How Thirdhand Smoke Exposes Children to Toxic Chemicals


Many parents who smoke do so away from their children, under the assumption that doing this keeps their children safe. Not so, says a study released by researchers from the University of Cincinnati, which demonstrates that bans on indoor smoking are not truly protecting children from the dangers of exposure to nicotine, thirdhand tobacco smoke, and other carcinogenic chemicals, all of which can lead to chronic respiratory issues such as asthma, wheezing, and coughing.

It was widely believed that preventing exposure to secondhand smokebeing in the same room as a smokerwas enough to protect children and adult non-smokers. According to researchers, however, children are still exposed to thirdhand smoke even if their parents have never lit up a cigarette in their child’s presence.

The term thirdhand smoke refers to the toxic residue that remains in the air after smoking.

The term thirdhand smoke refers to the residue that remains in the air after smoking. Even when the air clears or appears “safe”, toxic chemicals linger and affect anyone within that area, especially children. Pollutants and other chemicals in the air or absorbed in furniture or clothing leave children vulnerable long after the last cigarette has been smoked.

More on Thirdhand Smoke Research

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati observed more than 100 children who had been admitted to the Cincinnati Children’s Pediatric Emergency department due to smoke-related symptoms. More than half of the study participants were younger than two-years-old.

At least one parent in each of the children’s homes smoked, and their hands were tested for nicotine exposure.

Researchers discovered that the study participants aged two and under had nearly 70 nanograms (ng) of nicotine on their hands, while study participants between the ages of two and four had over 185 ng of nicotine on their handstriple the number of the younger group. Also, the researchers noted that the amount of nicotine was also dependent on how much a parent smoked.

Researchers say that future studies should explore any associations or relationships between hand nicotine and age to determine exactly why the hand nicotine is so much higher in older children.

Indoor Smoking

Indoor smoking has long been banned in restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, and community housing in order to protect the general public from the dangers of secondhand smoke. But even that, this study proves, isn’t enough.

Amongst the children in the study whose parents reported that they did not smoke around them, the children still had 82 ng of nicotine on their hands. Even more, researchers determined that the amount of nicotine on the children’s hands increased to 200 ng, if parents smoked upwards of 15 cigarettes per day.

Hand washing, the researchers note, is not an effective method of keeping children safe from the dangers of exposure to thirdhand smoke. Parents, they say, are encouraged to quit smoking entirely in order to reduce the potential for exposure to these dangerous chemicals.

Addicts in Recovery

Many people with addiction disorders tend to find swapping habits as a way to break from their addiction to illegal substances, which is commendable. But this research demonstrates that there is more to consider than themselves when looking at the bigger picture. In order to protect children, parents who smoke should consider speaking to their doctors for help in smoking cessation, as well as ban smoking in their homes and vehicles.

If you or someone you know is seeking help from addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 800-772-8219 to speak to a treatment specialist.

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