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Originally published April 14 2009

Study Finds New Hazard in Third-Hand Smoke

by Elizabeth Walling

(NaturalNews) Most people take the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke seriously, but a study published in the January 2009 edition of Pediatrics shows this is not enough. A newly discovered hazard, labeled "third-hand smoke," poses considerable risk, even more so because it is not always obvious.

A cigarette in the hand or a room full of smoke is conspicuous and easy to avoid. But what about after the cigarette's been put out and the smoke disappears? Doctors from MassGeneral Hospital for Children in Boston say the dangerous toxins are still present, even if they are no longer visible. Smoke from tobacco products leaves a residue behind which exposes you to carcinogens, heavy metals and radioactive materials.

Dr. Jonathan P. Winickoff, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, explains: "Third-hand smoke is the tobacco smoke contamination that remains after the cigarette is extinguished. It's the toxic layer that is deposited on every surface indoors where a smoker lights up: in cars, on smokers' clothing and hair."

In the study, researchers surveyed 1,500 households in the United States to determine if people were aware of the hazards of third-hand smoke. Most smokers and nonsmokers agreed that second-hand smoke was an obvious danger. However, only 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers thought third-hand smoke was hazardous to children. Most people, and especially those who smoke, simply aren't aware of the risks of third-hand smoke.

"When their kids are out of the house, they might smoke," says Dr. Winickoff. "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 it's okay because the second-hand smoke isn't getting to their kids."

He points out you can smell tobacco smoke on someone after they've been smoking or in a room where people have smoked. "Your nose isn't lying," he said. "The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you, 'Get away.'"

Dr. Philip Landrigan is a pediatrician who heads the Children's Environmental Health Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. He thinks the term "third-hand smoke" is right on the money.

"The central message here is that simply closing the kitchen door to take a smoke is not protecting the kids from the effects of that smoke," he said. "There are carcinogens in this third-hand smoke, and they are a cancer risk for anybody of any age who comes into contact with them."

Of course, if you're an adult you can choose to remove yourself from any situation which exposes you to third-hand smoke. For children, whose developing brains and bodies are highly susceptible to the harmful toxins in smoking tobacco, the choice is not always in their hands. It's up to adults to take responsibility for our children's health by preventing them from being exposed to these toxic substances.


About the author

Elizabeth Walling is a freelance writer specializing in health and family nutrition. She is a strong believer in natural living as a way to improve health and prevent modern disease. She enjoys thinking outside of the box and challenging common myths about health and wellness. You can visit her blog to learn more:

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