Thirdhand smoke is generally considered to be residual nicotine and other chemicals left on a variety of indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix. This toxic mix of thirdhand smoke contains cancer-causing substances, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers who are exposed to it, especially children.
Studies show that thirdhand smoke clings to hair, skin, clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces, even long after smoking has stopped. Infants, children and nonsmoking adults may be at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they inhale, ingest or touch substances containing thirdhand smoke. Thirdhand smoke is a relatively new concept, and researchers are still studying its possible dangers.
Thirdhand smoke residue builds up on surfaces over time and resists normal cleaning. Thirdhand smoke can't be eliminated by airing out rooms, opening windows, using fans or air conditioners, or confining smoking to only certain areas of a home. In contrast, secondhand smoke is the smoke and other airborne products that come from being close to burning tobacco products, such as cigarettes.
The only way to protect nonsmokers from thirdhand smoke is to create a smoke-free environment, whether that's your private home or vehicle, or in public places, such as hotels and restaurants.
July 10, 2014
See more Expert Answers
- How tobacco smoke causes disease: The biology and behavioral basis for smoking-attributable disease. A report of the Surgeon General. http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/tobaccosmoke/report/executivesummary.pdf. Accessed April 22, 2014.
- Matt GE, et al. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: Residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tobacco Control. 2011;20:e1.
- Hammer TR, et al. Effects of cigarette smoke residues from textiles on fibroblasts, neurocytes and zebrafish embryos and nicotine permeation through human skin. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 2011;214:384.
- Kuschner W, et al. Electronic cigarettes and thirdhand tobacco smoke: Two emerging health care challenges for the primary care provider. International Journal of General Medicine. 2011;4:115.
- Matt GE, et al. Thirdhand tobacco smoke: Emerging evidence and arguments for a multidisciplinary research agenda. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2011;119:1218.