Thirdhand smoke is starting to receive attention as another risk of exposure to tobacco smoke. Researchers have been concerned about exposure to the lingering toxic chemicals from tobacco smoke but didn't have a name for it until recently. The term was coined by Dr. Winickoff for an article published by Pediatrics about the relative knowledge about the effects of exposure to second and third hand smoke.
Tobacco smoke is made up of both gaseous and particle material. The composition of tobacco smoke can vary greatly depending on whether the smoke is coming from the tip of the cigarette, (known as side stream smoke), off of the filtered end of the cigarette or is being exhaled by the smoker. Secondhand smoke is a combination of both side stream smoke and exhaled smoke and has been shown to increase health risks to non-smokers. When the components of secondhand smoke fall onto indoor objects such as furniture, clothing, skin or the inside of a car, this is known as "thirdhand smoke". It is not really smoke at all but the fine particle material left over. Some of the toxic chemicals in thirdhand smoke include:
- Hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons).
- Carbon monoxide.
- Toluene (found in paint thinners).
- Chromium (used to make steel).
- Cadmium (used to make batteries).
- Polonium-210 (a highly radioactive carcinogen).
Research is just beginning to see if exposure to this particle material increases health risks to non-smokers that are exposed. This research could influence the resale value of cars of smokers or the rental or sales value of a house that had been occupied by a smoker.
But the real value of this research is the health effects on infants and children exposed to thirdhand smoke, especially infants who tend to put almost anything into his or her mouth and have a fast breathing pace than adults which increases their exposure. While research on human expsoure is in the beginning stages and is limited by ethical standards, research on pets can lead the way.
It has been shown that both dogs and cats of smokers, have higher rates of certain cancers than animals of nonsmokers due to the exposure of secondhand smoke. Dogs are prone to cancer of the nasal cavity and cats have a higher risk of maglignant lymphoma. But cats are also more prone to cancer of the tongue, which dogs are not. Cats will lick their coats, ingesting the particles of smoke or thirdhand smoke.
While research is limited, smokers with infants and small children are encouraged to limit their children's thirdhand smoke exposure by:
- Always smoking outside and away from infants and children
- Wear a "smoking" coat that can be taken off when around infants and children
- Don't smoke in a car where children normally ride
- Wash your hands after smoking and before holding infants and children
- Think about quitting to decrease the health risks to both yourself and your family