Sunday, June 21, 2009

And Now, Third-Hand Smoke

Okay, everybody knows that cigarette smoke leaves an unpleasant smell on the breath of the smoker. The stink also remains in his/her clothes, hair and skin. But wait, there’s more.

The gases and small particles in cigarette smoke are deposited on every surface the smoker comes in contact with and the environment where the cigarette was smoked in. These toxic particles remain long after the cigarette has been put out and any secondhand smoke has been removed from the area.

This is called “third hand smoke”, a new term coined by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children (MGHfC) to describe another set of dangers associated with cigarette smoke.

“Third-hand smoke presents a serious health risk for young children who may crawl on contaminated surfaces and ingest toxins via hand-to-mouth,” said Jonathan Winickoff, the lead research author and a professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Richmond Center.

Particulate matter from tobacco smoke has been proven toxic. According to the National Toxicology Program, these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, butane, ammonia, toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic, lead, chromium (used to make steel), cadmium (used to make batteries), and polonium-210 (highly radioactive carcinogen). Eleven of the compounds are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the most dangerous.

Winickoff explained that the developing brain of a child is uniquely susceptible to extremely low levels of toxins. Babies and children are closer to surfaces such as floors. They tend to touch or even mouth (put their mouths to) the contaminated surfaces. Children ingest twice the amount of dust that grown-ups do due to faster respiration and proximity to dusty surfaces.

Winickoff’s team was the first to examine adult attitudes about the health risks to children of third-hand smoke and how those beliefs may relate to rules about smoking in their homes.
The result of their study was published in the January 2009 issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers surveyed more than 1,500 households in an effort to learn about adult attitudes regarding the danger third-hand smoke represents to their children and how that might affect smoking in the home. The following are highlights of what they discovered.

• On secondhand smoke: approximately 95 percent of nonsmokers and 84 percent of smokers believe that secondhand smoke is hazardous for children.

• On the issue of whether third-hand smoke threatens the health of children: 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers felt that third-hand smoke harms kids.

• When asked about rules regarding smoking in the home: approximately 88 percent of nonsmokers said they didn’t allow smoking, while only 27 percent of smokers prohibit smoking in the home. However, both non-smokers and smokers who felt that third-hand smoking was harmful to children’s health were more inclined to restrict smoking in their homes.

By introducing the phrase “third-hand smoke”, the study points to the need for every smoker to try to quit. That’s the only way to completely protect their children, Winickoff stressed.

Co-authors of the study are Joan Friebely, EdD, and Cheryl Sherrod, MGHfC Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy; Susanne Tanski, MD, Dartmouth Medical School; Georg Matt, PhD, and Melbourne Hovel, PhD, MPH, San Diego State University; and Robert McMillen, PhD, Mississippi State University. Support for the study includes grants from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute and the National Cancer Institute.

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