Health Today Lifestyle Patient Awareness

What is Third-hand Smoking and What Does it Mean for People Around You?

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The term passive smoking has become common parlance now, for being in the vicinity of someone who is smoking. However, there is yet another form of passive smoking known as Third-hand smoke, which involves inhaling residual nicotine left on indoor surfaces. This can be particularly harmful since it can cause damage to the DNA.

Moreover, third-hand smoking is dangerous because it often mixes with pollutants and develops into cancer-causing compounds. Third-hand smoke initially develops from the nicotine that settles and spreads onto several indoor surfaces. Over time, certain harmful chemicals are released from these indoor surfaces and breathing them in can be as harmful as passive second-hand smoking. 

Who are the most at risk from third-hand smoke?

Since passive second-hand smoke is something that people have become conscious about to some extent, family members are often kept at bay when a person is smoking. However, the concept of third-hand smoke is fairly unknown to most smokers. Therefore, children and other non-smoking adults within the same closed or partially open indoor space may be at the highest risk of being exposed to such cancer-causing compounds.

  • Effect on Infants

If there are infants inside the house, third-hand smoke can be even more dangerous. This is because infants who haven’t learnt to walk yet, are usually in high contact with the floor and have their hands touching it most of the time. Nicotine from tobacco smoke settles and clings to such floor surfaces. Since infants have the habit of putting their hands inside the mouth quite often, this nicotine along with other harmful chemicals can easily enter their bodies.

  • Effect on Non-smoking Adults

For non-smoking adults, the effect of such cancer-causing compounds can be severe on their bodies. The detrimental impacts of passive smoking in non-smoking adults can include cancer of the nasal sinuses, throat and breast cancer, along with short and long-term respiratory symptoms and even the permanent loss of certain lung functions.

What are the negative effects of third-hand smoke?

Since nicotine is one of the several deadly cancer-causing compounds, it has been identified as the leading cause of several forms of sinus, throat, breast and lung cancer. One study has particularly found that undetected damage to DNA could be one serious consequence of third-hand smoke in both children and non-smoking adults. This genetic damage along with the entry of cancerous compounds into the human body can often result in compound health ailments for people of all ages.

Moreover, in several cases, such third-hand smoke tends to remain and even accumulate on the smoker’s skin. It is also assumed that when a smoker comes in contact with a group of people, the entire group can fall prey to the damaging effects of third-hand smoke.

The Cleveland Clinic has identified several harmful effects of being exposed to third-hand smoke. Apart from the dangerous effects of cancerous substances like nicotine and damage to DNA, this type of passive smoking can also cause further damage to the respiratory system of non-smokers. When nicotine from tobacco clings to surfaces like clothes, walls, curtains, furniture, etc, it reacts with the Nitrous acids found in the atmosphere and forms different types of cancer-causing compounds.

Moreover, eliminating this nicotine residue is quite impossible since it is not directly visible. This residue can cling to indoor surfaces for several months and even years at a stretch. Ensuring proper ventilation in the room has little effect on this residue and it also evades the action of vacuum cleaners.

The only plausible solution to eliminate this residue from third-hand smoke may be to repaint the walls, replace all curtains and carpets and perform extensive cleaning of the ventilation systems inside the house. The entire process is quite expensive, to say the least and hence it is best to quit smoking in order to prevent the risk of third-hand smoke in the first place.

Prevention of third-hand smoke

Since such cancerous residue cannot be expelled simply by proper ventilation and can often be carried around the housing via clothing, it may be helpful to take some preventive measures. 

  • Avoid smoking inside your home or in your car.
  • Whenever you have been in the vicinity of a smoker, it is advisable to immediately wash all clothes as soon as you return home. You must ensure that you take a thorough bath first before roaming about inside your house as the residue from your clothes could be transferred to other surfaces inside the house.
  • In case you have had a smoker inside your house, it is advisable that you thoroughly wash all bedding and linen, like bed sheets, blankets, pillow covers, curtains, etc. This will ensure that the cancer-causing compounds do not linger on inside your house.
  • You can also wet and dry mop all tiled and other hard surfaces like counters, tabletops, floors, walls, etc with potent cleaning solutions. 
  • If you have children at home, you will usually have childrens’ toys lying around. The residue from third-hand smoke can even accumulate on these toys and prove harmful for your child. Therefore, it is recommended that you thoroughly wash and clean these toys as well since they are high-contact surfaces for your child.
  • Finally, if there is an active smoker in your house, it is beneficial to have them take a bath, wash and change their clothes after smoking, to prevent you or other non-smokers inside the house from being exposed to third-hand smoke.

Conclusion

Since third-hand smoke is a relatively new area of research, there is still a lot to be uncovered about its long-term effects on non-smokers and ways to prevent them. Moreover, lockdown during the pandemic has increased people’s chances of exposure to such cancer-causing compounds because of having to be in constant contact with someone at home who smokes. This can often cause irreparable damage to DNA and the only solution is either for the smoker to quit smoking or refrain from smoking at home to minimise chances of third-hand smoke.

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

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