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What is Thirdhand Smoke?

Tobacco smoke is bad for you. Are you surprised? For many years, everyone has been well aware that smoking is a public health problem and creates health risks.

First, we became aware that smoking is unhealthy. Then we became aware that just being next to a smoker is a health risk. Now, we’re learning that simply being in a space where someone smoked, even years after, could be dangerous.

A newer concept, called “thirdhand smoke,” is used to describe the lingering effects of tobacco smoke. Effects that are found long after the cigarette is snubbed...

What you need to know about Thirdhand Smoke and Air Quality

Most have heard of first-hand and second hand smoke. Firsthand smoke is what’s taken in by smokers themselves, the smoke that goes directly from the cigarette to the lungs.

Secondhand smoke is the smoke in the atmosphere; it’s what’s inhaled by people who are near people lighting up. This is also referred to as second-hand smoke exposure.

But what about third-hand smoke? Where does this concept come from?

This is a relatively-new term used to describe the residual contamination that lingers long after a cigarette, cigar, or pipe has been extinguished.

As you’ve probably heard, there are a lot of bad substances in tobacco, including gasses and particulate matter. It’s these substances that are linked to the harmful effects of smoking, but they don’t just disappear after someone has put out their cigarettes.

As a smoker enjoys their cigarette, smoke is released into the nearby atmosphere. You’ll see a visual haze of smoke for a short period, but eventually the smoke disappears. When you can’t see smoke, it’s easy to assume the harmful effects are gone.

But research is starting to show that the smoke is not gone after all. It’s merely settled into different areas where we can’t see it. Unfortunately, this means it can be re-released into the atmosphere and become a health concern.

There is now mounting evidence that thirdhand smoke can be a serious danger to people of all ages, especially to growing children, who, due their developing bodies and the relatively-large size of their lungs compared to their bodies, are particularly susceptible to the dangers.

In fact, it’s now believed that third-hand smoke can reside in many different areas, and can be a danger to many different people.

Where is Thirdhand Smoke Found?

The history of thirdhand smoke and the thought that smoke could be lingering on surfaces goes back many decades.

According to a report published in Environmental Health Perspectives, the idea that tobacco could be harmful in non-smoke form was first conceived in a 1953 study that involved lab rats. The study discovered that smoke condensate on mice could cause cancer.

This triggered a thought that chemicals from smoke could cause problems even when not inhaled. And it’s reasonable to believe that smoke may linger in the home, much like soot found inside chimneys. After all, if a chimney could, overtime, become coated with tobacco residue, then why couldn’t a chair, carpet, or a table?

Thirdhand Smoke Study #1: Nicotine in the Home

The concept stayed in scientific limbo until 1991, when it was discovered that indoor dust could contain the same contaminants found in cigarette smoke. The study found that dust from the houses of smokers had a higher concentration of nicotine. In a bit of scientific obviousness, it was concluded that the more someone smoked in the house, the more nicotine was found in the dust. This lead researchers to conclude that dust inhalation could be a modest form of “involuntary smoking.”

So, by 1991, it’s been established that smoking in the home results in lingering smoke residue, including nicotine, on the dust found inside the home. But it would seem reasonable that smoke chemicals would be limited to the rooms where smoking takes place.

If you smoke in a different room, only the single room will be contaminated. And if you smoke outside, none of the rooms will be contaminated.


According to our next study, wrong.

Thirdhand Smoke Study #2: In One Room, In Every Room

In 2004, a study was conducted at San Diego State University to determine whether smokers can protect other people by smoking outside. The researchers were especially focused on contaminants found in the homes and rooms of infants. The research found that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke (or ETS, another term for thirdhand smoke) was three to eight times higher in households that allow smoking inside, which seems like strong justification to take the cigarettes outdoors.

However, the researchers also found that ETS exposure was five to seven times higher in households with smokers who smoke outside compared to households of non-smokers. The research concluded that dust and surfaces inside the homes of smokers are contaminated, to some degree, whether the smoking takes place inside or out.

While the concept of lingering tobacco smoke residue and its harmful effects were discussed for decades, it wasn’t until 2006 that the term “thirdhand smoke” was printed.

