WE ARE all aware that smoking is dangerous to our heath. We also know that non-smokers can get sick from second hand smoke. But did you know that the health risk for smokers and non-smokers alike lingers long after the cigarette has been puffed and the smoke cleared?

Read this excerpt from the news release about third hand smoke from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website (http://newscenter.lbl.gov/feature-stories/2010/02/08/dangers-of-third-hand-smoke/).

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Nicotine in third-hand smoke, the residue from tobacco smoke that clings to virtually all surfaces long after a cigarette has been extinguished, reacts with the common indoor air pollutant nitrous acid to produce dangerous carcinogens.

This new potential health hazard was revealed in a multi-institutional study led by researchers with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).

“The burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture. Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months. Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs,” says Hugo Destaillats, a chemist with the Indoor Environment Department of Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division. “TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke.”

“Smoking outside is better than smoking indoors but nicotine residues will stick to a smoker’s skin and clothing,” say co-author Gundel. “Those residues follow a smoker back inside and get spread everywhere. The biggest risk is to young children. Dermal uptake of the nicotine through a child’s skin is likely to occur when the smoker returns and if nitrous acid is in the air, which it usually is, then TSNAs will be formed.”

The dangers of mainstream and secondhand tobacco smoke have been well documented as a cause of cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, pulmonary disease and birth defects. Only recently, however, has the general public been made aware of the threats posed by third-hand smoke. The term was coined in a study that appeared in the January 2009 edition of the journal “Pediatrics,” in which it was reported that only 65 percent of non-smokers and 43 percent of smokers surveyed agreed with the statement that “Breathing air in a room today where people smoked yesterday can harm the health of infants and children.”

Anyone who has entered a confined space – a room, an elevator, a vehicle, etc. – where someone recently smoked knows that the scent lingers for an extended period of time. Scientists have been aware for several years that tobacco smoke is adsorbed on surfaces where semi-volatile and non-volatile chemical constituents can undergo reactions, but reactions of residual smoke constituents with atmospheric molecules such as nitrous acid have been overlooked as a source of harmful pollutants. This is the first study to quantify the reactions of third-hand smoke with nitrous acid, according to the authors.

This new study is an eye-opener. With this, local government officials may want to review existing anti-smoking ordinances. Our laws may already be obsolete. For instance, creating a smoking and non-smoking section in enclosed establishments is not safe anymore, at least for employees who are exposed daily to nicotine-contaminated walls.

For parents, do not smoke inside your houses for the sake of your children. Better yet, quit smoking na lang.