The Hazard of Third-Hand Tobacco Smoke

Environmental tobacco smoke in a form of residue of clothes, carpets, furniture and other areas is referred to as third-hand smoke. It could enter into reaction with chemicals, like furniture to produce potential carcinogens, according to a recently published study.

Upon exposing a sheet of paper to tobacco smoke, scientists discovered the paper comprised newly produced cancer-causing substance, which levels were several times higher after it was exposed to an air chemical substance named nitrous acid contained in the vapors of household appliances. The discovery led the scientists into suggesting that there is another danger from tobacco smoke, unknown before that study, stated Lora Gondel, one of the leaders of the research.

Third-Hand smoking danger

“Now we should be aware about the danger of toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke which were not recognized previously,” admitted Gondel, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Previously, studies have found that tobacco smoke, breathed in by non-smokers increases the risk of severe health complications, including cardiovascular diseases and cancer. According to Gondel, more scientific evidence has to be collected to determine the danger of third-hand tobacco smoke.

The representatives of major U.S. tobacco companies, Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American and Lorillard did not answer to telephone calls to provide comments on that issue.

Third-hand smoke was discovered two years ago, when scientists found traces of tobacco smoke lingering on clothing, bedding, carpeting and furniture. The research was published in Pediatrics Journal in January 2009 issue.

The latest research discovered that when tobacco smoke residue reaches any surface, it gets mixed with chemicals formed by indoor cleaning solutions and together they form carcinogens, related to tobacco and commonly known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines, which are also contained in tobacco smoke.

During the research, a sheet of paper was exposed to tobacco smoke, and after that to nitrous acid, formed by gas ovens. The researches as well examined the levels of nitrosamines inside the cars of chain smokers.

In each of the cases the researches have discovered that nicotine residue entered into reaction with the nitrous acid to form nitrosamines.

The research also came to a landmark discovery finding that TSNA are not found in fresh tobacco smoke, but the levels of these nitrosamines are high in the third-hand smoke, and even higher in the reaction between third-hand smoke and indoor air chemicals.

Non-smokers, and especially children, are the most likely to be affected by the nitrosamines, either by direct contract with the surface, or breathing in the dust, the researchers stated. They also confirmed that ventilating the room would not destroy the danger of third-hand smoke, since the major part of nicotine residue and other chemicals of tobacco smoked, are absorbed by surfaces.

The scientists warned families to remove all surfaces that were exposed to tobacco smoke, such as bedding, carpeting and furniture in order to protect their children from the hazards of third-hand smoke.

The scientists are trying to identify how long tobacco-specific carcinogens may last after reaction between third-hand smoke and nitrous acid.