What is Third Hand Smoke?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 August 2019
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The term “third hand smoke” is used to describe the particles from cigarettes which cling to textiles, rugs, and furnishings even after a smoker leaves the room. People can be exposed to the toxins in cigarettes indirectly through third hand smoke, much as people can be exposed through second hand smoke when a smoker is present. Research has suggested that third hand smoke has the potential to be harmful, although additional study is needed to determine the extent of health problems caused by third hand smoke.

As many people are aware, a room or car which has been smoked in will smell like smoke even when a smoker is not present. Likewise, the clothing, hair, and bedding of smokers tends to smell like smoke. This scent is caused by various chemicals and gases present in cigarettes which are emitted when cigarettes are smoked. In addition to leaving an odor behind, cigarettes evidently also leave toxins, and this is why some people are concerned about third hand smoke.

The toxins present in cigarettes vary, depending on the contents of the cigarette. As a general rule, so-called “tailormade” cigarettes which are packaged in rolled form tend to have more toxins present, ranging from pesticides used on the tobacco to heavy metals included in the additives to the cigarette. Looseleaf tobacco can also contain toxins, including chemicals which are naturally present in the tobacco plant.


Research has long indicated that direct exposure to cigarettes through smoking can be harmful, and many studies have also indicated that breathing in smoke via a second hand route can also be harmful, especially for young children. Third hand smoke is a relatively recent topic of study, and it has proved somewhat controversial, despite the fact that chemical analysis of objects which have been around smokers indicates that these objects are saturated in carcinogens, toxins, and sometimes radioactive materials.

Proponents of the theory that third hand smoke is bad for human health argue that people can be exposed to these toxins by interacting with them. Children and pets are especially at risk, as they may mouth, lick, or rub against textiles, rugs, and other materials which have been covered in cigarette residue. Since children and pets are already more vulnerable to the toxins in tobacco, third hand smoke could present a serious risk to them. Opponents of the theory argue that no studies have firmly proved that third hand smoke is harmful, although it definitely does exist, and that there are numerous other toxins present in many homes and cars which present an immediate health threat which should be addressed before zeroing in on third hand smoke.


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