What is thirdhand smoke, and why is it a concern?

Answer From J. Taylor Hays, M.D.

Thirdhand smoke is residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. People are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing in the off-gassing from these surfaces. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix including cancer causing compounds, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers — especially children.

Thirdhand smoke clings to clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces long after smoking has stopped. The residue from thirdhand smoke builds up on surfaces over time. To remove the residue, hard surfaces, fabrics and upholstery need to be regularly cleaned or laundered. 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.

Children and nonsmoking adults might be at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they inhale, swallow or touch substances containing thirdhand smoke. Infants and young children might have increased exposure to thirdhand smoke due to their tendency to mouth objects and touch affected surfaces.

Thirdhand smoke is a relatively new concept, and researchers are still studying its possible dangers. In the meantime, the only way to protect nonsmokers from thirdhand smoke is to create a smoke-free environment.

With

J. Taylor Hays, M.D.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Aug. 21, 2020 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. 3 ways to avoid secondhand smoke
  2. 7 signs and symptoms not to ignore
  3. Animal bites: Do you need a tetanus shot?
  4. Are you doing everything you can to stay healthy?
  5. Belching, intestinal gas, gas pains and bloating
  6. Bone health tips
  7. Cancer-prevention strategies
  8. Cellphones and cancer
  9. Colon cancer screening
  10. COVID-19: How can I protect myself?
  11. Plastic surgery
  12. Herd immunity and coronavirus
  13. Long-term effects of COVID-19
  14. COVID-19 travel advice
  15. Different COVID-19 vaccines
  16. Do adults need shots
  17. Don't save leftover pain pills
  18. Exercise: Check with your doctor
  19. Fight coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission at home
  20. Flu Shot Prevents Heart Attack
  21. Hand drying
  22. Hand-washing tips
  23. Heart attack prevention: Should I avoid secondhand smoke?
  24. Home Health Hazards
  25. Brown fat
  26. How social support spurs you
  27. How to take your pulse
  28. How to take your temperature
  29. How well do face masks protect against COVID-19?
  30. How well do you wash your hands?
  31. Injury Season for Snow Blowers
  32. Investing in yourself
  33. Is antibacterial soap a do or a don't?
  34. Keep the focus on your long-term vision
  35. Lost in Space
  36. Making progress towards your goals
  37. Mammogram guidelines: What are they?
  38. Mayo Clinic Minute: You're washing your hands all wrong
  39. Mayo Clinic Minute: How dirty are common surfaces?
  40. Measles vaccine: Can I get the measles if I've already been vaccinated?
  41. Infographic: Organ Donation Donate Life
  42. Infographic: Paired Donation Chain
  43. Infographic: Pancreas Kidney Transplant
  44. Personal health records
  45. Personalize your wellness journey
  46. Posture check: Do you stand up straight?
  47. Safe outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic
  48. Sitting risks: How harmful is too much sitting?
  49. Good posture tips
  50. Back exercises
  51. Proper lifting techniques
  52. Travel Safety
  53. Using if-then statements
  54. Vaccines for adults
  55. What are superbugs?
  56. What are superbugs and how can I protect myself from infection?
  57. Air purifiers and smoke