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The Dangers of Third-Hand Smoke Exposed

What choices will you make?
What choices will you make?
Image: Dynamite Imagery /

Most people are already aware of the dangers of smoking and even that of second-hand smoke, but a study released just this month has revealed a new threat:  third-hand smoke.  According to the study, led by researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, when a cigarette burns, nicotine is released in the form of a vapor that collects and condenses on indoor surfaces such as walls, carpeting, drapes and furniture, where it can linger for months.  When the leftover nicotine reacts with nitrous acid, naturally found in the atmosphere, it forms some of the strongest and most active cancer-causing agents present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke.  The most likely exposure to these poisons happens through breathing in the dust in contaminated areas or the contact of skin and clothes.  This fact means that even if smokers don't smoke directly around non-smokers, they may still put others at risk, especially infants and toddlers.  Opening a window or turning on a fan to air out a room while a cigarette burns does not eliminate the hazard of third-hand smoke. Smoking outdoors doesn't help much either.

"Smoking outside is better than smoking indoors but nicotine residues will stick to a smoker's skin and clothing," said Lara Gundel, a co-author of the ground-breaking study.

"Those residues follow a smoker back inside and get spread everywhere. The biggest risk is to young children," she said.

Study co-author James Pankow points out that the results of this study should raise concerns about the purported safety of electronic cigarettes. Also known as “e-cigarettes,” electronic cigarettes claim to provide the “smoking experience,” but without the risks of cancer. A battery-powered vaporizer inside the tube of a plastic cigarette turns a solution of nicotine into a smoky mist that can be inhaled and exhaled like tobacco smoke. Since no flame is required to ignite the e-cigarette and there is no tobacco or combustion, e-cigarettes are not restricted by anti-smoking laws.

“Nicotine, the addictive substance in tobacco smoke, has until now been considered to be non-toxic in the strictest sense of the term,” says Kamlesh Asotra of the University of California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, which funded this study. “What we see in this study is that the reactions of residual nicotine with nitrous acid at surface interfaces are a potential cancer hazard, and these results may be just the tip of the iceberg.”

Unfortunately, there is no way around it.  The more we study the effects of smoking, the more deadly consequences are uncovered and the more innocent victims are affected.  The only real solution is to educate one another about the dangers of smoking and eradicate smoking by getting help through programs like the Tobacco Treatment Program at MD Anderson and encouraging others to do the same.

For more information on this study, please click here.  To learn more about smoking cessation, please click here.

Sources:   Accessed Feb. 2010

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  • Jessica 5 years ago

    Can't we all just quit smoking?!?!

  • Gray 5 years ago

    Let's follow the money, instead of the smoke! It's the "Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program" which funds this study. And not only this one, but the research of lots of scientists at Berkeley, among them Gundel, are paid from this source.
    Check their website and search for grants for "Berkeley" (not allowed to post the link here).

    Hmm, imho this is something that should be noted in those news reports, don't you think? Well, and why was TRDRP created? "The Legislature asked the University of California to establish and administer a research program to facilitate the elimination of smoking in California"! So they say on their own website.

    Uhuh, so a program whose purpose is to get rid of smoking, funds studies which consequently find that all things nicotine are harmful? What a surprise!!! And only nitpicking people would conclude that such an approach, where the desired result is known before the research even starts, isn't totally in line with scientific eethics...

  • Ron Jenkins 5 years ago

    I've smoked for years, had many health problems and still find it hard to quit...but I'm not so blind that I believe they aren't harmful!

  • Lissa 5 years ago

    Sorry, Gray--whatever money is being used to fund studies against smoking is pennies compared to the money that goes into the tobacco pushers PR machine...

  • Renauld 5 years ago

    I knew there had to be a catch to those stupid electronic cigarettes!! Ban them from the mall!

  • esbella 5 years ago


  • Destinee 5 years ago

    Go E.T !!! You are the man!!! Keep Writing. Any company would be the luckiest company in the world to have you!!!!!!!!!

  • Maria 5 years ago

    Wow, I was actually impressed by the electronic cigarettes. I'm so glad this writer is posting these articles. America needs more men like him. :)

  • Jane 5 years ago

    Very enlightening article. I didn't even know what third hand smoke was until I read this. I've seen too many friends and relatives who tried ever so hard and could not quit but according to this, they are harming more than just themselves. I think the key to stopping smoking is prevention.

  • Jeanetta 5 years ago

    Not many people reported the electronic cigarette hazard--even on major outlets. Nice work!

  • BRIAN PARK 5 years ago

    GOOD. Many people still suffering deadly habit~~2nd or 3rd ... whatever they are all victims from nicotine~!!!

  • awakenist 5 years ago

    it is absolutely incredible that no one here actually read the article. when a cigarette BURNS the SMOKE residue attaches to walls and surfaces and such. when an e-cig user inhales, they receive VAPOR, not smoke. comparing smoke to vapor is dumb. smoke and vapor don't even have similar physical properties. looks like its time for you all to get a little freshening up on basic science. i'm pretty sure we went over this at my school in 4th grade. oh well...

  • Camille - Dallas Health & Beauty Examiner 5 years ago

    Interesting and scary article...what a nasty habit.

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