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Children especially vulnerable to third hand smoke that lingers

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

A new study warns that third hand smoke is especially dangerous for children. Parents need to be aware of how toxins in extinguished cigarettes intermingle with fabrics, skin, hair, and other surfaces where children can easily get a dose of poison from third hand smoke that lingers.

The findings come from researchers at MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and colleagues. Jonathan Winickoff, MD, MPH, assistant director of the MGHfC Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy warns that smoking anywhere – outside or when babies and children are not in the home – still puts them at health risks because they come in contact with toxins in cigarettes.

Children are especially vulnerable to third hand smoke as they crawl, touch and put their mouths on potential neurotoxins found in cigarettes that can also lead to cancer. "When you come into contact with your baby, even if you're not smoking at the time, she comes in contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in your breast milk”, says Winickoff who also clarifies that breast milk is still preferable to bottle feeding.

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Some of the chemical in cigarettes include toluene, used in paint thinner, lead, a known neurotoxin, chromium that might increase risk of lung cancer, polonium-210 that is a potent cancer causing chemical, and arsenic that is also cancer causes and can cause a variety of health related problems.

The scientists investigated how members of households perceive the dangers of third hand smoke. A survey of 1500 households showed that 95.4 percent of nonsmokers, but only 84.1 percent of smokers said they know about the health harm that could occur to children from third hand smoke. Non smokers were most likely to have stricter rules about smoking inside.

The researchers say education is needed to make people aware that third hand smoke is especially dangerous to children and lingers in the environment. Clinicians are urged to teach parents, and anti tobacco campaigns should also include information about the health dangers of toxins from third hand smoke to promote smoking bans in the home and give people another reason to quit smoking altogether.