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You are likely familiar with second-hand smoke exposure that occurs from inhaling smoke from someone else using cigarettes. But have you come across third-hand smoke and know what it is? Third-hand smoke refers to pollution that remains in the environment after secondhand cigarette smoke has been released. Smoking related fumes and particles get lodged in surfaces such as clothes, furniture, bedding, carpets, vehicles, toys, etc. Unlike the name, third hand smoke is not limited to the effects of smoke only but also to the residual chemicals left on surfaces that have encountered cigarette smoke.
Individuals can be easily exposed to these chemical compounds by touching the contaminated surfaces or breathing in the lingering gasses left on these surfaces. Thirdhand smoke can be particularly toxic if it reacts with common indoor pollutants. Together, they can create toxic mixtures which threaten the health of non-smokers — especially infants and young children. They are most vulnerable when it comes to smoking effects.
Third-hand smoke is almost unavoidable if you have a family member who smokes. Although third-hand smoke is a relatively new concept and not fully understood, it can affect everyone in your family regardless of age.
Thirdhand smoke exposure may cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), which is commonly known as unexplained death in children below 1 year of age, usually in their sleep. . Besides, it may also causes some health risks such as recurrent respiratory problems.
Young children are considered to be one of the most vulnerable groups of people when it comes to third-hand smoking. This is because children, while busy exploring the world using their senses, are bound to touch surfaces and tend to put their hands and objects near their mouth. It is shown that children who are exposed to thirdhand smoke are more likely to have:
Frequent respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia
Although adults are not as vulnerable as infants or children, that does not mean that they are immune from the effects of it. In fact, they may cough more often, as well as at a higher risk of cancer later in life, especially lung cancer, from the repeated smoke exposure. Moreover, it may also lead to other cancers such as: :
Oral cancer (mouth)
Renal cancer (kidneys)
Laryngeal/pharyngeal cancer (throat)
Pancreatic cancer (pancreas)
So, how to remove the smoke residue on the surfaces?
Thirdhand smoke cannot be removed by leaving windows opened, using fans or air conditioners. Here are some tips for you to eliminate the residual chemicals left on the surfaces:
Wash all your clothing, bedding and linens
Thoroughly mop all hard surfaces
Get your carpet and rugs professionally cleaned
Clean all toys with soap and water regularly
Wash all other fabrics around your home, including furniture
If you can still smell the residue after cleaning, you probably didn’t clean them properly! A thorough cleaning is required, as there is still some residue left on the surfaces.
Thirdhand smoke is a relatively new concept, and researchers are still studying its possible dangers. In the meantime, the only way to protect non-smokers from thirdhand smoke is to create a smoke-free environment. If you are contemplating to quit smoking and need assistance with it, feel free to reach out to our doctors at DOC2US App for free.
Medically reviewed by Ashwini Nair, MB BCh BAO.
1. Thirdhand Smoke: Babies, Symptoms, SIDS, Effects, and More. Accessed May 28, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/thirdhand-smoke
2. The dangers of thirdhand smoke. Mayo Clinic. Accessed May 28, 2022. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/third-hand-smoke/faq-20057791
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