Last edit: 10/06/15

Dangers and Effects of Third Hand Smoke

The health risks and effects of environmental tobacco smoke have been well documented for decades.

The 2006 Surgeon General's Report asserts there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.

126 million people are exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Toxins and odors from tobacco smoke can drift in the air, into adjacent rooms or apartments.

Cracks under doors, plumbing and electrical conduits, and HVAC ducts can carry the fumes.

Patios and balconies in multi-unit dwellings are easily contaminated by neighbor's drifting smoke.

Most people, smokers and nonsmokers alike, are aware that second-hand smoke is dangerous.

But a growing body of evidence accumulating over recent years shows tobacco toxins persist in indoor environments and automobile cabins, long after the visible smoke is gone.

This residual secondhand smoke has not had a popular name until recently.

The problem is far from new.

Only the name is new.

"Thirdhand Smoke."

Third Hand Smoke

Pediatricians from MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston used the name “third-hand smoke” to describe these persisting tobacco residuals in a study that surveyed attitudes and awareness of the risks to infants and children.

Published in the January edition of the journal Pediatrics, the study simply coined a new term, citing existing literature as evidence for the phenomenon.

So now the long term indoor effects of smoking have a name: "third-hand-smoking."

Third-hand smoke is residual tobacco smoke contamination that accumulates in indoor living spaces and on the hair, skin, clothing, and personal effects of smokers.

The Pediatrics survey focused on the personal aspect, and the direct transfer of tobacco toxins to small children from parents and caregivers.

Mainstream media reports of the study have also emphasized the personal aspects of third hand smoking - the odors and contaminants carried on the bodies, hands, and clothing of smokers - but not what I see as the big issue.

Yes, infants and children can be harmed by residual smoke toxins on their parents or caregivers.

What is being overlooked, and of importance to readers of air-purifier-power, is massive contamination of indoor living spaces by long term habitual indoor tobacco use.

3rd hand smoke residuals are toxic particulate that settles onto surfaces and dangerous volatile organic compounds that saturate furniture, carpet, and coat existing house dust.

In 2004, Prof. Georg Matt of San Diego University and colleagues, in a study published in the journal Tobacco Control, found that tobacco by-products were trapped in households, and found in the urine of inhabitants, for several months after smoking ceased.

Matt's group found nicotine throughout smokers' homes. Levels were lower, but still present when residents smoked outside.

Research confirms what chemically sensitive individuals have known for years - smoking in the home leaves persistently high levels of tobacco toxins long after the smoking stops.

These volatile toxic compounds will outgass into the air for months after the last cigarette is gone.

Airborne tar and nicotine from tobacco smoke is carried on air currents, leaving a yellow coating on walls and ceilings, interior surfaces of HVAC ducting, and other hard-to-reach areas.

Don't be fooled by the illusion of TV commercials where they turn on an air purifier and smoke disappears.

This performance cannot be maintained for long.

The film of tobacco residuals is what dramatically shortens the accumulator plate life of electrostatic air purifiers used in smoking environments.

Every HEPA air filter will clog up quickly with tar in homes where tobacco is used.

The odor of tobacco smoke comes from gases in the smoke, not particles. So HEPA filters alone will not remove the smoking smell.

Activated carbon chemical filters will have even shorter service lives where smoking is the norm.

This is one of the reasons why air purifiers cannot make smoking "safe" for non-smokers in a smoking household.

Health Hazards of Third Hand Smoke

Cigarette smoke is a cocktail of over 4000 chemicals. Most of these are persistent.

The health effects of low levels of nicotine vapor and tobacco smoke particulate are not in dispute.

Of approximately 250 known carcinogens found in third-hand smoke, 11 are considered "class 1."

The list of 3rd-hand cancer-causers includes;

cadmium (causes "smoker's leg"),
hydrogen cyanide,
and radioactive polonium-210.

Even at low levels, compounds in third-hand tobacco smoke can effect nerve and brain tissue.

Tobacco particulates have been implicated in cognitive deficits in children, associated with lower reading scores.

Rug Rats in Danger

Third-hand smoke endangers the health of children due to their increased exposure.

Small children are vulnerable when in close proximity, being held and handled by smokers, as was sensationalized by the media.

But rug rats are most exposed to third-hand smoke because they crawl and play on contaminated carpets and furniture.

They touch and mouth toys, stuffed animals, and other items in the dust-laden lower levels of their living space.

