Thirdhand smoke is the newly formed toxins from tobacco smoke that remain on furniture, in cars, on clothing and on other surfaces long after smokers have finished their cigarettes. And according to a study in the American Journal of Physiology, researchers at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center found that prenatal exposure to toxic components of thirdhand smoke can have as serious or an even more negative impact on an infants’ lung development as exposure to smoke once a baby is born.
Never heard of it? Thirdhand smoke is aged secondhand smoke, and it attaches to the surfaces in homes and other surroundings. Thirdhand smoke is composed of smaller, ultrafine particles with a greater molecular weight that, researchers now believe, could pose a greater asthma hazard in children than even firsthand or secondhand smoke. Touching surfaces contaminated with thirdhand smoke, as well as ingesting dust containing the superfine particles of thirdhand smoke, are the most likely major pathways for exposure to these toxins.
“Thirdhand smoke is a stealth toxin because it lingers on the surfaces in the homes, hotel rooms ... and cars used by smokers where children, the elderly, and other vulnerable people may be exposed to the toxicants without realizing the dangers,” says Dr. Virender Rehan, one of the study’s authors.
Got a smoker in your household? Even if the smoker doesn’t light up anywhere near you, “children and pregnant mothers in busy households are especially susceptible to thirdhand smoke exposure because they could touch or breathe in the toxic substances from contaminated surfaces,” says Dr. Rehan. “Among infants, it has been found that the rate of ingesting dust is more than twice that of adults, making babies especially vulnerable to the effects of thirdhand smoke.”
Rehan advises pregnant women to “avoid homes and other places where thirdhand smoke is likely to be found [in order to] protect their unborn children against the potential damage these toxins can cause to the developing infants’ lungs,” citing that nicotine levels are six times lower among infants living in homes with strict no-smoking policies.