Thirdhand Smoke

Thirdhand smoke occurs when cigarette smoke reacts with nitrous acid on surfaces to form tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). Nitrous acid is a common indoor pollutant and, when combined with cigarette smoke, forms a carcinogen that becomes more potent over time. Thus, nicotine is converted to a dangerous carcinogen after it is absorbed on indoor surfaces in automobiles and furniture. This can be especially hazardous to infants and children who live close to the floor because the TSNAs are especially concentrated in dust and carpeting. Smokers believed that smoking only when others were not present (e.g., in car or home) created no risk to the nonsmoker who arrives later. In fact, the smoke clings to upholstery, cotton, and carpeting and actually builds up over time, exposing the nonsmoker to potent carcinogens. This thirdhand smoke can be especially dangerous because TSNAs cannot be simply inactivated by dry cleaning or washing with soap and water. Most soaps are alkaline and cleansers that dissolve nicotine must be acidic. Thus, it is almost impossible to remove TSNAs from carpeting, which will continuously uptake nicotine. Even washing smooth stone and metal with an alkaline soap will not remove nicotine residue (Dreyfuss, 2010; Sleiman et al., 2010).

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