Keeping Safe From Thirdhand Smoke
Scientific American defines thirdhand smoke as “tobacco smoke contamination that remains after the cigarette has been extinguished.” The contamination from tobacco smoke comes from the hundreds of constituents in tobacco smoke and deposits on walls, ceiling, furniture, clothing, and any object that has come into contact with the tobacco smoke. This contamination lingers long after the cigarette, cigar, or pipe is extinguished.
Infants and children are at a significantly higher risk of contamination because they are smaller, breathe more rapidly, and are often physically much closer to contaminated surfaces like the floor. Additionally, they are constantly putting their fingers, their hands, and any and all objects that they can into their mouths.
Thirdhand smoke has been found to contain ammonia, arsenic, butane, cadmium, chromium, lead, cyanide, toluene, and radioactive polonium. These substances have been associated with cancer, birth defects, and learning disorders in children.
Keeping you and your family safe from thirdhand smoke
- Refrain from allowing anyone to smoke in your home or car. One way to eliminate thirdhand smoke is to get rid of all sources of smoke in your life. Smoke can linger on your clothes and hair even if you don’t smoke in the house, so don’t smoke in your car either.
- Don’t allow any visitors to smoke in your home or car. Ask them to step outside if they must smoke.
- This includes cigarettes and electronic cigarettes.
Ask visitors to wash their hands after smoking. When you have visitors who smoke, ask them to wash their hands after smoking. They should wash their hands immediately after smoking so as not to spread any contamination. You should ask them to wash their hands again if they want to touch your small children.
- You may consider asking your visitors to change clothes after smoking so they don’t bring any contaminants into your home.
- You can ask your friends with long hair to pull their hair back when smoking to reduce the risk of thirdhand smoke in their hair.
Stay at smoke-free hotels. When you travel, consider staying at smoke-free hotels. Ideally, you should stay in a hotel that has always been smoke-free. Hotels that have been converted to smoke-free facilities may still smell like smoke and have thirdhand smoke in the air or in furniture.
- If you are visiting a friend who smokes, choose to stay in a hotel instead of the home of a smoker.
Use an air purifier. Consider installing a HEPA air cleaner if the home has been lived in by smokers for a long period of time. You should wash the walls, ceilings, carpets, curtains, and blinds before using the air purifier. You should also repaint the walls and replace the carpet. If you try to use an air purifier without the cleaning, painting and replacing, it is not likely that any purifier could handle the load.
- Ozone air purifiers should only be used when no one is home. The rooms should be well-vented before re-entry. Ozone can destroy some of the odor and purify the air, but ozone is not completely safe either. Make sure to read the directions when using an ozone air purifier and use as directed.
- Air filters can cover the lingering smell of smoke, but it does not mean that the thirdhand smoke has been eliminated.
Buy air-purifying plants. You can place air-purifying plants around your home to help clean the air. The plants won’t remove particulates, but they can remove various gases and volatile substances. These plants include:
- Garden mum removes ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and xylene.
- Spider plants remove formaldehyde and xylene.
- Dracaena remove benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene. Be aware that Dracaena is toxic to pets.
- Ficus removes benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
- Peace lily removes ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
- Boston fern removes formaldehyde and xylene.
- Snake plant removes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, and xylene.
- Bamboo palm removes benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene.
- Aloe vera removes formaldehyde.
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