What is Third-Hand Smoke

One of the pernicious things about bad habits, is the way they adversely affect people who aren’t involved with them.  It’s old news that smoking cigarettes does terrible things to both smokers and the people around them.  We also know that secondhand smoke, inhaled by hanging around smokers, is also dangerous.  Well a new study ups the anty yet again.

Led by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, the study revealed that long after a cigarette is put out, the tobacco smoke residue that clings to surfaces reacts with the common indoor air pollutant nitrous acid, to produce dangerous carcinogens.

Cigarette smoke contains over 250 poisonous gases, chemicals and heavy metals.  These toxins in tobacco smoke residue deposit themselves onto household surfaces, posing significant health dangers to infants, children and adults alike.  The dangerous components of cigarette smoke include a hair-raising array of poisons, including hydrogen cyanide (used to create chemical weapons), carbon monoxide, butane (a component of lighter fluid), ammonia, toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic, lead, cadmium (a component of batteries), and the highly radioactive polonium-210.

In fact, cigarette smoke contains 11 carcinogens categorized as Class 1, the most dangerous kind.  And these carcinogens settle on every exposed surface when the butt goes out, so when kids crawl, roll, lounge and play on the carpet or floor on which these these compounds reside, there is real danger for them.

The new study adds an alarming wrinkle.  Previously, nicotine was thought to be relatively nontoxic, even if addictive.  Wrong, wrong, wrong, according to Hugo Destaillats, a chemist with the Indoor Environment Department of Berkeley’s Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division.  Destaillats says…”residual nicotine reacts with the ambient nitrous acid (and) forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines – known as TSNAs.  TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke.”  In other words, in addition to all it’s other toxins, cigarette smoke leaves a residue of nicotine on your household surfaces, and nitrous acid, which is everywhere in most households (it comes from un-vented appliances for instance), converts it into very nasty stuff.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that you need a large amount of cigarette smoke to create these disastrous, health destroying carcinogens.  A little nicotine goes a long way, and acts very quickly in creating carcinogens.  The study showed an up to .4 % conversion of nicotine to TSNAs in the first hour alone.  Lead study author Mohamad Sleiman says, “Given the rapid absorption and persistence of high levels of nicotine on indoor surfaces, including clothing and human skin, our finding indicate that third-hand smoke represents an unappreciated health hazard through dermal exposure, dust inhalation and ingestion.”

Even on metal surfaces, the danger is quite significant.  The surfaces of the stainless steel glove compartment in the truck of a heavy smoker, revealed substantial levels of the TSNAs known as NNN and NNK.  Both are potent carcinogens.  A 1980 study published in Cancer Research showed that, “NNN induces lung adenomas, esophageal and nasal cavity tumors, and tracheal tumors.”  NNK was found to be even more carcinogenic.

And TSNAs don’t only cause lung and esophageal cancer.  They’ve also been linked to oral cancer and cervical cancer.  In fact, studies have shown you don’t need to smoke nicotine to reap the punishment.  NNN and NNK have been strongly linked with the excess of oral cancers found among snuff users.  That ought to give you chills, when you think about your toddler putting a toy in his or her mouth that was dragged across a carpet that smells of tobacco smoke.

Even if you go outside to smoke, the nicotine residue that you bring back into the house (or car) on your clothes and skin, rubs off on household surfaces.  Children and toddlers are most at risk, because their young skin is vulnerable to dermal uptake of TSNAs.  Knowing this, take ease that you are not being overly fussy when you try to avoid being in the presence of tobacco smoke or it’s residue.

Smoking is not sexy or cool.  It is a dangerous habit that only destroys and compromises the health of the smoker and all those who share space with them.  If you smoke, make a commitment to yourself and your loved ones to quit.  Start your “stop smoking campaign” today.  You and your family’s health depend on it.

Bon Veggie Appetit!

Gina ‘The Veggie Goddess’

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