Dust particles are not uniformly distributed, but aggregate and settle to the floor.

Only finer particles remain suspended.

Each draft, pet or person walking, and door/window opening stirs up clouds of dust.

Crawling on all fours across carpeting envelopes the very young in a permanent haze, coating the hands they promptly insert in their mouths.

The Matt study estimated 43% of children 2 months to 11 years inhabit smoking environments.

A nicotine byproduct, cotinine, is found in these kid's urine and hair shafts.

Babies whose family smoked nearby measured cotinine levels almost 50 times more concentrated than those in non-smoking households.

Economic Risks of Third Level Tobacco Residues

Buyer beware.

The costs of 3rd-hand contamination are starting to be evident - even the 20% of smokers who don't want to quit are feeling the effects.

Any real estate transaction needs to be looked at carefully - seller concealment of prior smoke damage history is becoming a tort liability issue.

Before you buy a used car, rent an apartment or a house, or buy personal items on eBay, you should investigate the property's smoking history.

Every experienced car buyer or seller knows that smoked-in rides draw fewer resale dollars.

Thirdhand tobacco smoke accumulation in upholstery and carpets is one of several reasons rental cars are turned over frequently.

Many landlords now seek to protect their property with nonsmoking tenancy agreements.

Home contamination by tobacco residue depends on the amount of tobacco consumption and duration of exposure.

A house can incur costly damage from indoor burning - smoking, candles, incense, and poorly managed stoves and fireplaces have run up big bills.

New paint, carpet, upholstery, and drapes can be required before the home is put on the market.

Following the "subprime lending" crisis, these smoky homes are harder to move.

Leather and suede items, including purses, wallets, jackets, and motorcycle safety gear are smoke magnets.

Clothing hanging in closets has been yellowed beyond repair.

Selling high-dollar smoker-damaged leather items without full disclosure is a growing scam on eBay and other online auctions.

Clean Up

At this point, most folks, smokers or not, will want to clean-up this problem and reduce the danger to loved ones and third parties.

Third-hand smoke, especially multi-year accumulation, isn’t easy to get rid of.

Once indoor smoking has been stopped, cleanup can begin.

Many have tried to remove thirdhand residues with cleaning solutions and elbow grease, most with limited success.

When you hope to clean before repainting there are very few non-toxic solutions.

I have seen the following proposed;

baking soda,
hydrogen peroxide,
dry coffee grounds,
cat litter absorbents,
placing items in direct sunlight,
running in dryer on low.

My favorite (someone really does this): a can of Coca-Cola (not diet) per load of wash. (One more reason not to use soft drinks.)

I have found many forums where people struggle with tobacco-damaged homes, furnishings, and personal property, using a variety of toxic chemical cleansers and odor-masks, also with limited success.

These will not be listed here.

Odor-masking, using "air freshener" scents that confuse the senses into believing no danger exists, is anathema here.

Tobacco smoke smells bad for a reason, to warn us to move away from poison.

Painters say that primer must be applied first where the plan is to seal toxins and odors under a fresh coat of paint.

Cover-up is not clean-up, and fresh paint has toxic effects of its own.

I recommend a comprehensive residential detoxification plan, especially where an ex-smoker is trying to stay clean.

After years of smoking, subtle vapors trigger addiction responses in the brain, making quitting more difficult in a contaminated home.

For starters, let's oxidize those third hand vapors with shock ozone treatments.

Ozone Generators for 3rd Hand Smoke

The the "laundering" style of tobacco smoke remediation is labor-intensive, expensive, and fails to reach remote contaminated areas, especially hidden carpet pads, drywall, insulation, and HVAC coils/duct work.

Some folks have scrubbed everything, repainted every room, bought new furniture, and replaced carpet/curtains, and still have the smoky stink.

Smoking remediation is one of the few instances where I immediately recommend an Ozone machine.

As a lifetime chemical sensitive and frequent traveler, I have stayed in every class of hotel/motel accommodation far more than I would like to.

Often these are horribly contaminated with third hand tobacco residues.

Cheap outfits often convert smoking rooms to non-smoking by simply removing ashtrays and changing emblems on the door.

Mid-priced motels will often resort to chintzy "air freshener" sprays which mask the odor, do nothing for the toxicity, and may be toxic themselves.

