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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- The persistence of thirdhand smoke in real-world residential settings has been demonstrated based on nicotine and 3-EP concentrations in air, dust, and surfaces in the days, weeks, and months after the last smoking has taken place. Further support comes from quantitative measurements of ultrafine tobacco smoke particles resuspended after their deposition on household surfaces.
- Thirdhand smoke is ubiquitous and pervasive wherever tobacco has been smoked. Its presence in air and dust and on surfaces allows for multiple exposure routes, and thirdhand smoke creates special risks for nonsmokers who spend time indoors in proximity to polluted surfaces. Infants and children are especially vulnerable, because of their increased exposure and increased sensitivity to pollutants, as are persons with limited mobility and populations that spend time in multiunit housing and spaces with frequent changes in occupancy.
- The presence of thirdhand smoke compounds in the air, in dust, and on surfaces of indoor environments creates potential exposure routes through inhalation, ingestion, and dermal transfer. It is estimated that infants and young children are 100 times more sensitive than adults to pollutants in house dust because of such factors as increased respiration relative to body size and immature metabolic capacity. These pathways are likely to be relevant for children living in homes in which adults smoke, even if smoking occurs at times or in rooms when no children are present.
- The review stated that tobacco smoke contains volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and the constituents of thirdhand smoke identified to date include nicotine, 3-ethenylpyridine (3-EP), phenol, cresols, naphthalene, formaldehyde, and tobacco-specific nitrosamines.
- Knowledge about THS could be used clinically to encourage home and car smoking bans among individuals and to promote cessation.
"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.
"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."
"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.
- 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 http://www.massgeneral.org/about/pressrelease.aspx?id=1091.
- Infants may inhale the smoke from a cigarette or the exhaled air from a smoker.
- Even if cigarettes are not smoked near a baby, cigarette fumes may contaminate dust that settles in carpets, on toy and furniture surfaces and on the floor.
- Because babies spend a lot of time crawling on the floor and put toys in the mouths, they are especially at risk to ingest this contaminated dust.
- Smokers may also contaminate their homes by bringing in clothing exposed to smoke.
- Matt, G.E., Quintana, P.J.E., Hovell, M.F., Bernert, J.T., Song, S., Novianti, N., Juarez, T., Flora, J., Gehrman, C., Garcia, M. and Larson, S. Households contaminated by environmental tobacco smoke: sources of infant exposures. Tobacco Control, 13:29-37, 2004. Read the study.
- Although all smoking was outdoors, children had nicotine in their hair and urine, and mothers who smoked away from their children were found to have nearly as much nicotine on their hands as smokers who made no special effort. Cited from http://www.thestressoflife.com/smoking_outside_may_not_protect_.htm.
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).back to top^
Last update: 3/18/14