You have likely heard of first and secondhand smoke, but have you heard of thirdhand smoke? Thirdhand smoke has recently emerged as possessing similar health concerns.
Firsthand smoke is the direct inhalation of tobacco products, while secondhand smoke comes from the burning of tobacco products as well as the air exhaled by smokers. Studies have pointed to health risks associated with firsthand and secondhand smoke including cancer, heart attacks, stroke, COPD and many more.
Dr. Janet Bonome, associate professor of public health, said thirdhand smoke consists of residual nicotine and other toxic chemicals left by tobacco smoke that has settled on indoor surfaces.
“You can think of it as the leftover pollution after a tobacco or e-cigarette is put out,” Bonome said. “It clings to hair, clothes, furniture, carpet, walls, bedding, even dust long after smoking has stopped.”
The chemicals left behind by smoke are nearly impossible to remove and can remain on these surfaces for months.
Due to the focus on reducing first and secondhand smoke, thirdhand smoke has gone largely overlooked. However, recent studies have begun to show that thirdhand smoke may pose greater risks than originally thought.
Thirdhand poses unique dangers as we can be exposed to the same toxic chemicals simply by touching contaminated surfaces. Babies and pets are particularly susceptible to this type of exposure. Babies are constantly crawling around, playing on floors and sticking things in their mouths. This increased risk along with their immature immune systems place children in danger of developing complications from this smoke, and the presence of thirdhand smoke can double the chances of our pets developing cancer.
Ongoing research is still determining the long-term health risks associated with thirdhand smoke. However, in an article published by Banner Health, Dr. Billie Bixby, a pulmonary specialist at Banner University Medical Center Tucson, said long-term exposure to thirdhand smoke may be comparable to the risks associated with secondhand smoke. Exposure to thirdhand smoke has already been linked to the development of lung cancer and asthma.
“As we all know, smoking can cause lung cancer which kills thousands of people each year,” said Brittney Helget, senior biology major. “But thirdhand smoking seems to be just as dangerous. Given that less people are educated on its effects, the statistical risks could potentially be greater than we currently know.”
Studies have shown that adequate ventilation and cleaning do not eliminate the hazards of indoor smoking. Since the damage caused by thirdhand smoke is irreversible, prevention becomes our first line of defense.
“Prevention can completely reduce thirdhand smoke altogether because if people don’t smoke then it won’t be in the air or in the elements around us,” said Haley Chamber, senior nursing major.
Precautions should be taken to limit the amount of thirdhand smoke in your home.
“Don’t allow anyone to smoke or vape anywhere in or near your home, especially if you have children, or are near pregnant women or have pets,” Bonome said. “It’s really time to get serious about supporting tobacco-free environments.”