Capt. Mayamona Aiken, U.S. Army Public Health Nursing, WBAMC
Have you ever noticed the smell of cigarette smoke in an area where no one appears to be smoking, or the lingering smell of cigarettes in a hotel room previously occupied by smokers? Cigarette smoke clings to hair, clothing, cushions, carpeting, furniture and toys after a cigarette is put out. It also clings to food and dust. This is referred to as "thirdhand smoke"-- leftover residue with the strong scent of smoke that remains on the surfaces of objects long after secondhand smoke has cleared.
Thirdhand smoke is considered a hazard because it contains toxic gases and chemicals (i.e. nicotine, tar, butane, paint thinners, arsenic, lead and carbon monoxide) that you cannot see. These chemicals pose a health risk because they combine with the air and other pollutants to make cancer-causing substances. They are absorbed through the skin by touching contaminated surfaces, inhaling dust or by ingestion (eating or drinking). Young children can get these chemicals on their hands especially if they are crawling or playing on the floor. People are also exposed through shared ventilation, air ducts and leaky walls in apartment buildings.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it can take two to three minutes for a smoker to stop exhaling the toxins of smoke after their last puff. Thirdhand smoke can remain on the smoker long enough to settle in places considered smoke-free. Studies have shown that it takes two hours for the air quality to return to normal after a single cigarette was smoked in a bedroom.
In addition, thirdhand smoke can accumulate. One study showed that thirdhand smoke contamination remained on surfaces to include house dust even after a home was vacant for two months and cleaned.
To reduce the hazard, many parents smoke when their children are out of the house. People turn on fans to ventilate the room or open a window in a car to get rid of the smoke. These actions do not protect people from thirdhand smoke. The only way to protect non-smoking family members completely is for all smokers to quit. Protect your loved ones and promote a healthier air space.
If you smoke, here are some tips to reduce thirdhand smoke contamination:
- Get help with quitting smoking.
- Wash your hands, change clothes and brush your teeth after smoking and before holding or feeding babies and young children.
- Keep your home and car tobacco-free. Detoxify your home and car.
- Open windows and doors to let in fresh air or use a high-quality indoor air purification system.
- Do a thorough cleaning. Wash clothing, bedcovers, drapes and furnishings including windows, doors, walls, ceilings, kitchen cabinets, light fixtures, blinds and shades.
- Steam clean carpets and upholstery with a cleaning agent, not just a deodorizer.
- Remove smoke-filled wallpaper.
- Replace all heating and air conditioning filters regularly.
- Use several coats of non-toxic sealant and paint on walls to prevent odors and nicotine from leeching through the paint.