For the first time a major study has proven that third-hand smoke causes significant damage to our DNA, and becomes even more harmful over time.

New research proves that the smelly residue (third-hand smoke) which sticks to almost all surfaces long after the second-hand smoke has cleared out can actually cause significant long-term genetic damage to human cells.

“Ours is the very first study to confirm that third-hand smoke is mutagenic,” said Lara Gundel, who is part of the team of researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in the USA.

What is third-hand smoke?

  • It is created by the tobacco smoke that lingers after a cigarette has been smoked.
  • It’s called third-hand because it is created after second-hand smoke has disappeared.
  • Third-hand smoke is absorbed especially well by fabrics, but will stick to almost all surfaces.
  • Humans are vulnerable to its compounds through skin contact, inhalation and ingestion.
  • It’s especially harmful to crawling children, because it settles on carpets.

Chemical compounds found in third-hand smoke are among the most potent carcinogens around, and are capable of causing cancers in humans, according to the findings, which were published in the journal Mutagenesis. In response, it is likely that law-makers will take an even firmer stand than ever before. It’s not enough to confine smokers to smoking rooms or outside areas as the damage done by the smokers and their smoke lingers long after the smoker has departed.

In litigious countries, such as the USA, it will not be long until, for example, a non-smoking janitor who develops lung cancer sues his employer for having had him clean the smokers’ room. This study will back up his claims. Bizarrely enough, it is not a stretch to imagine a scenario where a smoker is soon charged with culpable homicide.

Everyone’s at risk

And to make matters worse, everyone can be exposed to the lingering toxic particles through skin contact, inhalation, or ingestion. “They [third-hand smoke compounds] cling to surfaces, and when those surfaces are clothing or carpets, the danger to children is especially high,” stressed Gundel. “The cumulative effects of third-hand smoke are also quite significant. Our findings suggest the materials could be getting more toxic with time,” she added.

Furthermore, the researchers found that third-hand smoke is particularly insidious because it’s extremely difficult to eradicate, and is often detected in dust and surfaces more than two months after someone has smoked in an area. Everyday cleaning methods that include wiping, vacuuming and ventilation are not effective in lowering nicotine contamination.

New research…. but the take home message remains the same. It’s time to quit. It’s not easy but smokers have more options these days than ever before. People wishing to stop smoking can explore medication such as bupropion and varenicline, or substitute forms of nicotine and hypnotherapy. At the end of the day though, the common element to any successful attempt at quitting is the desire to stop smoking. You heard it here…. first-hand.


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