Thirdhand Smoke Found on Surfaces May Cause Harm to Children

Thirdhand smoke — referring to toxic tobacco by-products that remain on surfaces — may be harmful to children who are exposed to it, research suggests.

It’s well established that secondhand smoke can cause serious harm, including cancer, but it seems the ripple effects of tobacco don’t stop there. A new study has found that thirdhand smoke, or tobacco by-products that stay on surfaces such as walls, furniture, decor, and floors, can also be harmful to those exposed to it, including children.

A team of tobacco researchers led by Ashley Merianos at the University of Cincinnati tested the surfaces in the households of 84 children who lived with smokers, finding nicotine on surfaces in every single household they tested.

They also discovered a particularly harmful and tobacco-specific carcinogen called NNK, in almost half of the homes.

Published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology, the study findings show that similar levels of NNK were detected on surfaces and in vacuumed dust, suggesting that surfaces of all kinds, as well as dust, can be sources of exposure to thirdhand smoke.

The researchers also found that lower-income households had higher levels of NNK and nicotine on home surfaces and that homes that did not ban indoor smoking had higher levels of NNK and nicotine found on surfaces.

But NNK and nicotine were still detected in homes that had voluntary indoor smoking bans, highlighting just how persistent these pollutants are when it comes to their accumulation on surfaces and in dust.

"This is critically important and concerning since NNK is considered the most potent carcinogen for tobacco-induced cancers," Merianos said in a press release. "This research highlights that home smoking bans do not fully protect children and their families from the dangers of tobacco."


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