Better hotels have known about this issue for generations, and quietly employ ozone generators and HEPA vacuum cleaners to remove the effects of third hand smoking.

Homeowners can rent ozone machines by the day or week.

For smoke remediation using ozone, the home must be vacant.

In most cases the machine should be rated a minimum 1000 mg/hr O3 output.

2000 mg/hour would be better.

For car detoxification, 400 mg/hr.

Forget the deodorizers hanging from the rear view mirror, they're only fooling you.

Leave the machine running for 1-3 days in each room with the whole-house AC fan running.

To be effective, ozone levels must be higher than humans and pets can tolerate, far above the merely unhealthy concentrations produced by ozone-based "air purifiers."

Professionals will use ozone meters to verify peak O3 concentrations.

Concentrated ozone penetrates walls, carpets, draperies, furniture, and HVAC components.

Odors will disappear fairly quickly, but to oxidize solvents and chemicals the O3 generator must be left on longer.

Air the house out completely before reentry.

Ozone will kill mold and eliminate other odors, but does not destroy particulate.

Everything must now be carefully washed and vacuumed.

Quality high-powered HEPA air cleaners should now be installed.

Ozone generators are not suitable for routine air purification, they should be run only when all living things are absent!

Can We All Just Get Along?

The dangers of third-hand smoke are very real.

Yet about one-third of smokers will always be in denial, refusing to accept the dangers of third-hand smoking, even while their home's white surfaces visibly yellow from cigarette smoke.

Recent Gallup polls show that 35% of smokers accept the "very harmful" nature of second hand smoke, compared to 63% of nonsmokers.

Third hand smoke will be very hard for some to acknowledge.

I am concerned that this evidence will widen the gap between already harassed smokers and those, like me, who seek protection from their dangerous emissions.

With the evidence that smokers carry toxins on their bodies, we are witnessing the manufacturing of a new minority group.

Some say now is the time to pass even more draconian legislation, banning smoking in private homes and cars.

In my strongly anti-smoking opinion, this is a mistake.

Smoking will never be made completely illegal.

Tobacco was one of the USA's first exports, and is today a multi-billion-dollar entrenched industry.

Government dependence on revenue from tobacco taxes, industry lobbying, and big tobacco campaign money will stall federal action.

Some local jurisdictions talk of banning of all smoking, even on private property.

Three states have passed laws which criminalize smoking in cars when children under 18 are present.

This has produced ridiculous scenes of traffic cops stopping drivers for smoking.

Police have more important work, don't need more unenforceable laws, and will have minuscule impact on the smoking problem overall.

Third hand effects of smoking are concentrated in private homes and vehicles.

These expensive, intrusive, and unenforceable rules won't solve the problem.

Only responsible smoking by adult smokers will.

I believe most smokers, at least the 80% who want to quit, will choose to protect their loved ones and the public once they understand the danger.

Rather than criminalizing smoking we should be asking smokers to take measures to protect nonsmokers from third level contaminants - harm reduction strategies.

One of the easiest remedies is moving smoking outdoors.

This practice alone reduces third hand contamination to one-eighth the levels of indoor smoking.

Wearing a smoking jacket which stays outdoors, washing hands after smoking, and frequent bathing can lower this at very low cost.

Further decontamination procedures can be established as time goes on.

Compressed air hoses are widely used in industry to remove particulate.

High-tech cleanrooms have air-suction chambers to remove even the finest particles at entries.

Solutions can be found.

Smoking, as many marijuana brownie munchers can attest, is not the only method of drug use.

US President Barack Obama, struggling to quit smokes, chews Nicorette gum while confronting a White House smoking ban instituted by Hillary Clinton as First Lady.

Pharmaceutical aids for smoking cessation, some available over the counter, can stop the emissions without the suffering of cold-turkey withdrawals.

Prescription nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) is an alternative that produces no emissions.

In the long term, additional laws will not solve the smoking epidemic, currently affecting over 20% of Americans and spreading globally.

Smoking has to become socially unacceptable to young people.

80% of adult smokers took their first puff before the age of 18.

3,000 kids a day start smoking, including an average 20% of high schoolers.

Try telling these kids something is illegal if you want to be sure they rush to do it.

Socialization campaigns targeting pre-teen opinion leaders will do more good, for less money, than any number of totalitarian laws.

Smokers can protect everyone's rights, and their own property, by smoking responsibly and protecting children and others from third hand smoke residues.

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