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Study: Third-Hand Smoke Exposure As Deadly As Smoking

Benjamin Fearnow
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File photo of a man smoking a cigarette. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/GettyImages)

Exposure to surfaces and objects that have been saturated in cigarette smoke, labeled as “third-hand smoke,” is just as deadly as smoking the cigarette itself. (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/GettyImages)

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Riverside, Calif. (CBS ATLANTA) – Exposure to surfaces and objects that have been saturated in cigarette smoke, labeled as “third-hand smoke,” may be as deadly as smoking the cigarette itself.

A new study from the University of California, Riverside finds that the third-hand smoke that has soaked into the surfaces, objects and environment around people becomes increasingly toxic over time. Third-hand smoke is defined as the second-hand smoke that is allowed to settle on objects in any environment. Non-smoking children, co-workers, spouses and friends of smokers breathe in such carcinogens left in rooms exposed to smokers.

“We studied, on mice, the effects of third-hand smoke on several organ systems under conditions that simulated third-hand smoke exposure of humans,” Manuela Martins-Green, a professor of cell biology who led the study, said in a statement to UCR Today. “We found significant damage occurs in the liver and lung. Wounds in these mice took longer to heal. Further, these mice displayed hyperactivity.”

The researchers note that smoking tobacco remains a worldwide cause of serious health threats for smokers and nonsmokers alike, affected approximately 1.5 billion people globally.

The study published in the journal PLOS ONE finds that third-hand smoke persists in houses, hotel rooms and other living spaces long after smokers move out. The mice exposed to third-hand smoke in the lab showed variations in multiple organ systems and excreted levels of a tobacco-specific carcinogen similar to children exposed to secondhand smoke. Wounds healed more slowly and the liver was negatively impacted.

“The latter data, combined with emerging associated behavioral problems in children exposed to second- and third-hand smoke suggests that with prolonged exposure, they may be at significant risk for developing more severe neurological disorders,” Martins-Green told UCR Today.

Contamination of surfaces in smokers’ homes exposed the mice to nicotine levels consistent with smoking itself.

“More recently we have found that exposure to third-hand smoke results in changes that can lead to type II diabetes even when the person is not obese,” Martins-Green said. “There is still much to learn about the specific mechanisms by which cigarette smoke residues harm nonsmokers, but that there is such an effect is now clear. Children in environments where smoking is, or has been allowed, are at significant risk for suffering from multiple short-term and longer health problems, many of which may not manifest fully until later in life.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking causes an estimated 440,000 deaths each year in the U.S., which is about one-in-five deaths. The CDC notes that smoking causes more deaths annually than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents.

CDC data shows that exposure to secondhand smoke has “immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and can cause coronary heart disease.” Secondhand smoke causes an estimated 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among nonsmokers.

Past research has shown that older children whose parents smoke get sick more often, their lungs grow less and wheezing, coughing are more common in children who breathe secondhand smoke.

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