Many are aware of the health effects of secondhand smoke; however, few have heard of the term “thirdhand smoke,” which is also a threat. Children, pregnant women, seniors, and those with breathing problems are especially vulnerable to its effects.
Thirdhand smoke is residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke.
While you can’t see it, thirdhand smoke can stick to (and accumulate on) furniture, carpets, clothing, walls, floors, hair, car seats, and dust. Secondhand smoke chemicals that are released into the air combine with other particles, such as nitrous acid and ozone, that are already in the air to form a new thirdhand smoke compound that is carcinogenic. While secondhand smoke can be removed by ventilation, thirdhand smoke residue is difficult to remove from carpets, furniture, and surfaces. Thirdhand smoke can even be found in areas (cars, homes, and hotel rooms) that ban smoking! Thirdhand smoke was also discovered in a neonatal intensive care unit that was a strictly monitored smoke-free zone. The residue from tobacco smoke can transfer from smokers’ clothing, hair, and bags and be reabsorbed into new environments.
While secondhand smoke has taken the brunt of blame, exposure to thirdhand smoke can be just as harmful for our health. Thirdhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals that are hazardous to health when people are exposed to them, either by touching the contaminated surfaces or by breathing in the chemicals’ off-gasses. Infants and children often have increased exposure to thirdhand smoke because they are more likely to touch surfaces or put objects in their mouth. Sadly, studies have shown that 22% of infants and children are exposed to both secondhand and thirdhand smoke in their homes each year!
Below are a few simple ways to limit your exposure and reduce the impact of thirdhand smoke on your health:
- Do not allow smoking near you or your loved ones. Seek out environments where smoking is prohibited. If you cannot avoid being in a place where there is smoking, do your best to keep a distance. If it feels appropriate, you can ask smokers to stop while you are there.
- Clean regularly. The harmful contaminants left from tobacco smoke cannot be removed by simply opening windows and airing out a room. To remove thirdhand smoke, it is important to regularly clean and launder all surfaces and fabrics.
- Hire a professional. If you know your home is contaminated with thirdhand smoke, it is helpful to hire a professional cleaner to deep clean the walls, floors, and ceilings to truly remove any harmful residue.
- Create a smoke-free environment. Keep your environment safe by not allowing any smoking in or near your home or car. If you have friends or family members who smoke, do not allow smoking in your car or home.
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