Thirdhand Smoke - The Unseen Danger
It has been known for a very long time that secondhand smoke is bad for you. Secondhand smoke is also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and is a mixture of 2 forms of smoke that come from tobacco as it burns. These two forms of smoke are mainstream smoke, which is the smoke that is exhaled by a smoker; and sidestream smoke, which comes from the burning end of a cigarette, cigar, pipe, or tobacco burning in a hookah.
What is Thirdhand Smoke?
A lesser known form of smoke exposure is thirdhand smoke. Even if you have never heard the term before, I can almost guarantee you've smelled it. A person walks past you and you can tell they've been smoking, or you walk into a home & it's the first thing you smell even when no one there is currently smoking.
Thirdhand smoke is defined as residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. The term “thirdhand smoke” first appeared in print in 2006 and became more widely known in 2009 when it began to really be studied. In 2010 the term was well established and researchers began to define it as the “three Rs”: thirdhand smoke consists of residual tobacco smoke pollutants that Remain on surfaces and in dust after tobacco has been smoked, are Re-emitted back into the air and Reacts with oxidants and other compounds to create secondary pollutants.
Nicotine leaves a very sticky residue that sticks to carpet, sofas, walls, bedding, windows, drapes and blinds, dust, clothing and the list goes on and on. It builds up over time and penetrates deep into floorboards and walls, making it very difficult to remove and clean. Thirdhand smoke cannot be removed by opening windows to air out a room since it clings to everything it touches.
The smoking residue can then re-mix back into the air, causing more exposure. A study was done in 2010 which showed that thirdhand smoke can cause the formation of carcinogens (http://m.pnas.org/content/107/15/6576.full.pdf) when the nicotine in tobacco smoke reacts with nitrous acid (which is a common component of room air) to cause the hazardous carcinogenic compounds. And since nicotine sticks so well and remains on surfaces throughout a home or place, the carcinogens will continue to be created over time which are inadvertently inhaled, ingested and/or ingested.
Greatest risk of thirdhand smoke to kids
Children are at highest risk of thirdhand smoke because they tend to touch (and in infants/toddlers) and crawl around and put their hands in their mouths after touching surfaces with nicotine residue and ingesting it. Researchers are currently studying the effects on human DNA as some believe exposure to thirdhand smoke can alter a persons DNA.
Thirdhand smoke: tough to eliminate
The nicotine residue builds up over time and can last for weeks, months, and even years. Removing the reside is very difficult. Airing out the home or room won't get rid of it and the residue resists normal cleaning products. Often times the only solution to completely get rid of the residue is to replace the furniture, carpeting, flooring, scraping and repainting walls and in extreme cases having to replace drywall &/or plaster on the walls.
The same goes for the upholstery in a motor vehicle and goes beyond to the air filters as well.
Thirdhand smoke is definitely a real danger and as asthmatics, we need to be careful and try to limit our exposure as much as possible.
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