The Hidden Danger in Your Home: How Old Smoke Hurts Your Family

Are you as healthy as you should be? There’s a chance you’re not if your home is unknowingly tainted by lingering toxins. While you’re more likely to be familiar with the health dangers of secondhand smoke, there is now growing concern about thirdhand smoke. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) have discovered that thirdhand smoke is a serious health risk for those who come into contact or breathe in these lingering toxins.

What is thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke refers to the toxins that cling to surfaces, fabrics, and the surrounding air for hours even after a smoker has finished smoking. The study conducted by Berkeley Lab showed that these toxins can still be harmful for at least 18 hours after a cigarette has been extinguished, and these chemicals can be released from indoor surfaces and a smoker’s clothing.

Hugo Destaillats, one of the researchers at Berkeley Lab, states, “In the U.S., the home is now where nonsmokers are most exposed to second- and thirdhand smoke. The amount of harm is measurable even several hours after smoking ends.”

The potential damage from thirdhand smoke

The research conducted by the Berkeley Lab demonstrates that more than 50 toxic substances can contaminate an indoor space. These toxins can then be absorbed by those present in a room where a smoker has been.

“Many smokers know secondhand smoke is harmful, so they don’t smoke when their kids are present,” says Destaillats. “But if, for example, they stop smoking at 2 p.m. and the kids come home at 4 p.m., our work shows that up to 60 percent of the harm from inhaling thirdhand smoke remains.”

The researchers are now investigating the specific health issues connected to thirdhand smoke as opposed to those caused by secondhand smoke. Lara Gundel, another researcher from Berkeley Lab, notes, “A lot of the harm attributed to secondhand smoke could be due to thirdhand smoke. Because there’s a gradual transition from one to the other, we don’t really know yet what the chronic effects of thirdhand smoke are.”

Ways to protect yourself and your family

Being aware of the potential risks of thirdhand smoke is important, especially when trying to protect your family from these lingering toxins. Here are a few ways to keep your home and family safe from the dangers of thirdhand smoke:

  1. No smoking indoors: The most effective way to prevent thirdhand smoke is to maintain a strict no-smoking policy within your home. Encourage smokers to go outside when smoking, away from doors and windows, or designate a specific outdoor space for smoking.

  2. No smoking in your car: Smoke can be left in your car, contaminating the fabrics and surfaces within. Avoid smoking in your car and encourage others to do the same.

  3. Ventilation: While good ventilation won’t eliminate thirdhand smoke, it can help to reduce the lingering toxins in your home. Open your windows and doors regularly to keep the air fresh and free from contaminants.

  4. Clean surfaces regularly: Regularly clean and maintain all surfaces in and around your home, including carpets, upholstery, and curtains. This will help to reduce the buildup of lingering toxins.

  5. Replace items that have been exposed: If you or someone in your home has smoked indoors for any length of time, consider replacing items that may have been exposed to thirdhand smoke, such as carpets, curtains, and furniture.

  6. Use an air purifier: Using a high-quality air purifier may help to reduce the residual toxins from thirdhand smoke. Make sure to purchase one that specifically targets tobacco smoke contaminants.

Final thoughts

Thirdhand smoke is a concerning problem that needs more awareness and research to understand its long-term effects on health. Taking preventative measures against thirdhand smoke exposure will help ensure you and your family maintain a healthier lifestyle.