In recent years, Australia has witnessed a surge in public health campaigns, bringing attention to the hazards of smoking and the risks associated with secondhand smoke.
However, there’s a lesser-known effect of cigarette smoking that often lurks in the shadows: thirdhand smoking.
Instead of being inhaled by a smoker (firsthand) or a non-smoker near someone who’s smoking (secondhand), thirdhand smoking leaves behind a toxic trail that can have far-reaching consequences for both smokers and unsuspecting non-smokers.
In this post, let’s learn more about thirdhand smoking and its impact on your environment.
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What is Thirdhand Smoking?
Thirdhand smoking isn’t a term casually thrown around at BBQs, but it’s a serious concern that deserves our attention. So, what exactly is it?
Thirdhand smoking is the residual toxic compounds left lingering on surfaces and in dust after the smoke from that last cigarette has vanished into thin air. They might not be visible to the naked eye, but you can be sure they’re there.
When the harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke – volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and carcinogens, to name a few – touch various indoor surfaces, furniture, clothing, and even vehicles, they can cause danger to anyone physically interacting with them.
It’s like a stealthy invader, creating an invisible layer of toxic particles that stick around, exposing individuals to health risks even in seemingly smoke-free environments.
How Long Does Thirdhand Smoke Last?
Unsurprisingly, thirdhand smoke can last for years on surfaces, especially if they’re not regularly cleaned. If someone regularly smokes inside an enclosed space, the smoke residue will stay on anything it touches.
And when you have to clean them, you’ll need to ask specialists who can use ammonia and other strong solutions for thorough cleaning and to ensure they don’t damage your space.
These strong chemicals are necessary as the residuals are especially hard to remove once they’ve crusted in place.
Common Sources of Thirdhand Smoke
You might think that limiting your exposure to thirdhand smoke is as simple as avoiding a smoker or smoky room or space. The best way for anyone to prevent it is to help the smoker – the source of it – quit for good.
Cigarettes, cigars, and any kind of burnt tobacco product are a source of thirdhand smoke. Once the smoke clears, it would leave residue on various surfaces.
In fact, surfaces exposed to smoke for too long may show signs of discoloration – in most cases, a yellowish color becomes visible on the ceiling.
Aside from smokers and cigarettes, other sources of thirdhand smoke are the chimney, burnt leaves, smoke from combustion, and anything else that produces smoke. They can still leave dangerous residue on various surfaces.
So, even if you’re not the one puffing away, the smoke can still dangerously impact your environment, making it crucial to understand the risks associated with thirdhand smoke.
Is Thirdhand Smoke Dangerous?
Now that we’ve got a grasp on what thirdhand smoking is, let’s dive into the potential health risks it poses.
Thirdhand Smoke Endangers Children
Infants and young children are naturally curious and explorative in their environment at home, and are extremely vulnerable to both secondhand and thirdhand smoke exposure.
Picture this: your little one touching a surface contaminated with smoke residue, and then gleefully popping those tiny fingers into their mouth. It’s a recipe for disaster.
Thirdhand Smoke Endangers Pets
It’s not just the humans in your household that are at risk. Pets at home have an innate curiosity and drive to protect and explore their territories, which means that, like young children, they’re at the highest risk of thirdhand smoking.
For example, dogs and cats love sniffing and licking various surfaces in your home.
Once they’ve made contact with contaminated surfaces, pets can suffer graver health issues than their human counterparts due to their smaller bodies.
So, if you care about Fido and Fluffy, it’s time to consider the known dangers of secondhand smoking on pets and the unseen dangers your smoking habits might be posing to them.
The chemicals found in thirdhand smoke are no joke – we’re talking about known carcinogens like benzene and formaldehyde that can increase the risk of cancer development, even in non-smokers, the more and longer you’re exposed.
When benzene lingers on surfaces, it doesn’t just sit there innocently. It becomes a ticking time bomb, waiting to be absorbed by your skin, inhaled through the air, or ingested through contact with contaminated surfaces.
Once inside the body, benzene can disrupt the normal functioning of cells, potentially leading to the development of various cancers, including leukemia.
Formaldehyde is another well-known respiratory irritant found in cigarette smoke, and when it settles on indoor surfaces, it becomes a constant companion in the air we breathe.
Prolonged exposure to formaldehyde is linked to an increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer and also leukemia.
Thirdhand smoke is just like having poor air quality in your home – it can cause existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, to worsen. More importantly, it may even contribute to the development of new respiratory problems in non-smokers.
Long-term exposure to the residues of tobacco smoke has been linked to an increased risk of respiratory infections, bronchitis, and other pulmonary issues.
What appears to be a harmless encounter with thirdhand smoke may, over time, evolve into a respiratory challenge that was never on your health radar.
We know that smoking can cause danger to the lungs. But, even those who aren’t smokers can potentially develop cardiovascular complications. Those lingering chemicals can mess with blood flow, making your heart work overtime.
When carbon monoxide infiltrates your space, it messes with your heart rate. Its rhythm gets disrupted, which can cause all sorts of dangers to your body.
Once your spaces are clear of both secondhand and thirdhand smoke, you can breathe easily, and your body will gradually dispel carbon monoxide from your body.
Avoid All Manner of Smoking Dangers by Quitting
You can avoid the dangers of firsthand, secondhand, and thirdhand smoking by quitting altogether (if you’re the smoker) or encouraging someone to quit today. While the road may be difficult, you won’t have to go through it alone today with the steps below.
Go Through First-Line Solutions First
Some motivated smokers can handle cold turkey just fine and see success within a few tries, but oftentimes, smokers have strong withdrawals that can draw them back to lighting a stick.
That’s where nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) products come in. These are readily available and stocked at your local pharmacy.
NRT products are the most trusted quitting option available for motivated smokers. They might not imitate cigarettes, but they contain a small dose of nicotine that may be enough to alleviate your withdrawals. These come in the form of patches and gums for easy and convenient nicotine delivery.
While NRTs can be effective, they don’t work for everyone. If these haven’t done the trick for you, you may now be eligible for a nicotine prescription to use nicotine vaping products (NVPs).
Chat to a GP
As mentioned, NRT products have worked for many successful ex-smokers. But, you might have ingrained behaviours and triggers that only something that mimics a cigarette can successfully address, such as the hand-to-mouth motion, and needing something to use while having a drink with friends.
That is where NVPs become very handy in helping you fight the urge to consume tobacco.
You need a nicotine prescription before you can purchase NVPs, so you’ll need to consult with a GP to help you on your smoking cessation journey.
And, if your GP deems it necessary, they can write you a nicotine prescription for NVPs.
You can chat to your usual GP more about this.
Visit Your Local Pharmacy
Once you have your nicotine prescription, you can pop down to your local pharmacy. Over 2,200 pharmacies across Australia hold these products in-store, but any pharmacy can order these in for you if they don’t currently stock them.
Both your pharmacist and GP can advise you on how best to use the product, such as the initial setup, and the number of puffs to take when you feel withdrawals.
Thirdhand smoking might seem benign at first, but as you’ve read, it’s far from being a harmless residue of cigarette smoke that could last for decades.
The residue from tobacco smoke can cause the same dangers as firsthand and secondhand smoke does, and the best way to protect anyone in the household from these dangers is to stop smoking for good.
We know it’s going to be an uphill battle, but we’ll always be with you every step of the way.
Smokefree Clinic gives you access to many medically reviewed and trustworthy resources that can inform and aid you in your path to wellness, so have a look around!
If you’re ready to get started, Smokefree can connect you to Australian healthcare professionals who excel in helping patients quit smoking for good.