Ronald Servi, DO is a pulmonologist at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix.
Question: I’ve been hearing more about “third-hand” smoke. Is this a hazard for me and my family?
Answer: Tobacco users run the risk of developing numerous health problems, and many studies have shown that second-hand smoke, or breathing the smoke from tobacco users, can also be hazardous. More recently, researchers have begun evaluating the effects of third-hand smoke, which results from the residue created when tobacco smoke combines with air pollution.
We know the smell of tobacco smoke can linger in carpets, clothes and furniture, but it may also leave behind more than just a stale odor. One recent study showed that the compounds formed when smoke reacts to air can remain on surfaces for months and may contain cancer-causing carcinogens. While this study did not show whether people coming in contact with objects contaminated by smoke would be negatively impacted, it is conceivable that this residue could attach to the dust we breathe or soak into our skin after contact with the affected object.
Babies and children are probably at highest risk for contact with third-hand smoke because they touch more surfaces and spend more time on the floor. And while the effects of third-hand smoke are still being studied, it is best to avoid areas where others have smoked to reduce overall exposure to possible contaminants.
Reviewed August 2010