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New Cigarette Hazard: ‘Third-Hand Smoke’

January 24, 2009 | 34,716 views
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cigarettes, smoking, third-hand smokeEven if you choose to smoke outside of your home, or only smoke in your home when your children are not there, you're still exposing them to toxins. New research demonstrates that tobacco smoke contamination lingers even after a cigarette is extinguished, a phenomenon the researchers called "third-hand" smoke.

When you smoke, toxic particulate matter from tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothing. When you come into contact with your baby, your child comes in contact with those toxins, even if you're not smoking at the time.

Particulate matter from tobacco smoke has been proven toxic. It contains 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals -- include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, butane, ammonia, toluene, arsenic, lead, chromium, cadmium, and polonium-210 (a highly radioactive carcinogen).

Small children may be especially susceptible to third-hand smoke exposure because they crawl and play on potentially contaminated surfaces such as cushions, carpets and the floor. The toxins can get on their hands and can then be ingested.

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Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Third-hand smoke -- in the form of toxic particles clinging to hair, clothing, carpeting and other materials inside your home -- can indeed contribute to your body’s toxic load. Some readers have commented in the Community Comments below that this sounds alarmist, but even though third-hand smoke may not poison you outright, it can still be harmful.

The fact remains that your body is being bombarded with toxins everyday. They’re in your food, water and air, and in inert objects such as your sofa and wall-to-wall carpeting. When you walk into a room, particles that are clinging to, say, the carpet rise into the air where you can then inhale them.

For toddlers, the risks are magnified because they not only inhale the particles from the air, but ingest them after crawling or playing on the floor (and putting their hands in their mouth).

Are the Risks of Third-Hand Smoke as Serious as Those From Second-Hand Smoke?

By now most everyone is aware of the risks of second-hand smoke. Children who grow up with smokers in their homes are three times more likely to develop lung cancer in their later years than those children who come from non-smoking homes. And children who breathe second-hand smoke are more likely to suffer from pneumonia, bronchitis and other lung diseases, while those who have asthma and who breathe second-hand smoke have more asthma attacks.

Second-hand smoke also accounts for as many as one-quarter of cases of lung cancer in non-smokers. I suspect that the risks of third-hand smoke are also significant, yet will be much harder to pinpoint and actually link to certain diseases.

In the United States, nearly 24 percent of men and 18 percent of women are smokers, according to the latest Trends in Tobacco Use report by the American Heart Association. And while I suspect that many of you who read this newsletter don’t smoke, you likely have a loved one does.

An estimated 70 percent of smokers say they would like to quit, which would be a wise choice considering the many health risks involved. Statistics estimate that adult smokers shorten their lives by an average of 14 years, and due to second- and third-hand smoke may shorten the lives of those around them as well.

That said, although smoking is obviously not healthy, it is not the cause of most preventable illness.

What is Likely MORE Dangerous than Smoking (and Third-Hand Smoke)?

Let me make myself crystal clear, I do NOT recommend smoking and I suggest quitting to be optimally healthy (and for the health of those who live with you). However, obesity has been associated with higher rates of chronic medical problems and a poorer quality of life than smoking.

If you are currently overweight or obese AND a smoker, I strongly suggest you work on improving your diet and achieving your ideal weight BEFORE you attempt to quit smoking.


If you attempt to quit smoking while you’re still eating an unhealthy diet, there is a strong chance you will likely be tempted to replace the cigarettes with some other “reward.” And the reward often ends up being junk food. Smokers gain an average 10 to 12 pounds after they quit, partly because they crave sweets and carbohydrates, and party because their metabolism slows down after they have dropped the habit. If you simply replace cigarettes with sugary junk foods, you will not be doing your health any favors.

Secondly, depression is a common side effect while quitting smoking, which makes it very difficult to make any major dietary changes and improvements to your health during this time.

So, the first thing to do is to get started eating right and exercising. You can read my entire program on how to get healthy in Take Control of Your Health. At the same time, tend to the emotional reasons why you’re smoking or not eating right by using the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT helps to clear out emotional blockages from your system, thus restoring your mind and body's balance.

Once you’ve accomplished these lifestyle changes, then you can start to think about kicking the smoking habit. By the way, when you do, going “cold turkey” is the best approach. Studies have shown that simply cutting back on how much you smoke does nothing to lower your cancer risk.

So once you decide to quit, complete abstinence appears to be the most effective strategy

What Can You do to Protect Your Family Until You Quit Smoking?

Exposing your children or loved ones to second- or third-hand smoke is clearly not optimal for their health. To help minimize their risks while you’re getting healthy and working your way up to quitting smoking, you can:

• Smoke only outdoors (this will prevent a large share of smoke particles from settling into your home or car)
• Change your clothes after smoking, and wash your clothing right away, or at the very least air it out outside thoroughly
• Wash your hands after smoking
• Ideally, wash your hair after you smoke, especially if you have an infant that will be in close proximity to you
• Use a high-quality air purifier in your home to help remove excess toxins

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