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Third-Hand Smoke - A Threat to Our Children

What is Third-Hand Smoke?

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Updated January 06, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Third-Hand Smoke - A Threat to Our Children
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Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (MGHfC) have coined a new term that describes yet another set of dangers associated with cigarette smoke: third-hand smoke. Study results published in the January, 2009 issue of the journal Pediatrics discuss how this new health hazard, third-hand smoke, is especially dangerous for children.

Third-Hand Smoke

Have you ever stood in a check-out line and known there was a smoker nearby, even though no one was smoking at the time? Or have you perhaps walked into a room that had the unmistakable smell of stale cigarette smoke lingering, regardless of the fact that a fan was moving the air? This is what researchers are calling third-hand smoke -- and it represents the toxic deposits that are left behind long after a cigarette is put out.

Cigarette smoke contains gases and small particles that are deposited on every surface they come in contact with, be it the smoker's hair and clothing, or the environment the cigarette was smoked in. Dangerous for young children who may crawl on contaminated surfaces and ingest toxins via hand-to-mouth, third-hand smoke is a serious health risk for our kids, especially those who live in the homes of smokers.

In discussing the hazards of transferring toxins clinging to the smoker and his or her surroundings to children in the vicinity, Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and assistant director of the MGHfC Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy explains,

    "When you come into contact with your baby, even if you're not smoking at the time, she comes in contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in your breast milk."
Winickoff adds however, that nursing a baby if you're a smoker is still a better choice than bottle-feeding.

Researchers involved in the study surveyed more than 1,500 households in an effort to learn about adult attitudes regarding the danger third-hand smoke represents to their children and how that might affect smoking in the home. Highlights of what they discovered include:

  • approximately 95 percent of nonsmokers and 84 percent of smokers believe that secondhand smoke is hazardous for children.
On the issue of whether third-hand smoke threatens the health of children:
  • 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers felt that third-hand smoke harms kids.
When asked about rules regarding smoking in the home:
  • approximately 88 percent of nonsmokers said they didn't allow smoking, while only 27 percent of smokers prohibit smoking in the home.
However, both non-smokers and smokers who felt that third-hand smoking was harmful to children's health were more inclined to restrict smoking in their homes.

The Chemicals in Cigarettes

Researchers have identified upwards of 4,000 different chemical compounds that are present in cigarette smoke, including 200 poisonous gases, 60 carcinogens and several heavy, toxic metals.

Secondhand Smoke

When a cigarette is smoked, about half of the smoke is inhaled and exhaled (mainstream smoke) by the smoker and the other half floats around in the air (sidestream smoke). The combination of mainstream and sidestream smoke makes up environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Also known as secondhand smoke, ETS plays a role in a multitude of health problems that can affect nearly every organ of our bodies. From heart disease and cancer to respiratory problems that steal our ability to breathe, secondhand smoke is toxic and dangerous to anyone exposed to it.

Children and Secondhand Smoke

Children face a higher risk than adults of the negative effects of secondhand smoke. Not only is a child's body still developing physically, but their breathing rate is faster than that of adults. Adults breathe in and out approximately 14 to 18 times a minute, where newborns can breathe as many as 60 times a minute. Up until a child is about 5 years old, the respiratory rate is quite fast; usually between 20 and 60 breaths per minute. When the air is tainted with cigarette smoke, young, developing lungs receive a higher concentration of inhaled toxins than do older lungs.

They Depend on Us

Young children have less control over their surroundings than the rest of us. Babies can't move to another room because the air is smoky, or the floor is contaminated with the toxic residue of cigarette smoke. They depend on us to provide them with a healthy environment to grow up in.

Do your part to insure that children don't suffer the health hazards posed by cigarette smoking. Ban smoking in your home and car, and if you smoke, quit now.

Source:

Third-Hand Smoke: Another Reason to Quit Smoking. 29 December, 2008. EurekAlert - American Associateion for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

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