After issuing warnings against cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke, researchers are now cautioning against the hazards of thirdhand smoke, which includes residues of smoke left on indoor surfaces. The leftover particles can be absorbed via skin, swallowed through mouth or inhaled through nasal pathways, sometimes, long after the initial traces of smoke have vanished. In a way, tobacco smoke can travel to places where nobody smoked before.
A past study established that even after a casino had gone smoke-free, hazardous chemicals remained on walls, carpets and other pieces of furniture, months after the smoking ban. A recent study, published in journal Science Advances in May 2018, has suggested that outdoor smoke can percolate into the nonsmoking classrooms and coat the walls. Further damage can be caused when it becomes airborne and circulates in the building because of the centralized air conditioning arrangement. As per lead author Peter DeCarlo, atmospheric researcher at the Drexel University, Philadelphia, cabs, hotel rooms, and even nonsmoking classrooms are places that offer a lot of exposure to smoke, much more than anyone can expect.
The recent findings seem to be an accidental discovery. DeCarlo was studying outdoor air to see what happened when both indoor and outdoor air react with each other. Interestingly, a graduate student working 20 feet away from DeCarlo’s lab was studying about classroom chemicals when he came across one that he could not explain. Initially, both of them thought it was coffee residue but after performing a series of experiments, they found that the chemical signature had nicotine and tobacco. Then they directed their efforts into the classroom and pumped outdoor air inside and then pushed it outside. Their in-depth investigation revealed that tobacco smoke can enter indoor spaces and stick to the surfaces. In summers, during air-conditioning, these particles become airborne again and can travel between buildings through the ventilation systems.
Perils of thirdhand smoke
Scientists have given extensive warnings about smoking and gathered a lot of data about the ill effects of second-hand smoke. Surprisingly, there is a dearth of evidence around the consequences of third-hand smoke and most of the studies are animal-based. But now the scientists are sure that the particles of third-hand smoke can linger on clothes, surfaces and skin. This is particularly dangerous for babies, toddlers and young children who come into the contact of tainted surfaces more often than adults.
According to the research team, because of the mounting socioeconomic diversities in smoking, low-income group families are also at risk as they reside in neighborhoods where decades of smoking has led to the accumulation of thirdhand smoke. Growing evidence against the perils of smoking has encouraged authorities to formulate laws like prohibiting smoking in child care centers and hospitals. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics has formulated guidelines on limiting children’s exposure to all forms of tobacco smoke. A consortium of Californian scientists has also been created to research into the possible mechanics and dangers of thirdhand smoke.
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