The term third-hand smoke is a neologism coined by a research team from the Dana–Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. The 'third-hand' component of the term is a reference to the remnants on surfaces after "second-hand smoke" has cleared out. The term first-hand smoke refers to what is inhaled into the smoker's own lungs, while second-hand smoke is what is a mixture of exhaled smoke and other substances leaving the smoldering end of the cigarette and enters the atmosphere and can be inhaled by others; third-hand smoke, by that token, is contamination on the surfaces of objects that remains after the second-hand smoke has cleared.
Although "second-hand smoke" dissipates from a room or confined space after a short period of time, nicotine and other components of the smoke tend to coat a space's surfaces and continue to emit toxins. A 2010 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal found that the residue of the nicotine coating interior car or room surfaces can react with nitrous acid present in the air to create tobacco-specific nitrosamines, carcinogens found in tobacco products. This was demonstrated by spraying what was termed a "high but reasonable" level of nitrous acid (about 4-12 times the levels typically found in homes) onto cellulose substrates used to wipe the interior of a vehicle that had been heavily smoked in over time. Similar results were found when cellulose substrates were kept (without wiping) in the same vehicle for three days when smoking occurred. Ensuring ventilation while a cigarette is smoked does not eliminate the deposition of third-hand smoke in an enclosed space, according to the study's authors. The study found that eleven carcinogenic compounds could be found in third-hand smoke, including the radioactive element polonium-210. Third-hand smoke is thought to potentially cause the greatest harm to infants and young children, because younger children are more likely to crawl on the floor and eat from their hands without washing them first, ingesting the toxins into their systems. Research is currently ongoing as to the actual magnitude of risk.
Public awareness and implications
Third-hand smoke is a relatively newly discovered concept, and public awareness of it is lower than that of second-hand smoke.
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