Parents who smoke often open a window or turn on a fan to clear the air of second-hand smoke,but experts now have identified another smoking related threat to childrens health that isnt as easy to get rid of: third-hand smoke.
Thats the term being used to describe the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers hair and clothing,not to mention cushions and carpeting,that lingers long after smoke has cleared from a room. The residue includes heavy metals,carcinogens and even radioactive materials that children can get on their hands and ingest,especially if theyre crawling or playing on the floor.
Doctors from MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston coined the term third-hand smoke to describe these chemicals in a new study that focused on the risks they pose to infants and children. The study was published in this months issue of the journal Pediatrics. Everyone knows that second-hand smoke is bad,but they dont know about this, said Dr Jonathan P Winickoff,the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.
When their kids are out of the house,they might smoke. Or they smoke in the car. Or they strap the kid in the car seat in the back and crack the window and smoke,and they think its okay because the second-hand smoke isnt getting to their kids, Dr Winickoff continued. We needed a term to describe these tobacco toxins that arent visible.
Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette,he said,or in a hotel room where people were smoking. Your nose isnt lying, he said. The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: Get away.
The study reported on attitudes toward smoking in 1,500 households across the United States. It found that the vast majority of both smokers and nonsmokers were aware that second-hand smoke is harmful to children. Some 95 percent of nonsmokers and 84 percent of smokers agreed with the statement that inhaling smoke from a parents cigarette can harm the health of infants and children.
But far fewer of those surveyed were aware of the risks of third-hand smoke. Since the term is so new,the researchers asked people if they agreed with the statement that breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children. Only 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers agreed with that statement,which researchers interpreted as acknowledgement of the risks of third-hand smoke.
The belief that second-hand smoke harms childrens health was not independently associated with strict smoking bans in homes and cars,the researchers found. On the other hand,the belief that third-hand smoke was harmful greatly increased the likelihood the respondent also would enforce a strict smoking ban at home,Dr Winickoff said.