Cancer risk for non-smokers is increased from thirdhand smoke

Harold Mandel's picture
Cigarette smoke
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There has been a consistent flow of information linking smoking cigarettes with lung cancer. Evidence that exposure to secondhand smoke is also associated with an increased risk for cancer has been alarming. New research has gone even further by linking exposure to thirdhand smoke with an increased risk of cancer. What is third-hand cigarette smoking?

Nitrosamines in thirdhand tobacco smoke increase cancer risk

Exposure to nitrosamines which are found in thirdhand tobacco smoke increases the risk for cancer in non-smokers reported Environment International. Aside from passive inhalation, non-smokers, and particularly kids, are exposed to residual tobacco smoke gases and particles which are deposited to surfaces and dust. This is known as thirdhand smoke.

Until recently the potential cancer risks from exposure to thirdhand smoke have been highly uncertain and have not been considered in public health policy. In this study the potential cancer risk via non-dietary ingestion and dermal exposure to the carcinogen N-nitrosamines and tobacco-specific nitrosamines were measured in house dust samples.

Cancer risk from thirdhand smoke exposure should be considered in environmental and health policies

The presence of nicotine, eight N-nitrosamines and five tobacco-specific nitrosamines were found in forty-six settled dust samples from homes which were occupied by both smokers and non-smokers. The results of this study have highlighted the potentially severe long-term consequences of thirdhand smoke exposure, particularly to kids. This should be considered when developing future environmental and health policies.

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This research has highlighted the potential risk of cancer in non-smokers, particularly young kids, of tobacco smoke gases and particles which are deposited to surfaces and dust in the home reports The University of York via Aplha Galileo. Due to the uncertain risks of exposure to thirdhand tobacco smoke until this time this has not been considered in public policy.

There is widespread presence of tobacco associated carcinogens in house dust

The picture has changed with this new research which has estimated for the first time the potential cancer risk via age group from non-dietary ingestion and dermal exposure to thirdhand smoke. Potentially very severe long-term consequences from thirdhand smoke have been found, particularly to kids.

This study also shows for the first time the widespread presence of tobacco associated carcinogens
in house dust, even in environments which are considered smoke-free. Apparently tobacco specific nitrosamines which are formed in smoking environments can persist for extended periods and subsequently can be transported into non-smokers’ homes from outside.

Risks of tobacco exposure do not come to an end when a cigarette is extinguished

Lead researcher, Dr Jacqueline Hamilton, from York’s Wolfson Atmospheric Chemistry Laboratories, has pointed out that the risks of tobacco exposure do not come to an end when a cigarette is extinguished. Non-smokers, particularly kids, are also at risk via contact with surfaces and dust which are contaminated with residual smoke gases and particles, or the so-called thirdhand smoke. This risk should be considered in future educational programs and tobacco associated public health policies.

The issue of the dangers of thirdhand smoke, in particular for kids, raises more imperative questions than ever before about policies dealing with smoking. In view of the apparent spread of tobacco specific nitrosamines to smoke-free homes it is clear smokers really are leaving the entire society open to an increased risk of lung cancer. This offers a very strong argument for a consideration of finally moving to make smoking cigarettes illegal worldwide.

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