Walk into someone’s house and you can immediately smell if they are or were smokers., because the remnants of cigarette smoke blanketing walls, furniture, drapes and carpeting smells awful. Remove a picture from the wall and you will notice how yellow the wall is from the smoke. While you may not be able to see the smoke, it lingers on surfaces long after you put the ignited tobacco out. Even if you take your smoking outside, the residue still clings to your clothing, hair, and skin and you bring in back inside with you. Scientists are now saying this thirdhand smoke, which you cannot see, may be as dangerous as the secondhand smoke you can see.
According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, with at least 69 chemicals known to cause cancer. These toxic chemicals are deposited on surfaces, and although “these chemicals may be quite low in thirdhand smoke reside, they are dangerous when you have chronic exposure.” It is especially dangerous to those living with compromised immune systems or babies and young children who often crawl on the floors and touch surfaces.
One group of scientists have “found a link between thirdhand smoke and the presence of extremely hazardous carcinogenic compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.” Not only do these compounds increase cancer risk, they “can also trigger asthma attacks and eye, lung and throat irritation, interfere with wound-healing and cause cardiovascular problems.”
It also takes more than just vacuuming and cleaning and painting the walls to remove or contain the compounds. At the moment, according to the scientists, “there are no real known solutions for cleaning up thirdhand smoke.” With the help of a grant, the scientists will be spending the next three years recruiting study participants who live in low-income housing to access what type of cleaning is needed in order to make them safer for living.
Until we learn what will work to minimize thirdhand smoke exposure, the scientists offer some suggestions, such as not smoking cigarettes or electronic cigarettes in homes or cars, staying in smoke-free rooms in hotels and renting smoke-free vehicles. If you rent an apartment or home, ask about prior tobacco use and stay away from places where smoking was allowed.