Third-hand smoke could linger for decades, study reports

Scientists studying cigarettes found that third-hand smoke can stay in areas for years.
By Joseph Scalise | Feb 15, 2019
Cigarette chemicals have the ability to travel through the air and contaminate areas where no one has smoked for decades, a new study published in the journalScience Advancesreports.

This finding comes from scientists at Drexel University and gives further insight into the dangers of smoking. Not only do cigarettes affect the person using them, but they are generally harmful to people around them as well.

For the research, the team broke down so-called third hand smoke -- which refers to the chemicals left behind by cigarettes -- and discovered that it can stay on both clothing and indoor surfaces for years.

"While many public areas have restrictions on smoking, including distance from doorways, non-smoking buildings and even full smoking bans on campus for some universities, these smoking limitations often only serve to protect non-smoking populations from exposure to second-hand smoke," said study co-author Michael Waring, an associate professor at Drexel University, in a statement. "This study shows that third-hand smoke, which we are realizing can be harmful to health as second-hand smoke, is much more difficult to avoid."

The team started the paper after a researcher at Drexel University analyzed how outdoor air particles change when they enter buildings.

He analyzed a classroom that had been smoke free for more than 20 years and found thata staggering 29 percent of the room's air mass was made up of chemicals found in third-hand smoke.

Researchers followed up on those findings by simulating third-hand smoke within a lab setting and pumping it into a glass container. After removing the smoke and exposing the container to outside air, scientists discovered that air that came into contact with the container had a 13 percent increase in toxic chemicals compared to normal air.

This finding builds on past evidence that shows third-hand smoke chemicals can settle on sterile surfaces and return to the gas phase when exposed to chemicals like ammonia. Such evidence is cause for concern because, not only are smoke free areas not as safe as many believe, but air conditioning systems can easily transport harmful particles around buildings.

Now that scientists have an idea of how third-hand smoke operates, they next plan to follow up on how it could affect the general public. They also plan to see if e-cigarettes have a similar effect and if their research can spur officials into action.


"Because the use of tobacco products has such a strong effect on indoor air chemistry, enforcing strong smoke-free policies and providing comprehensive services to smokers who wish to quit are vital tools to keep indoor air clean and protect the public health," saidSuzaynn Schick, an associate professor at the University of California, San Francisco who was not involved in the research, according toCBS News.


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