Researchers at Harvard Medical School have recently coined a new term related to the dangers of tobacco smoke. The phenomenon known as "third-hand smoke" refers to the toxic, particulate matter that is left behind even after a cigarette is extinguished. This can mean on your hair, clothing, furniture or even in your car. Although many people smoke outside their home, or only in their homes when children are not around, the dangers of toxic exposure to carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals) from cigarettes still exist. Infants and small children are especially susceptible to these toxins because they can touch, crawl upon, or put their mouths on, contaminated surfaces, including you.
Most of us have been well-educated about the dangers of secondhand smoke and many smokers take measures to protect their loved ones from it. But secondhand smoke differs from third-hand smoke in that exposure from secondhand smoke occurs only while someone is smoking. But research has found that the dangers from cigarette toxins exist far beyond the point of active smoking. Toxic particulate matter from cigarette smoke is deposited in layers on all surfaces in the home, in loose household dust, and as research confirms as "volatile toxic compounds that off gas into the air over days, weeks, and months". The third-hand smoke phenomenon was the basis for the Harvard study which examined attitudes regarding the third-hand smoke concept and the development of home smoking bans.
The toxic effects of low levels of tobacco smoke have been proven. In fact, according to the National Toxicology Program, "these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust), butane (used in lighter fluid), ammonia (used in household cleaners), toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic (used in pesticides), lead (formerly found in paint), chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen). Eleven of these compounds are group 1 carcinogens (most carcinogenic designation). For some of these compounds, such as radioactive polonium-210, the cumulative dose is especially concerning, leading health professionals to call for immediate disclosure and warnings about exposure".
So, what can you do to protect your loved ones, especially your children and grandchildren, from the dangers of third-hand smoke? The best way is, of course, complete abstinence from cigarettes. Enforcing strict, no-smoking policies in the home may help to a certain degree, but toxins still remain on clothing. If you continue to smoke, the best thing to do is to smoke outside of your home (and not in your car), and, before coming in contact with infants or children, be sure to wash your hands and change your clothes. As inconvenient as this may sound, it is the best way to protect your loves ones from toxic chemicals, short of quitting smoking.
Read more about this interesting research study in the Journal of Pediatrics:
Learn more about the health risks of secondhand smoke:
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