid at surface interfaces are a potential cancer hazard, and these results may be just the tip of the iceberg."
    "Co-authors suggest various ways to limit the impact of the thirdhand smoke health hazard, starting with the implementation of 100 percent smoke-free environments in public places and self-restrictions in residences and automobiles. In buildings where substantial smoking has occurred, replacing nicotine-laden furnishings, carpets and wallboard might significantly reduce exposures."

    The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) published a paper on this study, entitled "Formation of carcinogens indoors by surface-mediated reactions of nicotine with nitrous acid, leading to potential third-hand smoke hazards." It is the first study to quantify the reactions of third-hand smoke with nitrous acid. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) national laboratory that conducts unclassified scientific research for DOE's Office of Science and is managed by the University of California. Listen to an NPR/Sound Medicine clip by Jeremy Shere interviewing Lara Gundel, one of the scientists researching thirdhand smoke at the Berkeley Labs. Read the study and see the study's supporting information.

  13. Read a New York Times article with information from the January, 2009 Pediatrics study, which discusses the hazards of exposure to third-hand smoke, present on the walls, in carpeting, furniture, etc., that lingers beyond the extinguishing of a cigarette or cigar. Read the study abstract or the full study.
    Key findings:
    • Carcinogens and toxins in third-hand smoke may affect brain development in babies and young children.
    • Young children crawl on carpeting and suck on clothing, upholstery, skin, etc. that has third-hand smoke residue.
    • Increasing awareness of how third-hand smoke harms the health of children may encourage home smoking bans.
    • Professor Winickoff is also concerned about new mothers who smoke, saying: 'When you're near your baby, even if you are not smoking, the child comes into contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in the breast milk.' See press release at
    Read the October 2008 American Journal of Public Health article on ethical support for mandating smoke-free private spaces, such as cars and homes, in which children will be exposed.
  14. Experiments conducted at Philip Morris’ formerly secret INBIFO (Institut für Biologische Forschung) laboratory in Germany between 1983 amd 1997 were analyzed and published in 2007 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. Statistical analysis of the data from these previously unpublished studies showed the tobacco-specific nitrosamine NNK (4-(methylnitrosamino)-I-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone) concentrations in sidestream smoke increase after the smoke is released into room air. The publication has a concluding paragraph that begins, "Our analysis of Philip Morris’ results suggests that NNK formation in aging secondhand smoke may contribute to nitrosamine exposure in humans. If NNK forms in the air in real smoking environments, and other nitrosamines do not, then exposure to NNK will be much higher than predicted from the concentration ratios in fresh smoke."
  15. A 2004 San Diego State University study published in Tobacco Control on thirdhand smoke exposure inside the home found that parents who smoke outside the home still subject their children to passive smoking. Children in such homes have up to eight times more nicotine in their bodies than the offspring of non-smokers. Moreover, nicotine levels in babies who live in houses where people smoke outside are much higher than in babies who live with non-smokers:
  16. A 2002 study done at the University of California found that the toxic brew of thirdhand smoke can reemit back into the air and recombine to form harmful compounds that remain at high levels long after smoking has stopped.

Lawsuit Award in Favor of Nonsmoking Homeowner

In 2007, the County Court of Lancaster County, Nebraska ruled in favor of a home buyer, in finding that the seller fraudulently misrepresented that they had not smoked in the home. The court awarded the home buyer more than $12,000 in costs related to attempting to mitigate the thirdhand smoke residue, during the time that the buyer had moved in. The seller represented that they did not currently smoke in the home, which was in untrue. The buyer only lived at the premises for less than 1 month. (Contact GASP for detailed information on this lawsuit).

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Last update: 3/18/14