Getting it thirdhand

It’s common knowledge that smoking is bad for smokers. That’d be firsthand smoke. It’s also generally acknowledged that it’s harmful for nonsmokers to be around somebody smoking. That’s secondhand smoke. Now comes thirdhand smoke: the gases, particles and nicotine left on clothes, hair, and lingering in the air long after the smoker has crushed the cigarette. It, too, may be bad for us.

Environmental Health Perspectives describes how, in 1991, researchers found nicotine in the dust of smokers’ homes. Not surprising. Then, in 2004, they found it in the dust of people’s homes when no one had smoked there for three months. There was more of it in places like the living room, far less in places like an infant’s room, where parents didn’t smoke. But even when residents took their smoking outside, traces of nicotine could be found in the house. The only place nicotine wasn’t found in the dust was in homes where no one had ever smoked. A 2008 study found similar results in cars, where even a year-long smoking ban in a car in which cigarettes were formerly smoked was not enough to rid it of nicotine.

Now, researchers find that thirdhand smoke (THS) lingers after smokers move out of their homes, “even after being vacant for two months and being prepared for new residents, sometimes with new carpeting and paint,” the study describes.

Residual pollutants from cigarette smoke reenter the air and yield secondary pollutants, researchers find. It hasn’t been formally shown that thirdhand smoke is hazardous to human health, though it’s a concern, particularly for children, whose bodies take in more toxins per weight than do adults. It also raises questions about the impacts of smoke getting on clothes, particularly if the clothes are worn by people who then pick up or otherwise expose children, and what level of exposure puts various ages at risk.

Twenty-two percent of Nevadans smoke, and the state ranks 41 in the country for smoking.