Third-hand smoke

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Third-hand smoke is contamination by tobacco smoke that lingers following the extinguishing of a cigarette.


The term third-hand smoke is a neologism coined by a research team from the Dana–Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.[1] 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 a mixture of exhaled smoke and other substances leaving the smoldering end of the cigarette that 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.[1]

Potential harm[edit]

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.[1] Third hand smoke is environmental tobacco smoke that has oxidized with environmental nitrous acid to create carcinogens not seen in cigarette ingredients or tobacco smoke. The carcinogens found in third hand smoke are known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines.[2] 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.[3][4] The study found that eleven carcinogenic compounds could be found in third-hand smoke, including the radioactive element polonium-210.[5] 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.[5] Research is currently ongoing as to the actual magnitude of risk.[6]

Public awareness and implications[edit]

Third-hand smoke is a relatively newly postulated concept, and public awareness of it is lower than that of second-hand smoke. A 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics demonstrated that parents are more likely to attempt to quit smoking if they become convinced that thirdhand smoke is harmful to children and more likely to have smoke-free home and car policies if they are aware of the dangers of third-hand smoke.[7] Research has also shown that fathers and parents who are heavier smokers (> 10 cigarettes per day) are less likely to believe that third-hand smoke is harmful to children.[8]


  1. ^ a b c Ballantyne C (January 6, 2009). "What is third-hand smoke?". Scientific American. 
  2. ^ Giraldi G, Fovi De Ruggiero G, Marsella LT, De Luca d'Alessandro E (2013). "Environmental tobacco smoke: health policy and focus on Italian legislation" (PDF). Clin Ter 164 (5): e429–35. PMID 24217845. 
  3. ^ Sleiman M, Gundel LA, Pankow JF, Jacob P, Singer BC, Destaillats H (April 2010). "Formation of carcinogens indoors by surface-mediated reactions of nicotine with nitrous acid, leading to potential thirdhand smoke hazards". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 107 (15): 6576–81. doi:10.1073/pnas.0912820107. PMC 2872399. PMID 20142504. 
  4. ^ "Third-hand smoke a danger to babies, toddlers". MSNBC. 
  5. ^ a b Caryn Rabin, R (January 2, 2009). "A New Cigarette Hazard — 'Third-Hand Smoke'". The New York Times. 
  6. ^ Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Destaillats H, Gundel LA, Sleiman M, Singer BC, Jacob P, Benowitz N, Winickoff JP, Rehan V, Talbot P, Schick S, Samet J, Wang Y, Hang B, Martins-Green M, Pankow JF, Hovell MF (September 2011). "Thirdhand tobacco smoke: emerging evidence and arguments for a multidisciplinary research agenda". Environ. Health Perspect. 119 (9): 1218–26. doi:10.1289/ehp.1103500. PMC 3230406. PMID 21628107. 
  7. ^ Drehmer JE, Ossip DJ, Nabi-Burza E et al. (April 2014). "Thirdhand smoke beliefs of parents". Pediatrics 133 (4): e850–6. doi:10.1542/peds.2013-3392. PMID 24590745. 
  8. ^ Drehmer JE, Ossip DJ, Rigotti NA et al. (November 2012). "Pediatrician interventions and thirdhand smoke beliefs of parents". Am J Prev Med 43 (5): 533–6. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2012.07.020. PMC 3486922. PMID 23079177.