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.
Sources: http://newscenter.lbl.gov Accessed Feb. 2010
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