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Hidden hazard

Is your home harboring thirdhand smoke?

Article Author: Katelyn Vogt

Article Date:

cartoon image of a smoking cigarette butt sitting on a couch in a living room

It can be exciting making a big purchase, whether it be a car, home or that couch you’ve been eyeing. But if you’re thinking of buying used, you may want to think twice. Researchers caution these items could be harboring third-hand smoke, which is defined as the particles from tobacco-burning devices that settle onto surfaces or seep into materials.

According to Aakash Modi, MD, an interventional pulmonologist at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center, this residue could remain in these items for months or even years.

When the smoke clears

While it’s easy to assume that if you can’t see smoke, it’s no longer there, that’s not always the case.

“It’s as simple as when we go to a hotel and are asked to select a smoking or non-smoking room. It’s because hotels have struggled to clean the rooms that allow smoking,” Dr. Modi said.

When the smoke from a cigarette is released into the air, the chemicals undergo an aging process and may become cancer-causing pollutants, or carcinogens. These particles then build up on indoor surfaces or are absorbed by nearby materials and, over time, could be re-released into the air.

“Materials known to absorb these compounds are carpets, rugs, clothes, bed sheets, wall paint, car dashboards and even toys,” Dr. Modi said.

What’s the risk?

Although thirdhand smoke exposure is still being studied, researchers have expressed concern about its lingering presence and lasting health effects, much like those of secondhand smoke.

“While we tend to focus on the risk of developing cancer, that’s not the only concern. For those who have underlying lung disease, such as asthma, any toxic gases can be irritating and exacerbate the disease,” Dr. Modi said.

However, there are many variables that influence just how much of a risk thirdhand smoke is to a person’s health.

“The frequency of smoking that occurred matters. The quantity matters. Was the space enclosed? There are many variables at play,” Dr. Modi said.

Knowledge is power

As research into thirdhand smoke continues to develop, Dr. Modi suggested simply being mindful of its existence. If purchasing used items, pay close attention to their scent and any discoloration in the fabric. For homes, examine the presence of dust and if it appears more ash-like.

“If you can prevent exposure altogether, that’s great. If you can’t, do the best you can to limit it,” Dr. Modi said.

Worried about your risk of lung cancer? Consult a primary care physician to see if a lung cancer screening is right for you. To find the right physician for you, call 904.202.4968 (202.4YOU) or click here to fill out an appointment request form.

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