Third-Hand Smoke: Experts Warn of Threat of Smell of Smoking

cigaretteAfter courts and commentators have wrestled with the dangers of second-hand smoke, it appears that there is now third-hand smoke: the smell that lingers on smokers when they come back into a house or office. Experts are warning that third-hard smoke can be harmful — a finding that might move businesses to get rid of smoking areas outside of buildings.

We are not yet at the point to have chemical showers and hazmat tents for smokers coming back into buildings. However, the recent campaign on third-hand smoke might push some companies to reexamine their policies and even bar smokers entirely from employment.

Experts are warning that smokers bring back heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials after smoking and create a particular danger to young children.

The term “third-hand smoke” was coined by doctors at MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston and the study was published in this month’s issue of the journal Pediatrics.

It is not clear if we are on the verge of establishing “fourth-hand smoke”: the residue of smoking left on contact with people who have been near people who have smoked.

These studies have a legal impact. Some companies have already moved to bar any smokers from employment, including some government offices. Workers have been told that they can be fired for smoking at home, here. This study will certainly give such companies added arguments for imposing such exclusionary policies. This follows legal moves to compel fragrance free zones.

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18 thoughts on “Third-Hand Smoke: Experts Warn of Threat of Smell of Smoking”

  1. Another thing about cigarette smoke to consider is mutagenicity. For example,

    “The Salmonella typhimurium microsomal test system for mutagenic activity was successfully used to detect the presence of mutagenic compounds in the smoke condensates of several types of cigarettes. The condensates were shown to contain compounds which could cause frameshift mutations when activated by microsomal enzymes.”

    I’m old enough to remember that people smoked just everywhere, doing everything. Every room had an ashtray. Kids would make ashtrays in art class, a gift everyone needed back then. Life was a lot simpler when cigarettes were simply stinky and not something that could change your genetics. This is a case of knowledge = loss of innocence.

  2. I am a firm believer in the “third hand smoke” issue. I have gotten migraines from smelling the third hand smoke when smokers come into my office after they have smoked. I don’t know of any substance that causes more discomfort and death than tobacco.

  3. Cook,

    Here I was feeling proud of myself for having read a book a bunch of strangers haven’t heard of, but you wouldn’t let me have that pleasure.

  4. Correction: the seal doesn’t actually talk, he just writes thanks to the addition of thumbs.

  5. Gyges:

    Sounds like he’s talking to our group. I have dibs on the purple ape suit though.

  6. Mespo,

    One of my favorite passages in the extremely odd book “Flaming London” by Joe Lansdale is when Mark Twain recites that essay to a talking seal, a giant purple ape from Mars, Jules Vern, Sitting Bull, and a cat-woman from the Island of Dr. Monroe (I told you it was odd).

  7. Gyges:

    Well it’s my fault. Cicero only appears when I conjure him up with my magic email address. I have two set up and sometimes I forget to type in the correct one. My bad.

    On Hegel, I agree. He reminds me of James Fenimore Cooper, or most any Russian novelist. Just say it and quit telling us you are about to say it! As Twain said of Cooper in his famous essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses, for god’s sake ” Say what [you are] proposing to say, not merely come near it.”

  8. Mespo,

    What’s with your disappearing philosopher? I’d read much more of Hegel’s work if I could parts of it disappear at will. In my opinion he suffered from the same problem as Wagner, lack of editing.

  9. Les:

    Your point is well taken. Am association proves nothing. Fish are associated with water. One does not necessarily cause the other, though one may be necessary, in combination with various factors, to produce the other. Mommy fish + Daddy fish + water + etc = fish. However, I think the point is that caution is called for when the association is strong.

  10. Similar to low-level lead exposure, low levels of tobacco particulates have been associated with cognitive deficits among children, and the higher the exposure level, the lower the reading score.

    I’m rather skeptical of this. Being associated with something doesn’t equal a causal relationship. Lead has been demonstrated to cause cognitive deficits, it’s not merely associated with those deficits. I think a lot more research needs to be done before any conclusions can be made.

  11. Gyges,

    This info doesn’t fully answer your questions but it’s a start. The info comes from Science Digest:

    “Particulate matter from tobacco smoke has been proven toxic. According to the National Toxicology Program, these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, butane, ammonia, toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic, lead, chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen). Eleven of the compounds are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the most dangerous.

    Small children are especially susceptible to third-hand smoke exposure because they can inhale near, crawl and play on, or touch and mouth contaminated surfaces. Third-hand smoke can remain indoors even long after the smoking has stopped. Similar to low-level lead exposure, low levels of tobacco particulates have been associated with cognitive deficits among children, and the higher the exposure level, the lower the reading score. These findings underscore the possibility that even extremely low levels of these compounds may be neurotoxic and, according to the researchers, justify restricting all smoking in indoor areas inhabited by children.”

  12. Jill,

    There you go again, being all rational.

    Although, reading the article the study was a survey of attitudes, not of the actual effect of “third hand smoke.” I’d be much more interested in seeing what amount of exposure to those toxins and carcinogens actually results from the lingering after traces of smoking. A comparison to other well know exposure risks would help provide a frame of reference for just how dangerous this actually is.

    No matter what I’m still going to take a shower, brush my teeth, and change my cloths after my (very) occasional cigar, but that’s only because I enjoy the company of my wife.

  13. I don’t think the answer to this is to 1. ignore the science or 2. refuse to employ smokers. This study primarily addressed risk to children and I hope that adults will take that harm seriously. We would benefit from money to help people who want to quit, quit. I’m willing to bet there already is, or could be, a type of technological amelioration to this problem. This should be explored as well.

  14. I can’t say I will miss those tobacco dens that form at the rear and side entrances to buildings. I just walk by and I smell like a trip down the Philip Morris (now Altria) assembly line. I wonder, does that make me a “carrier” too?”

  15. This final blow (3rd hand smoke) is too much for the smokers’ paradise and now for them this warning may blur like,

    “Dont smoke, dont sex, just choke and die”

    They have already lost the sense to sense this subtle message!

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