I Knew It! Third Hand Smoke is Killing Me!

John P.

second-hand-smokeI’m allergic to smoke. By allergic, I don’t mean that it simply bothers me. I mean, if exposed to smoke my lungs and throat swell shut. I have to literally take steroids to breath freely (after getting the hell away from the smoke obviously), and a ton of anti-histamines to keep my nose from shutting down and running like a faucet.

So, most of my friends that smoke know not to get near me when they’re doing it, and kindly go have a cigarette elsewhere before getting near me. But of course they always come to talk to me right after they have one, and then all that crap lingering in their lungs fills the room I’m in. And it bothers me. Not as bad as if they were actually smoking – but about 30% as bad. Still, I don’t say anything about it because I don’t want to sound like an asshole.

Well, a group of doctors from MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston coined the term “third-hand smoke” to refer to the heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that come out of smoker’s lungs and get ingested by kids and non-smokers around them. Their study was just published in the Official Journal of Pediatrics. So to all of you parents who “only smoke when the kids aren’t around”, guess what. You’re still killing them.

Parents who smoke often open a window or turn on a fan to clear the air for their children, but experts now have identified a related threat to children’s health that isn’t as easy to get rid of: third-hand smoke.

That’s the term being used to describe the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers’ hair and clothing, not to mention cushions and carpeting, that lingers long after second-hand smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials that young children can get on their hands and ingest, especially if they’re crawling or playing on the floor.

“Everyone knows that second-hand smoke is bad, but they don’t know about this,” said Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

“When their kids are out of the house, they might smoke. Or they smoke in the car. Or they strap the kid in the car seat in the back and crack the window and smoke, and they think it’s okay because the second-hand smoke isn’t getting to their kids,” Dr. Winickoff continued. “We needed a term to describe these tobacco toxins that aren’t visible.”

Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette, he said, or in a hotel room where people were smoking. “Your nose isn’t lying,” he said. “The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ’Get away.’”

“The central message here is that simply closing the kitchen door to take a smoke is not protecting the kids from the effects of that smoke,” he said. “There are carcinogens in this third-hand smoke, and they are a cancer risk for anybody of any age who comes into contact with them.”

Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic.

Read the entire article on the NYTimes site here, or read the actual original study in PDF here.

Oh, and here are a few nice little facts about second hand smoke:

  • It is estimated that, in the United States each year, secondhand smoke exposure results in the hospitalization of 7,500 infants and 15,000 children due to lower respiratory tract infections.
  • Secondhand smoke is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in children under 18 months of age across the United States each year.
  • If parents smoke around their children, the children can inhale the equivalent of 102 packs of cigarettes by age five
  • A recent study found that air pollution levels were 82 percent lower on average in venues required by law to be smoke-free compared to those where smoking was permitted
  • Asthma: Children who grow up with smokers in the family are more likely to have asthma by the age of six than children living in non-smoking households
  • Smoky bars and casinos have up to 50 times more cancer-causing particles in the air than highways and city streets clogged with diesel trucks at rush hour.
  • Nationwide, children exposed to secondhand smoke experience a total of seven million more days of missed school every year.
  • Women married to a smoker have a 91 percent greater risk of heart disease.


  1. says

    I arrived right here in order to learn about a little something totally different than exactly what I would definitely. I enjoy to absorb as a lot new information as practical, it is the most effective element about your life. We contain a website additionally, click on the connection to come on by as well as find exactly what you are getting into.

  2. says

    Thanks a lot for giving everyone an exceptionally wonderful opportunity to read articles and blog posts from here. It can be very good and stuffed with a good time for me and my office acquaintances to search your site more than thrice per week to learn the fresh items you will have. Not to mention, I am also always motivated with all the excellent tips you give. Some 4 areas in this article are easily the most beneficial I have ever had.

  3. says

    this does not surprise me. even when i was a smoker (thank god i’ve been able to quit — again) i could always tell when someone had just gone out for a cigarette, especially in the tiny elevator at the building where i work. and now that i haven’t smoked in quite some time, i am embarassed to think how i smelled to nonsmokers when i still indulged that filthy habit. it must be really tough to be as sensitive to it as you are — good luck in possibly finding other solutions to that. perhaps this new research will help, by making smokers more (self-) conscious about what they do.

  4. says

    Had no idea that you could be allergic to cigarette smoke to this level, i’m pretty much allergic the usual way of you know its irritating.

  5. says

    I always wondered about that…however I feel that it should still be called second hand smoke, since it’s resultant from the smoker rather than a 3rd party present during the time of smoking.

  6. says

    This is the first time I have heard the phrase “third hand smoke”, and it does make sense. The remnants left behind from the exhaled breath of a smoker, as well as the material that ends up on furniture, has to have a negative effect as well. This makes it seem even more like it is quite difficult to avoid the negative effects of having a smoker around. The carcinogens released are high on the health-damaging scale.

  7. says

    Having seen you after being around the smokers – and being allergic myself – this is excellent information. We need to spread the word. So many people still think that if they don’t smoke “around the kids” that they are protecting them. What crap! Glad someone decided to investigate this further. Excellent!

  8. says

    i used to smoke, but i gave it up 2 years ago. But when i am a student at my university one of my friend started smoking because of me and some others who smoking as me.Third hand smoke can be turned to 1 hand smoke! .Now i exactly hate smoking and am warning all my friends about its dangers.

  9. Ryan M says

    Wow! I am in the midst of quitting and this article will make it easier for me. That smelly garage that I can’t stand to be in – third hand smoke! Would I want to have my baby in that garage/house when I can barely stand it? NO.

    Thanks John P for being genetically challenged and presenting this to us! Now can you explain your allergens to green veggies?

  10. says

    Smoking is a pet hate of mine, and as an ex-smoker I am particularly aware of the perils of secondary smoke inhalation, but this third hand smoke information really gets me going. Maybe it is just time to declare tobacco the cancer causing drug that it is and to outlaw it like other substances. Let’s see how the big tobacco companies react to this one.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *