Smoking is Really Bad
No one can deny that smoking is bad for your health and most people are now aware of the hazards of second hand smoke. But most are unaware of the potential health hazards of third hand smoke. It is fair to say that the majority of people would be hard put to state what the term, “third hand smoke” actually means. So let’s begin with a definition. Third hand smoke refers to the residual smoke contamination that exists after the cigarette has been extinguished. It is the tobacco residue that collects within a room, coating curtains, carpets, walls, furniture and even dust particles. It also collects on the smoker themselves infesting their skin, hair and clothes. It represents the stale tobacco smell we can detect in a room days after the last cigarette was stubbed out. The smell eventually dissipates, unless continually renewed with more smoke, but the invisible coating remains.
The Health Risk of Third Hand Smoke
Should we be worried? Is it possible that third hand smoke poses a real health risk or is it just another way of stigmatising the already beleaguered smoking community? Third hand smoke is a relatively new concept and scientific research into its possible health effects is in its infancy. However, the toxins present in burnt tobacco will also be present in third hand smoke. The degree of hazard will be related to environmental exposure which is in turn dependant on the volume of the room and the extent of the tobacco exposure over time. The resulting coating caused by third hand smoke is stubborn and resists removal by normal cleaning and airing of rooms.
The Research into Third Hand Smoke
Research has shown that nicotine deposited on furniture and fabrics reacts with atmospheric pollution to produce a group of chemical compounds called nitrosamines. This is of particular concern as this class of chemical is a known carcinogen. The question that needs to be answered is whether these cancer causing chemicals can be absorbed by people. Dust particles containing these chemicals could be inhaled providing one route for direct lung contamination. Developing children are uniquely vulnerable to low level toxins. Their small size means that they are closer to contaminated surfaces. They are also likely to mouth items of furniture and clothing. The ultimate risk to those exposed to third hand smoke is difficult to calculate. However, the risk is unlikely to be negligible. The chemicals present are known toxins, many of which have no known safe exposure levels.
Don’t Smoke at Work
The potential hazards are starting to be recognised by employers. The Indiana University Health Medical Centre has not only banned smoking from its campus it has also implemented a policy whereby workers are also forbidden to smoke during the work day.
Times are certainly changing. Not only do we need to worry about direct exposure to smoke we now need to consider exposure from contaminants long after the cigarette has been put out. All this adds to one more incentive why smokers should quit their dangerous and ultimately fatal habit.