third hand smoke

Third Hand Smoke (THS) and its dangers

The dangers of active tobacco consumption and exposure to passive smoking are well known.

But did you know that third-hand smoke can also cause serious health problems?

First of all, we don’t want to scare anyone. Our goal is to help people quit smoking. We know that the so-called “fear method” (smokers are repeatedly told how harmful and disgusting smoking is) simply doesn’t help! It only makes it worse.

This article is an objective collection of facts and should not force anyone to stop.

In this article we answer the following questions in particular:

  • What exactly is THS?
  • Where do the toxic substances accumulate?
  • Where are people exposed to Third Hand smoke?
  • Through which organs are the substances absorbed into the body?
  • What can non-smokers do to protect themselves from third hand smoke?
  • How can smokers manage to say goodbye to cigarettes once and for all?

What is Third Hand Smoke (THS)?

The dangers of third hand smoke were first investigated in 2006. Third hand smoke is the tobacco residue from cigarettes, cigars and other tobacco products that can remain on surfaces and in the dust for months after someone has smoked a cigarette. In some situations, it can remain on the fabric even 1.5 years after the last exposure to cigarette smoke.

Many smokers and non-smokers do not know what third hand smoke is. We hope that this article will raise awareness of this potential health hazard. Many smoking adults (as we did then) think:

“I smoke outside so my family won’t be harmed in the house.”

The truth is: this is already a huge step in the right direction!

But smokers also carry chemicals like nicotine with their clothes indoors.

Third hand smoke on clothes

This sweater can contain the residues of a cigarette smoke and can be harmful to health. Hard to believe but unfortunately true.

Als Experten auf dem Themengebiet Rauchen waren wir selbst überrascht, als wir von den neuesten Erkenntnissen der Wissenschaft über das Thema gelesen haben.

It is important that we understand how real and harmful the THS is. (We already mentioned at the beginning that this method does not help in stopping. Please read on if you want to know what actually helps).

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Where do the harmful substances accumulate?

Tobacco smoke consists of numerous chemicals and particles, including carcinogens and heavy metals such as arsenic, plumb and cyanide. Sticky, highly toxic particles such as nicotine can adhere to walls and ceilings. Gases can be absorbed into dust in a room, carpets, curtains and other materials (such as clothes) or pillows.

A study has shown that these toxic substances return to the air and are harmful to health for a surprisingly long time.

A study has shown that these toxic substances return to the air and are harmful to health for a surprisingly long time.

Where is one exposed to third hand smoke?

Many are considering how to reduce THS at home. It is interesting to note that less often people think of other places that are also “contaminated” with the smoke. The smoke can be found in cars as well as in restaurants and bars.

One long-term study on passive smoking and Third-Hand-Smoke in a casino found extremely high levels of residues on surfaces and in dust particles. For example the unique attendance of this casino for 4 hours loaded the participant clearly. After a one-month smoking ban the surface nicotine sank by 90%. It is interesting that however nicotine and cancer-causing chemicals, which were in the dust, disappeared more slowly.

THS

Smoking is like visiting the casino: All participants lose, except the bank and the tax office.

It took 3 months for nicotine and carcinogenic chemicals in dust to decrease by 90%. Fortunately, 6 months after the smoking ban, there was little risk of THS exposure from a single 4-hour visit to the casino.

How does Third Hand Smoke get absorbed?

Harmful chemicals are usually absorbed through skin contact. If someone touches a surface where there is smoke residue, this residue ends up on their hands and becomes a greater risk if they touch their face or mouth.

A study found that third hand smoke could still be found in home dust even after the smoker moved out 2 months ago and the house was cleaned.

Another study found that smokers’ homes still contained the tobacco residues even 6 months after stopping smoking.

Health risks for children

Children are particularly vulnerable because of the way they are exposed to those harmful residues. Children often crawl and play on the floor and furniture, often putting things in their mouth. However, many parents are unaware of the dangers of tobacco smoke in the environment.

Parents should know that when they smoke in the car, their children can absorb the dangerous chemicals from the car seat even if the child was not in the car at the time of smoking. The same applies to smoking indoors. The more parents are aware of this issue, the lower the exposure of children will be.

THS harms children

Third hand smoke can also be found on the dust of a piano. Unfortunately harmful for children 

Why is Third Hand Smoke dangerous?

While occasional exposure to third hand smoke may not have long-term health effects, frequent exposure may increase the risk of developing cancer.

A study investigating the effects of third hand smoke found that exposed mice were more likely to develop lung cancer than mice not exposed to cold smoke.

THS is poisonous

Cigarette smoke residues can cause coughing, asthma and respiratory infections.

The following health risks have been associated with cold smoke:

  • THS can affect human health by damaging DNA and our genetic material, which can lead to cancer or other diseases. Related studies have also shown that newborns in households with smokers are more exposed to nicotine.

It is highly unlikely that exposure to THS for three hours can cause cancer. However, living in an apartment or house with third hand smoke, or where THS has been present, may well have health consequences.

  • Mice exposed to THS showed hyperactivity and organ damage in third-hand smoke exposure comparable to that of infants. The study showed that children with associated behavioral problems combined with exposure to second hand smoke may pose a significant risk for the development of more severe neurological diseases with prolonged exposure.
  • Researchers from the UK and Spain have reported that exposure to third hand smoke leads to accumulations of nitrosamines and increases the risk of cancer in non-smokers.
  • Although scientific evidence on the effects of e-cigarettes on human health is still in its infancy, recent reports raise concerns about how exposure to residual vapor components from electronic cigarettes may behave similarly to THS exposure.

What can you do today to reduce the risk of exposing yourself to THS?

Smoking cessation is the only way to ensure that your child is not exposed to third party smoke. This is – as we already know – not new. Unfortunately, there is no other (truly effective) way to reduce exposure.

If you’re a smoker looking for an effective way to quit smoking, you’ve come to the right place. Get our 11 tips to quit smoking for good:

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  • without withdrawal symptoms
  • without immense willpower.
  • permanently and
  • without nicotine patches and similar (not functioning) aids

Of course it also helps if you make your friends aware of the dangers of third hand smoking. Share this article with friends and acquaintances. Also clean all clothes and furniture thoroughly to avoid cold smoke residue. We hope that this article has been helpful for you and that it will improve your health and that of your friends.

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This post is also available in: Deutsch (German)

Oliver Sankt - Autor