A new San Diego State study shows tobacco smoke can embed traces of toxins into furniture and fabrics.
SDSU Department of Psychology Chairman Georg E. Matt led the study that investigated concentrations of residual nicotine in the air and in traces left on pillows. The results found, when new pillows are exposed to a home of former smokers, thirdhand smoke was present well into the interior of the pillow.
Matt said thirdhand smoke, defined as nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke, contains many of the same carcinogens and other toxicants found in secondhand smoke and mainstream smoke inhaled by the smoker, but is present at lower concentrations.
“There’s a common perception that when smoke disappears it’s gone, it’s out of sight, out of mind, but the important message is that smoking, especially smoking in indoor environments, leaves behind a reservoir of these toxic compounds,” Matt said.
Matt said it is important when moving into a new home or buying a used car to consider if people may have smoked in the environment. The period of time spent smoking or the amount smoked determines the extent thirdhand smoke may be present within a household or car.
“In a home of a smoker where people have smoked for months or years regularly, these toxicants become embedded inside the wall, wood furniture, deep into the upholstery, pillowcase or pillow filling,” Matt said.
Project Coordinator Lydia Greiner said thirdhand smoke can easily make its way into the neighboring homes of non-smokers.
“There a lot of external and internal pathways for smoke to travel in a apartment, like through and around the pipes and air vents,” Greiner said. “You can be exposed to the smoke and e-cigarette vapors of your neighbors.”
Matt said, if exposed to smoke occasionally, a healthy individual may not be highly affected by thirdhand smoke traces, but children and others with existing health problems should be cautious.
“It may not be a big risk for healthy adults if it is incidental or occasional but small children are particularly sensitive to exposure due to (their) behaviors, not (having) fully developed immune systems and (their) ingestion habits,” Matt said. “Known toxicants and carcinogens can also aggravate conditions such as Asthma and a weakened immune system.”
Even after a long period of time, the thirdhand smoke may still be taken in through the skin, breathed in or consumed through house dust, according to a press release.
Greiner said students living in apartments especially can be unaware of the presence of third hand smoke in their multi-unit complexes.
“As a student, you try to find lower-cost housing if you’re on a budget and more likely to be forced to rent an apartment in a complex that was (smoke-permitting),” Greiner said. “But, even in non-smoking complexes, we know that people still smoke.”
Matt said, if environments were exposed to large amounts of smoking, it may require the replacement of furniture, drywall, or carpets to be rid of residual nicotine.
Otherwise, if the smoking has just recently taken place or was rare, it may be removed much easier.
“If someone has just recently smoked or is a rare occurrence, chances are that the residue just sits on the surface of a wall or a table and this could be washed off or wiped off,” Matt said.
Greiner said regulations have made a big impact in reducing the amount of people that smoke and should further be developed to provide smoke-free homes or environments.
“Ultimately, the goal would be for people to live in smoke-free housing that is truly smoke-free,” Greiner said.