Ask any grandparent if they’d willingly hurt their grandchildren and they would likely be highly offended by the question. However, if they smoke, they could be unknowingly harming their beloved grandkids, even if they refrain from lighting up near them.
The same is true of anyone who smokes. Even if you never smoke in the presence of others and make a concentrated effort to always smoke outdoors, you could be negatively affecting the health of those you spend time with through what experts call “thirdhand smoke.”
“When a person smokes, they inhale dangerous chemicals,” says Dr. Asha Devereaux, a pulmonary medicine specialist affiliated with Sharp Coronado Hospital. “When they exhale, those chemicals are released in their original form or an even more activated form.”
We already know how dangerous the chemicals in cigarettes and other tobacco products are to those who smoke and the people exposed to their secondhand smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ of the body; causes stroke and diseases including cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease; and greatly reduces the overall health of smokers. It is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
Secondhand smoke exposure causes close to 41,000 deaths among nonsmokers and 400 deaths in infants each year. It also causes stroke, lung cancer and coronary heart disease. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, severe asthma, respiratory symptoms and slowed lung growth.
Sources of thirdhand smoke
What many smokers don't consider, however, is that the dangerous chemicals that are exhaled when they smoke settle into their skin, hair, clothing, bedding, carpeting, upholstery, cars and even the walls of their homes. This is how their loved ones — especially infants and small children who often play on the floor, put their hands in their mouths and are held closely — are then exposed to toxic thirdhand smoke.
“If you smell smoke on someone’s person or in their car, home or business, you and your loved ones are being exposed to hazardous chemicals,” Dr. Deveraux says. “I strongly believe that exposing children to second and thirdhand smoke is a form of endangerment.”
Many states have enacted smoking bans if children are present in the car — ages range from under 8 to 18 depending on the state — due to the significant negative health impact of secondhand smoke on the developing youth.
Dr. Deveraux offers the following tips to protect yourself and your family from secondhand and thirdhand smoke:
- Do not allow anyone to smoke anywhere in or near your home
- Do not allow anyone to smoke in your car, even with the windows down
- Do not go into homes or allow your children to go into homes where smoking occurs
- Avoid restaurants, casinos, bars or other businesses where smoking may occur
- Do not ride in cars or allow your children to ride in cars in which someone has smoked
- Quit smoking
Talk to your doctor if you would like to quit smoking or have concerns about a loved one’s smoking and the effects secondhand and thirdhand smoke may have on you and your children. To learn more about the dangers of smoking, visit the CDC fact sheet on the health effects of cigarette smoking.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Devereaux about thirdhand smoke for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.