'Thirdhand smoke' may be bigger health hazard than previously believed

January 12, 2011

Scientists are reporting that so-called "thirdhand smoke" — the invisible remains of cigarette smoke that deposits on carpeting, clothing, furniture and other surfaces — may be even more of a health hazard than previously believed. The study, published in ACS' journal, Environmental Science & Technology, extends the known health risks of tobacco among people who do not smoke but encounter the smoke exhaled by smokers or released by smoldering cigarette butts.

Yael Dubowski and colleagues note that thirdhand smoke is a newly recognized contributor to the health risks of tobacco and indoor air pollution. Studies show that that nicotine in thirdhand smoke can react with the ozone in indoor air and surfaces like clothing and furniture, to form other pollutants. Exposure to them can occur to babies crawling on the carpet, people napping on the sofa, or people eating food tainted by thirdhand smoke.

In an effort to learn more about thirdhand smoke, the scientists studied interactions between nicotine and indoor air on a variety of different materials, including cellulose (a component of wood furniture), cotton, and paper to simulate typical indoor surfaces. They found that nicotine interacts with ozone, in indoor air, to form potentially toxic pollutants on these surfaces. "Given the toxicity of some of the identified products and that small particles may contribute to adverse health effects, the present study indicates that exposure to [thirdhand smoke] may pose additional health risks," the article notes.

More information: "Thirdhand Smoke: Heterogeneous Oxidation of Nicotine and Secondary Aerosol Formation in the Indoor Environment", Environmental Science & Technology.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Amber-tinted glasses may provide relief for insomnia

December 15, 2017
How do you unwind before bedtime? If your answer involves Facebook and Netflix, you are actively reducing your chance of a good night's sleep. And you are not alone: 90 percent of Americans use light-emitting electronic devices, ...

Warning labels can help reduce soda consumption and obesity, new study suggests

December 15, 2017
Labels that warn people about the risks of drinking soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages can lower obesity and overweight prevalence, suggests a new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study.

Office work can be a pain in the neck

December 15, 2017
Neck pain is a common condition among office workers, but regular workplace exercises can prevent and reduce it, a University of Queensland study has found.

Regular takeaways linked to kids' heart disease and diabetes risk factors

December 14, 2017
Kids who regularly eat take-away meals may be boosting their risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, suggests research published online in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.

Your pets can't put your aging on 'paws'

December 14, 2017
(HealthDay)—In a finding that's sure to ruffle some fur and feathers, scientists report that having a pet doesn't fend off age-related declines in physical or mental health.

Simulation model finds Cure Violence program and targeted policing curb urban violence

December 14, 2017
When communities and police work together to deter urban violence, they can achieve better outcomes with fewer resources than when each works in isolation, a simulation model created by researchers at the UC Davis Violence ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

4.6 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2011
of course it's a risk; so's some of the stuff that's in 'fresh air'; life is the most persistent health risk; studies like this should put the 'risk' into some kind of relative context
3.4 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2011
In relative context, it is estimated to be only .31416% as lucrative in grant money as second hand smoke studying. So far.
4.6 / 5 (5) Jan 12, 2011
this is really getting over the top..

Gee, live by a street? (you know, with asphalt)
Maybe have a concrete driveway, or sidewalk?
Driving a car or bike with vulcanized rubber tires?
Got brakepads on that ride? Prolly oil and trans fluid making it run?
I dunno, got paint on your walls?
Synthetic fiber carpeting?
Cook meat in your house?

Not trying to be pro-tobacco here, but FFS, a little realism would be nice...
4 / 5 (4) Jan 13, 2011
While fleeing from the grave danger lingering in bars and old hotel lobbies caused by 100 year old thirdhand smoke, we might be ambushed by dangerous 17th hand smoke. This insidious toxic hazard threatens to end civilization as we know it.

Imagine never getting your laundry perfectly white again, or socks that constantly fall down, or never getting your pasta al dente again. All because the the noxious fumes of our ancestors are destroying the world of consumers everywhere!

Brought to you by Television Consumers For A Tobacco-free World.
1 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2011
that tar that gets on surface and into porous material and cloth is NASTY and extremely difficult to remove from many surfaces. After moving in smoker's appt, just one of the issues: I cleaned and painted 2 coats over it with white on the walls in the bathroom and whenever there was steam the brown death seaped through and I had to wipe it off for 2 yrs! (It finally stopped). Its like FIRE DAMAGE. Above posters are clueless. some of them are probably smokers.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 13, 2011
I'm sorry, Vor, but irrational sensitivities and hysterical reactions inspire me to irreverent mockery.

The brown death you are fleeing from in your horribly contaminated apartment reminds me of scenes from the "Blob," where the hero is fleeing away but the horrid mass of death presses in from under the doors and through the gaps in the building.

Generally, we live in a polluted and impure environment and are exposed to toxins every day. It's when we start noticing them like Howard Hughes that things start to get funny.

Not to mention the millions of little bugs and mites burrowing into your body at this very moment, living and excreting all over you! What to do about those teeming armies of parasites that cover us from head to toe?

We have nothing to fear but awareness itself. Flee, panic! Abandon all hope! We are doomed!

Or just relax and accept your fate, mortal.
5 / 5 (2) Jan 13, 2011
I am a smoker, and yes, the effects of Smoke is pretty bad. It's difficult to get the smell out of carpet, and the discoloration off of walls.

Though, this report neither says what health risks there are (bad smell in nose or lung cancer?), how significant the risks are (are the 3rd hand smoke risks to an infant on the carpet more than the risks posed by the out-gassing that a synthetic carpet does during its life?).

I don't think the above posters ARE clueless. I do think they're questioning the validity of the information given in this article due to a significant lack of quantifiable information.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.