And it didn’t become a significant part of the public’s conscious until 2009, when researchers at Harvard Medical School published a paper on the subject in Pediatrics.

Thirdhand Smoke Study #3: Coughing Commuter

If smoke can reside for years, even decades, in a home, then why couldn’t it stay in a car?

A 2008 study reported just that. This study, also from San Diego State University, found that used cars from smokers had an elevated level of nicotine in the air, on the dust, and on the surfaces of the vehicles.

The study found that cars where smoking was not allowed, air nicotine levels were significantly lowered.

Interestingly, however, they found that levels of dust and surfaces remained similar to a smoker’s car. This once again hints that the chemicals of smoke can spread all over, regardless of where the smoking takes place.

This also creates concerns for buyers of used cars, especially people with respiratory diseases like asthma and allergies.

The growing amount of research shows us that there is a wide variety of chemicals and pollutants present in third-hand smoke. For the most part, thirdhand smoke is made of the same toxins found in first and secondhand smoke, including arsenic, lead, and cyanide.

Why is it a Concern?

With these studies, and many more, the scientific community has been able to conclude that there is a lingering presence of tobacco smoke. But is there any evidence that it’s actually harmful?

Given what we know about smoking, it’s reasonable to assume that it is, but in science, assumptions are worthless; they need to be backed up with evidence.

Thirdhand Smoke Study #4: DNA Damage from Thirdhand Smoke

Let’s take another look at a study that was conducted on thirdhand smoke.

This study, from Berkeley Lab was slightly different, in that it looked at the effects of thirdhand smoke, not the existence, which is what the other studies sought. This study discovered that third-hand smoke can lead to DNA damage.

The study also found that chronic, or prolonged exposure, is often worse than direct exposure. The findings suggest that residue could be potentially more dangerous over time.

The researchers used various methods and found that thirdhand smoke can cause both breaks in the DNA strand, as well as “oxidative” DNA damage. If that doesn’t make sense, just know that all of this could lead to gene mutation. Called “genotoxicity,” the ability to mutate genes is linked to many types of cancer.

Thirdhand Smoke Study: Ozone Reactions with Thirdhand Smoke

In another study in Science Direct, a group of researchers led again by Berkeley professors found that ozone reacted with 50 different types of compounds found in secondhand smoke.

We know that ultrafine particle sizes are able to be inhaled and absorbed by the body because of their minute size, moving to potentially sensitive sites like bone marrow, the heart, and lymph nodes.

The team speculated that ultrafine particles could settle on surfaces and be re-suspended in the air. Research from another team confirmed this speculation.

Signs of Thirdhand Smoke

We spent a lot of time talking about advanced scientific studies from highly-educated professors and researchers.

But what does all of this mean to the average homeowner who just wants to know if thirdhand smoke exists in their home and how they can protect their family?

Let’s shift our mental gears now and look at the practical, usable steps you can take to reduce or eliminate thirdhand smoke from your life, starting with how to identify if thirdhand smoke exists in your indoor atmosphere.

The most reliable tool for identifying the presence of thirdhand smoke is your nose.

You’ll know it when you step into a house or sit in a car; the presence of smoke can be slight or strong, but you don’t have to be a blood hound to pick up on the presence of thirdhand smoke. Your nose is often the best indicator of previous smokers.

If you want to get very scientific with your analysis, you can order testing kits to measure the air for contaminants, including chemicals left by cigarette smoke. You can use these test kits in your own home, and you may be able to test apartments or homes you want to rent.

Protecting Yourself and Your Family Against Thirdhand Smoke?

This is really the most important part of the entire discussion. How can you protect yourself and your family against the harmful effects of thirdhand smoke? What can you do to ensure any lingering smoke residue is removed, and no smoke ever comes to contaminate your home?

The first thing you can do is to never allow smoking in the home. At this point, banning smoke from the home is an obvious and nearly-universal practice, put it’s still worth remembering. You can also make sure that smoking, even outside the home, is not allowed near you, your children, and even household pets.

