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Ask the Expert: The Dangers of Secondhand and Thirdhand Smoke

July 14, 2019

Posted in Injury Prevention,Parenting

By now, most adults know the risks of smoking. But do you know the effects of secondhand and thirdhand smoke on those you love?

Secondhand smoke is the smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in adults who have never smoked. Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing lung cancer by 20–30%.”

Just as dangerous, but not as widely understood, thirdhand smoke refers to the residual nicotine, toxins, and chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. Surfaces can include clothes, hair, skin, carpets, baby blankets, furniture, toys, car seats, tiny bits of dust, and numerous other places. People are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or being exposed to dust throughout areas where smoking has occurred.

According to The Mayo Clinic, children of smokers are especially at risk of thirdhand smoke exposure and contamination. The homes, hair, clothes, and cars of smokers can have significant levels of thirdhand smoke contamination. Young children are particularly vulnerable because they can ingest tobacco residue by putting their hands in their mouths after touching contaminated surfaces.

There is no risk-free level of secondhand or third-hand smoke exposure; even a brief sniff can be harmful to health. Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer. If you reside in an apartment (for example), secondhand smoke can infiltrate other units through hallways and stairwells. Millions of nonsmokers have died from health problems caused by exposure to secondhand and third-hand smoke.

The good news is there are ways to protect your family.


  • Think seriously about quitting. Call the ACH Brief Tobacco Intervention program at 501-364-4396/501-364-3542 or Be Well Arkansas at 1-833-283-WELL (9355) for help.
  • Never smoke in your home or car, or were children play.
  • Wear a shirt or jacket that you can leave outside after you smoke.
  • Wash your hands right away.
  • Bathe, wash clothes and clean carpets and drapes often.


  • Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.
  • Make sure childcare workers and babysitters are nonsmokers.
  • If your relatives or friends smoke, ask them to wash their hands and put on smoke-free clothing before holding your baby.

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