I’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 â€œthird-hand smokeâ€ 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 childrenâ€™s health that isnâ€™t as easy to get rid of: third-hand smoke.
Thatâ€™s the term being used to describe the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokersâ€™ 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 theyâ€™re crawling or playing on the floor.
â€œEveryone knows that second-hand smoke is bad, but they donâ€™t know about this,â€ said Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
â€œWhen 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 itâ€™s okay because the second-hand smoke isnâ€™t getting to their kids,â€ Dr. Winickoff continued. â€œWe needed a term to describe these tobacco toxins that arenâ€™t visible.â€
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. â€œYour nose isnâ€™t lying,â€ he said. â€œThe stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: â€™Get away.â€™â€
â€œThe 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,â€ he said. â€œThere are carcinogens in this third-hand smoke, and they are a cancer risk for anybody of any age who comes into contact with them.â€
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.
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.