Thirdhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer — at least in mice. Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) identified thirdhand smoke, which is the poisonous residue that linger on surfaces long after a cigarette has been extinguished, as a health hazard 10 years ago.
In 2017, the researchers reported that brief exposure to thirdhand smoke was associated with low body weight and immune changes in juvenile mice.
In the follow-up study, which was published in Clinical Science, the researchers found that exposure early in life to thirdhand smoke was associated with an increased risk and severity of lung cancer in mice.
Studies have confirmed that thirdhand smoke in indoor environments is widespread, and usual cleaning methods don’t remove it. Since exposure to thirdhand smoke can occur through inhalation, ingestion, or through the skin, young children who crawl and put objects in their mouths are more likely to come in contact with contaminated surfaces and are the most vulnerable to its harmful effects.
For the new study, a strain of mice that is susceptible to lung cancer was housed with fabric infused with thirdhand smoke from the age of four to seven weeks. The mice ingested a dose comparable to the ingestion exposure of a human toddler living in a home with smokers.
Forty weeks after the last exposure, the mice were found to have an increased incidence of lung cancer (adenocarcinoma), larger tumors, and a greater number of tumors, compared to control mice.
A February, 2018 study released by San Diego University found that high levels of thirdhand smoke can linger in gambling casinos on walls, furniture, and in carpets months after smoking is eliminated.
The chemical residues, such as nicotine, cotinine, and the potent lung carcinogen known as NNK, can harm people’s health when they’re exposed to them, even if they aren’t smokers themselves.
Replacing carpets, furniture, equipment, wallpaper and drywall, and drapery and curtains, and washing/vacuuming the walls, floors and ceilings are necessary to reduce health risks associated with thirdhand smoke, said lead author Georg Matt, and the longer tobacco is smoked indoors, the more difficult and costly it will become to clean up that indoor environment.
“Tobacco should never be smoked indoors unless you are prepared to pay the price for extensive clean up,” he said. “The sooner you stop smoking indoors, the sooner you will benefit from clean air and the less it will cost to clean up the toxic legacy.”
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