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Third Hand Smoke Dangers Not Well Recognized

Jan 5, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP

The hazards of first and second hand smoke are well known. But now, researchers have raised concerns about the dangers of so-called "third hand smoke"  - the tobacco residue that lingers on clothes and hair, as well as furniture and in carpets, long after  a cigarette has been extinguished.  According to The New York Times, third hand smoke could be especially toxic to children.

The Times said the term "third hand smoke" originated with researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital for Children.  They say that third hand smoke contains heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials.  According to The New York Times, young children playing or crawling on the floor could face health dangers because of exposure to third hand smoke.

Unfortunately, most people don't have a clue about third hand smoke dangers.  According to a study conducted by the Massachusetts General researchers, most smokers and non-smokers know the dangers of first and second hand smoke.  But only about 65 percent of non-smokers, and 43 percent of smokers agreed with the statement that “breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children.”

According to the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, knowledge that first and second hand smoke can hurt kids didn't always mean respondents completely banned smoking in their homes.  Rather, they may have just banned the activity when kids were around.  The researchers concluded that educating the public about the dangers of third hand smoke could encourage more people to completely ban smoking from their homes.

Speaking of smoking bans, it seems that they can be an effective way to improve public health. According to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), public smoking bans may have caused a reduction in heart attack rates.

For the CDC study, researchers looked at the effects of  a public and workplace smoking ban implemented in Pueblo, Colorado, in 2003.  The number of people hospitalized for heart attacks dropped significantly after the smoking ban was in place. In the 18 months prior to the ban, there were 400 heart attacks; after the ban the number dropped to 237. The study found no significant changes in heart attack rates in those areas without smoking bans.

The results of the CDC study concur with earlier studies on smoking bans.  Another report issued by the CDC showed that New York City’s smoking rate has plummeted since anti-smoking measures were adopted in 2002. Similar results were seen in Scotland after a smoking ban was implemented in 2006.


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