Third-hand smoke: another reason to stop smoking
Many smokers are aware of the dangers posed by second-hand smoke.
Third-hand smoke is the term used by doctors from the Boston-based MassGeneral Hospital for Children. The January 2009 Issue of medical journal Pediatrics chronicled the research of the MassGeneral doctors.
What is third-hand smoke?
Third-hand smoke is the smell on a smoker’s clothes and hair after they’ve gone outside for a cigarette. It’s the smell in a rental car after a smoker has taken it for a spin. Third-hand smoke makes you wrinkle your nose, sure – but until recently, no one knew it was dangerous.
Particulates and gases make up third-hand smoke. Particulates settle on any surface near where a person has been smoking. Gases diffuse into the air and may travel on air currents and through ventilation systems.
What makes third-hand smoke so dangerous?
Literally, third-hand smoke is composed of the poisonous potpourri of heavy metals, carcinogens and radioactive materials left over from burned cigarette tobacco. The following dangerous compounds have been isolated in third-hand smoke:
- Toluene (an aromatic hydrocarbon found in paint thinners)
- Butane (lighter fluid)
- Lead (a known neurotoxin)
- Hydrogen cyanide
- Polonium-210 (the radioactive poison used to murder Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006)
Scientists have isolated a total of 250 toxic substances from third-hand smoke. Eleven of these substances are Class 1 carcinogens (meaning that they are known to cause cancer in humans).
Keep in mind that a smoker’s home will have toxic particulates and gases on their upholstery, in their drapes and carpets, on virtually every surface including walls and ceilings, as well as in the air.
Should I be concerned about third-hand smoke?
Third-hand smoke is not conclusively proven to be an environmental hazard. Children of smokers do have detectable levels of the toxins mentioned above in their blood – however, it is impossible to determine the source of these toxins. Children of smokers can be exposed to toxins in utero and by second-hand smoke as well as third-hand smoke.
The concern of third-hand smoke affecting others is real. Smokers looking for another reason to stop smoking can use these data to help them commit to kicking the habit.
If you choose to continue smoking, the least you can do is shield others from exposure to second-hand smoke and to be aware of the potential threat you pose to others based on your addiction. You may want to review our reasons to stop smoking.