Now We Have to Worry About 'Third-Hand' Smoke?

I remember years ago taping up the vent in my bathroom so I wouldn't smell the smoke coming from the apartment next door.  My neighbor was a chain smoker and the smell of it filled my apartment.

Now it turns out he was a cancer risk not only for himself but for me, too. A new study has found that "third-hand" smoke, or leftover cigarette smoke "that clings to walls and furniture is a smelly nuisance, but now research suggests that it could pose a far more serious threat, especially to young children who put toys and other smoke-affected items into their mouths," according to

Scientists reported today that one compound from this “third-hand smoke,” which forms when second-hand smoke reacts with indoor air, damages DNA and sticks to it in a way that could potentially cause cancer.

I now live in a house where this is not a problem but I remember those days clearly, having my clothes and hair smell of smoke when I -- or anyone else who lived with or visited me -- did not use cigarettes (though I do remember my mother uncharacteristically offering to take the garbage out to the incinerator chute in the hallway, when she was supposed to have quit, and came back, smelling of smoke!).

It's even become political. “The best argument for instituting a ban on smoking indoors is actually third-hand smoke,” said Hang, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)at

And then there's e-cigarettes.  The jury is out on whether they're harmful, or kids should be allowed to smoke them (my vote is no), but at least they only release vapor into the air and the nicotene goes only to the smoker.

Researchers have found that many of the more than 4,000 compounds in second-hand smoke, which wafts through the air as a cigarette is smoked, can linger indoors long after a cigarette is stubbed out. "Based on studies led by Hugo Destaillats, also at LBNL, these substances can go on to react with indoor pollutants such as ozone and nitrous acid, creating brand-new compounds, some of which may be carcinogenic," reports.

The biggest potential health risk is, as you might expect, for babies and toddlers. As they crawl and put their hands or toys in their mouths, they could touch, swallow or inhale compounds from third-hand smoke. "Their small size and early developmental stage make them more vulnerable than adults to the effects of environmental hazards," the Web site notes.
Although many public places prohibit smoking, people can still smoke in most rental apartments and private residences, just as I found years ago when I didn't smoke but had no control over what my neighbors did..
So, how to get rid of this smelly "gift" from a neighbor?  Experts say, remove affected items, such as sofas and carpeting, as well as seal and repaint walls, and sometimes even replace contaminated wallboard. But there's an easier, less pricey way, too. Simply vacuum and wash clothes, curtains and bedding. 


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