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Warning about third-hand smoke

9th February 2010

The cigarette residue that collects on indoor surfaces when a cigarette burns is very toxic to humans, according to a recent study.

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The study is the first of its kind, because no previous study had quantified the effects of third-hand smoke on indoor environments or on the people who inhabit them.

Corresponding author Hugo Destaillats, who works for the Indoor Environment Department at Berkeley Lab in California, said that his team's research showed that residual nicotine reacted with ambient nitrous acid and formed carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs).

He said that TSNAs were among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke.

The accumulation of TSNAs, which are particularly dangerous to infants and toddlers, can not be prevented by opening windows or turning on fans.

Study co-author Lara Gundel, also a researcher at Berkely Lab, said that even smoking outdoors was not completely effective against TSNAs.

She said that the carcinogenic residues, which stick to the skin and clothing of smokers, were almost always absorbed by the bodies of children.

Any indoor environment can form TSNAs, including cars and trucks, and the researchers believe that all forms of indoor smoking should be completely banned.

Amanda Sandford of Action on Smoking and Health said that second-hand smoke had harmful effects, and that the finding added a new dimension to the dangers associated with smoking.

She said that smoke residue represented a potential risk for cancer that scientists could not currently calculate.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers' lobby group Forest, said that the purpose of the study was to generate alarm by means of propaganda.

Ed Young of Cancer Research UK said that the study was an interesting piece of research that added the possibility of an extra level of harm from tobacco smoke.

He said it was important for parents to protect their families from the dangers of cigarette smoke.

 

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