Tobacco Toxins Linger in Apartments, Risk Children, Others - Latest Thirdhand Smoke Study

A new study shows that persons who move into apartments previously inhabited by smokers are exposed to tobacco toxins even if the dwellings had been vacant for months and cleaned and repaired - more evidence of the dangers of thirdhand tobacco smoke.
By: Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
Dec. 20, 2010 - PRLog -- A new study at San Diego State University shows that persons who move into apartments previously inhabited by smokers are exposed to tobacco toxins on surfaces like walls and ceilings, and in household dust and carpets, even if the dwellings had been vacant for months and cleaned and repaired, notes Action on Smoking and Health (ASH).   This finding comes on the heels of a report by the U.S. Surgeon General showing that there is no safe level of exposure to toxins in tobacco smoke, and that even the most minute exposure can cause cell damage, and ultimately cancer.

This is only the most recent study to highlight the dangers of thirdhand tobacco smoke, especially to children.  The New York Times called it “the invisible yet toxic brew of gases and particles clinging to smokers’ hair and clothing,” and Scientific American said it's "the cocktail of toxins that linger in carpets, sofas, clothes and other materials hours or even days after a cigarette is put out."  But whether it's called tobacco smoke residue or thirdhand tobacco smoke, it's now been proven deadly and capable of causing cancer as well as nerve damage, especially to children, say professor John Banzhaf of ASH.

An Australian study showed that smokers' breath, another form of thirdhand tobacco smoke, can be harmful to health, especially to children, the elderly, and those especially sensitive to many chemicals.  Smokers who smoked only outdoors nevertheless emitted enough respirable suspended particles in their breath when they returned indoors to create air pollution which the researchers termed "harmful" to children.

The study found that the chemicals in smokers’ breath were sufficient to cause or aggravate respiratory illnesses including asthma, coughs, and colds among children in smokers’ homes as compared with kids in homes with nonsmokers.  Respiratory illnesses were found to be much more prevalent in homes with smokers. Children exposed to higher air nicotine levels were three times more likely to have asthma or wheeze than those not exposed.

In another study, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California found that significant quantities of cancer-causing chemicals are produced on indoor surfaces contaminated by tobacco smoke even when a smoker has been away from the room for hours or even days.

The potentially damaging substances in thirdhand smoke are present in sufficient amounts on chairs, tables, carpets and even skin to pose a danger to nonsmokers, particularly young children, according to an analysis of cancer-causing agents produced by the interaction of stale cigarette smoke and other indoor pollutants. They found that nicotine can stick to indoor surfaces for days where it interacts with nitrous acid formed from the gas nitrous oxide, released by car exhausts and gas appliances. When combined, the two chemicals form deadly tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) which can cause cancer.
Still another study reported that parents who do not smoke in the presence of their children, including even those who smoke only outdoors, nevertheless put their children at serious risk of "massive damage" to both skin and nerve cells, since a neurotoxin in thirdhand tobacco smoke penetrates the child's skin, according to recent research in Germany.

Using radioactive nicotine as a marker, German scientists showed that the neurotoxin nicotine is not only released from a parent's clothing by perspiration so that it can be detected in all the layers of a babies' skin, but that it is also transported through the child's skin into deeper tissue layers.

They also demonstrated that the toxins from the smoke that were dissolved in the perspiration caused what the researchers termed "massive damage" to children's skin cells -- this included changes in shape and even death to some cells. Also, nerve cells -- which are particularly active and developing in young children -- demonstrated major changes, and were no longer able to connect properly with one another.

An article in the journal Pediatrics, which called thirdhand tobacco smoke "toxic," and a cancer risk for nonsmokers of all ages, nevertheless further emphasized the danger of thirdhand tobacco smoke to children:  "Children are especially susceptible to thirdhand smoke exposure because they breathe near, crawl and play on, touch, and mouth contaminated surfaces.  . . .  Thirdhand smoke may remain inside even when smoking took place earlier.  Similar to low levels of lead exposure, low levels of tobacco smoke markers have been associated with cognitive deficits among children. The highest tobacco exposure levels were associated with the lowest reading scores; however, the lowest levels of exposure were associated with the steepest slope in the decrement in reading levels.These facts underscore the possibility that compounds in tobacco smoke are neurotoxic at extremely low levels  . . ."

Fortunately, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf, the law provides protection against exposure to this substance, previously simply known simply as "tobacco smoke residue," which contains highly carcinogenic compounds, heavy metals, hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), butane (used in lighter fluid), toluene (found in paint thinners), arsenic, lead, and even radioactive Polonium-210 (used to murder a Russian spy).

A federal court has held that an employee whose health is adversely affected by tobacco smoke residue has a legal cause of action under the Americans With Disabilities Act [ADA] against an employer who refused to reduce his exposure in his workplace, and a legal complaint by ASH forced a university to protect a woman and her unborn child whose health was threatened by tobacco smoke residue on the clothing of an officemate who smoked outdoors.

"The ever-growing evidence of the dangers of thirdhand tobacco smoke suggests that smoking creates even more dangers than previously suspected for nonsmokers, particularly for children and those who may be especially sensitive.  Fortunately, the law may provide protection in appropriate cases," says Banzhaf.

Professor of Public Interest Law at GWU,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
FELLOW, World Technology Network, and
Executive Director and Chief Counsel
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
701 4th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001, USA
(202) 659-4310 // (703) 527-8418

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Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) serves as the legal action arm of the anti-smoking community. It is supported by tax-deductible contributions.
Source:Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
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Tags:Toxins, Apartment, Thirdhand Tobacco Smoke, Banzhaf, Cancer, Children, Legal
Industry:Lifestyle, Legal, Health
Location:District of Columbia - United States
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