The Rise of Third-Hand Smoke

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It’s bad enough that people can get cancer and other ailments just by being in proximity to someone smoking a cigarette. Now, researchers argue that even after you put the cigarette out, the smoke follows you and could impact those around you.

Smoking cigarettes just got more complicated.

This phenomenon has been dubbed third-hand smoke and was first publicized early last year by doctors at the MassGeneral hospital in Boston. Third-hand smoke refers to the tobacco toxins that stick to smokers, getting on their clothes and any furniture with which they come in contact.

A New York Times article last year reporting on the new findings described third-hand smoke as “what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette… or in a hotel room where people were smoking.”  As the lead researcher from the study told the Times, “Your nose isn’t lying. The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ’Get away.’”

Many have written off the claims in the study as far-fetched fear mongering. “The genius of the study is that it tries to stir up alarm about thirdhand smoke without bothering to show that such trace levels of toxins and carcinogens cause any measurable harm to children (or to anyone else),” Jacob Sullum wrote on Reason.com.

However, now, a little more than a year later, a new study has been released highlighting just how dangerous third-hand smoke may be.

According to Bloomberg, the new study “found that when the residue from tobacco smoke settled on indoor surfaces, it mixed with indoor air pollutants to form tobacco-specific nitrosamines, or TSNAs, which are potent cancer-causing substances found in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke.”

Yes, there’s some jargon in there, but the punch line is that when smokers carry tobacco toxins with them into their house, it sticks around on their furniture and other surfaces and can actually mix with “indoor air chemicals” like nitrous acid (which is emitted by many household appliances). This mix could create a dangerous cocktail, especially for young children, the study says.

The authors of this study argue that trying to ventilate the room by opening a window is not enough to combat third-hand smoke. “Replace nicotine-laden furniture, carpets and curtains. Nicotine absorbs into these materials. The stuff that’s imbedded can continue to come to the surface,” one of the authors urged.

That may sound a bit extreme, especially given that third-hand smoke has not been linked to cancer yet in the way that second-hand smoke has, but are you smokers who have kids willing to take the risk?

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