If you’ve ever stepped into a “clean” hotel room that has been occupied by a smoker, you know the smell of stale smoke can hang around long after the smoker is gone. This same kind of residue is left behind when smokers move out of a house. Even if the house smells clean, tobacco toxins may still be present that can be a health risk to the entire family and especially to young children.
We’ve all heard that tobacco smoke is hazardous to our health. In addition to contributing to allergies and asthma, chemicals found in tobacco products are known causes of cancer. People who are non-smokers are generally alert to the dangers of second-hand smoke – that’s the smoky air we inhale when we’re around someone who is smoking. Third-hand smoke is the residue of nicotine and other toxins from smoke that become trapped in the walls, ceilings, and floors of rooms where smoking took place.
Researchers at San Diego State University concluded that homes where someone used to smoke can hold onto toxic particles for at least two months after the smoker has moved out. Even after cleaning and painting, third hand smoke pollutants are still present in the walls and especially in carpeting on the floor. When non-smokers move into the home, they can come in contact with these pollutants and be exposed to tobacco toxins without realizing it is happening.
Researchers tested new, non-smoking residents in smoke contaminated homes and found that the new residents had higher than normal levels of certain chemicals in their urine that showed they had been exposed to tobacco products. Some new residents also tested positive for nicotine residue on their fingers. The risk for young children is even greater than for adults since babies and toddlers tend to play and crawl on the floor and put things into their mouths.
Toxins from third hand smoke can become airborne in the form of dust, or may react with other chemicals to release the toxins into the air. Tobacco smoke is known to contain over 4,000 chemical compounds and at least 60 of those compounds are known causes of cancer.
Third hand smoke points out further risks wherever second hand smoke is present. Some parents believe it is okay to smoke in the house as long as they air out the room before children come home. While opening a window may appear to improve the quality of the air, it will not remove dangerous third hand smoke particles that have settled onto furniture and other surfaces.
The best way to protect yourself and your family is to stay smoke-free. Careful cleaning of all surfaces and cleaning or replacing carpets and drapes can help reduce third hand smoke residue in a home formerly occupied by smokers.