Studies have shown that smoke can be dragged in the home, so keep everyone away and you’ll reduce the chances of exposure. It’s also important to remind any caregivers, such as friends, babysitters, and grandparents, to honor and respect these no-smoking rules.

If you are a smoker, we’re certainly not going to give you another unwanted lecture on quitting; you probably get enough of that already.

However, we can give you some tips to reduce toxins in the home while you are trying to quit.

For starters, you can wash your hands after smoking, which will remove many of the contaminants attached to your fingers. You could even consider changing your clothes after smoking to reduce contaminants released into the air.

Smoking outside is helpful, but it may not be enough, so consider smoking at least 20 feet from the door and any open windows.

When purchasing a car or home, be sure to inquire about tobacco smoke among previous owners or tenants. However, you may not be completely protected.

According to an article from The New York Times, there is no law saying that realtors or home-sellers must disclose if people smoked in the home. However, most realtors, at least the good ones, will be honest and tell you if smoking has occurred or not.

The same goes for vehicles. There appears to be no law stating that sellers must disclose smoking.

So, it’s up to you to use your nose and, if possible, use testing kits to verify the quality of air in the home and vehicle.

Oransi Air Purifiers for Thirdhand Smoke

One of the ways you can clean the air and provide safe, chemical-free environments for your family is with the use of air purifiers.

To remove tobacco smoke and thirdhand smoke, there are a couple Oransi air purifiers to consider including the mod.
Oransi mod air purifier

mod+ Air Purifier

This air purifier removes many different pollutants, including allergens, bacteria, and mold spores covering an area of 1,361 square feet with 2 air changes per hour. It also collects airborne dust, which is a common vehicle for third-hand smoke.

The mod+ air purifier uses a high efficiency air filter and a strong motor, which removes 99.4% of all airborne allergens and particulates. This makes it ideal for tobacco smoke removal. It can be used in bedrooms, offices, living rooms, and basements, providing versatile, effective air purification.

Thirdhand Smoke: A Serious Detriment to Your Home’s Value

It should come as no surprise that thirdhand smoke can be a problem for people who want to sell their homes.

Even before all of this information was available, houses with smoky, tobacco smells were a tough sell on the real estate market.

The issue was documented as far back as 2004 (and it’s a safe guess well before that), in the New York Times article that discussed the difficulties of selling a home with a cigarette smoke smell.

The article quoted real estate professionals who said that while a home will eventually sell, a smoker’s home is much more difficult to move. So, realtors would resort to hiding the smell and even vacuuming before potential buyers arrive.

The bottom line: if there is a smoky smell in the home, it can mean a longer sales process. It can also mean a lower price. A Canadian study found that smoking can reduce the cost of a house by 29%.

According to the article, this means that a home worth $369,000 (which is the average home value in Ontario) would be reduced by $107,000. The article also noted that a significant number of realtors surveyed said that some homebuyers are entirely unwilling to buy a home where people have smoked.

Smoking has a significant impact on your home’s marketability and value, creating another reason to quit if possible, keep smoking outside, and use room air purifiers to mitigate the effects of harmful tobacco smoke.

Final Note: Don’t Use Ozone to Remove Thirdhand Smoke

A common practice to remove odors, mold, and large concentrations of pollutants is to “shock” the room using an ozone generator.

However, this is not an ideal solution for homes and should rarely be used to clean a home.

Ozone is an airborne chemical that is effective for removing odors and pollutants, but it’s also dangerous to our health. Therefore, it’s recommended that only trained professionals should conduct ozone treatments for any purpose. 

In fact, a study from the University of California, Berkeley shows that ozone and nicotine are a dangerous combination, especially for asthma sufferers.

Instead of ozone generators or ionizers, use safe techniques like cleaning and air purifiers to remove third-hand smoke.

Get World-Class Air Purification for Your Home

You can have air purification that keeps your air clean and your family safe. When your order high-quality products from Oransi, you’ll have air purifiers that meet and exceed the most rigorous standards.

Contact us today and we’ll make sure you have an air purifier that meets your needs for performance, size, and specific contaminants. From small, single-room purifiers to large, powerful units, we have everything you need for a clear space!