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Wyatt Hodgson, 22 months, son of Matt and Kristy Hodgson, plays on the floor at Jean Parker’s Day Care in Tahlequah. Photo by Travina Coleman

Smoking can cause lung cancer, emphysema, high blood pressure and a variety of other ailments for tobacco users. Recent science has also indicated that second-hand smoke is can be harmful to those who spend time around smokers.

Lately, the issue of third-hand smoke has also fallen into the cross-hairs.

Third-hand smoke describes the residue of smoke that gets on the smoker’s hands, clothes, in their vehicles, in their hair, and in other items like furniture. But is this type of contact detrimental to the health of those who are exposed?

Experts say it is, and that the risk is greater for babies and small children. They say smoke residue found in hair and on clothes can be as dangerous as the fumes billowing directly from a cigarette.

Researchers have discovered tobacco smoke residues on everyday surfaces can react with molecules in indoor air to form potentially cancer-causing chemicals, according to

Charity Colston, former smoker and Tahlequah resident, said the findings on third-hand smoke were new to her, but not surprising. She said she and her husband, Josh, quit five years ago.

“Well, after I quit, I had to wash walls, clean the carpets, and of course, wash everything in the house, it seemed like,” she said. “But we did it because it was so overwhelming. We couldn’t smell it while we were smoking, but once we quit, the smell was very obvious.”

Colston said it was even harder to get the smell out of the cars.

“We still smell it when the air or heat runs,” she said. “It’s like it’s trapped in there.”

Carol Choate, with the Cherokee County Tobacco Coalition, only recently began learning more about third-hand smoke. But already, she believes it’s a health issue everyone should all be concerned about.

“I had read about it,” she said.

“In the research I found talking about it, the stuff has been found to contain hydrogen cyanide, which is used in chemical weapons, paint thinners. It contains heavy metals, and it lingers long after second-hand has dissipated.”

Choate said parents may be rolling down windows or not smoking in the room with their children, but that’s not enough. If the smell lingers, so does the danger.

“Children are more susceptible to this than adults,” she said. “If people understand about third-hand smoke and how dangerous it is,  we can get stricter policies on smoking in public places, like parks.”

According to, scientists have known for several years that tobacco smoke sort of sticks to surfaces where it can react with other chemicals.

“The burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that absorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture,” said Hugo Destaillats, a chemist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in San Francisco, and one of the authors of the study. “Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months.”

But reactions of residual smoke combined with molecules in the air have been overlooked as a source of harmful pollutants, the researchers of the new study say.

According to the study, experts investigated the formation of harmful chemicals in the air after exposing material to cigarette smoke. They found it reacts with one chemical in particular.

“Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid, it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitro- samines or TSNAs,” Destaillats said.

“TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke.”

But what kinds of things inside our home cause these dangerous combinations? According to MSNBC, the main source of nitrous acid indoors is unvented gas appliances.

Heavy smokers also contaminate their own vehicles. The study indicated since most vehicle engines emit some nitrous acid that can come through the cabs or passenger areas, tests were done on the surfaces of the inside of a truck belonging to a heavy smoker. The results revealed substantial levels of TSNAs.

And smoking outside, doesn’t always help, either, according the health article on MSNBC.

“Smoking outside is better than smoking indoors, but nicotine residues will stick to a smoker’s skin and clothing,” said study co-author Lara Gundel, also of Berkeley Lab.

“Those residues follow a smoker back inside and get spread everywhere.”


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