Scientists Discover Tobacco "Third Hand Smoke"

Scientists have recently discovered that smoking does not merely produce dangerous second-hand smoke that can cause various smoking-associated diseases even for those who do not smoke. Smoking tobacco may even lead to the creation of "third hand smoke" which can also be as dangerous.

Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently identified a new risk for tobacco smoke that they call third-hand smoke. It is a product of tobacco smoke that clings to almost all surfaces the smoke comes to contact with. This third hand smoke usually contains nicotine as a residue and clings to the surfaces long after the cigarette has been extinguished.

What is worse with third hand tobacco smoke is that it can still react with common indoor air pollutants such as nitrous acid to produce dangerous air borne carcinogens. This becomes a new potential health hazard that should be looked into further.

According to Hugo Destaillats, a chemist with the Indoor Environment Department of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division, "The burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture. Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months. Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNA’s".

"TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke," he further added.

The researchers used cellulose as the primary material in laboratory tests and were exposed to smoke. The test showed that TSNA’s detected in those surfaces were ten times higher than those originally present in the sample after being exposed to nitrous acid for three hours. In a household, nitrous acid can come from unvented gas appliances. People may then be exposed to these dangerous TSNA’s through dust inhalation and direct contact with the skin with clothes and carpets. Third hand smoke can be seen as a serious threat and hazard to infants and toddlers.