Third-Hand Smoke: What You May Not Know

Third-hand smoke is the chemical residue that results from smoking tobacco products. Quitting smoking completely is the only way to avoid exposing others to third-hand smoke.

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Few smokers would deny that their habit is dangerous for their own health. Nearly all people who light up realize that cigarette smoking can cause serious complications down the road, including lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Most also realize that exposure to secondhand smoke, or the smoke given off by a cigarette’s tip or that which is exhaled by smokers, is equally dangerous to those around them.

What many still do not realize is that an absence of smoke doesn’t mean an absence of danger.

The Hidden Dangers of Third-Hand Smoke

Many smokers assume that taking their smoke breaks outside prevents them from endangering others. While this does offer some small level of protection, it isn’t enough to keep loved ones safe. Smoke residue, also known as third-hand smoke, is still a major health issue for those living and working around smokers.

What is Third-Hand Smoke?

Third-Hand smoke refers to the smoke residue, chemicals, and other additives found in cigarette smoke which adheres to surfaces. A smoker’s hair and clothing may be covered with thousands of harmful chemicals after each smoke break. Curtains, furniture, and other soft surfaces are also prime areas for smoke and chemical residues to cling.

These chemicals do not stay where they land. According to the Mayo Clinic, every time an item containing third-hand smoke residue is moved, the chemicals re-enter the air where they can be inhaled by others. While it may seem like a small amount of air pollution to worry about, the Surgeon General states that no amount of cigarette smoke is safe. Additionally, the same chemicals may be reemitted back into the air over and over again, offering numerous opportunities for inhabitants to be exposed.

What are the Health Consequences of Third-Hand Smoke?

The health issues associated with third-hand smoke are the same as those linked with first and second hand smoke. Heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, and other lung conditions may all be caused by third-hand smoke.

Even more troubling is research suggesting that third-hand smoke may increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in infants who are exposed. Those who smoke, even outdoors, and then hold an infant may greatly put the child at risk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, exposure to cigarette smoke puts children at risk of other chronic health conditions as well, such as frequent respiratory infections, asthma, and stunted lung growth.

How can Third-Hand Smoke be Prevented?

Among smokers, third-hand smoke can’t be prevented entirely. In order to protect others, a smoker would have to change clothes, bathe, and brush his or her teeth after every cigarette. Aside from the fact that doing so after every smoke would be nearly impossible, smoke residue could still enter the air in the process.

Wearing jackets and head coverings during smoke breaks may cut down on exposure to some small extent if these items are removed before going back inside. This method is impractical, however, and not very effective.

Those who do smoke should not come into contact with infants and young children after using tobacco products.

The only way to truly prevent the dangers of third-hand smoke is to quit smoking entirely. Using safer alternatives, such as e-cigarettes, is also an option, as they don’t require the use of actual smoke, and thereby, do not lead to third-hand smoke.