How does thirdhand smoke affect children?

We’re all aware of the dangers of smoking and breathing in secondhand smoke. However, thirdhand smoke – the tobacco residue and chemicals that remain on smokers’ clothes, furniture, and other items – is still less known.

In a study, it was found that the children of smokers are exposed to a great deal of thirdhand smoke, and this exposes them to nicotine and other harmful chemicals. This can lead to a range of issues later in life.

Often, these chemicals can remain in items long after the cigarette has been put out. And in the study, the researchers found that children were being exposed to these chemicals and it was causing them health issues.

Over 100 children took part in the study. All of them had been admitted to  Cincinnati Children’s Pediatric Emergency Department for issues related to smoking, and they all had at least one adult in their home that smoked.

The children’s’ hands were tested for nicotine exposure. For children under 2, it was found that they all had at least 70ng of nicotine on their hands. For the children between 2 and 4, the quantity was much higher, at over 185ng.

These numbers varied depending on how much the carer smoked. However, even when the parent or carer didn’t smoke around them, they still had an average of 82ng of nicotine on their hands.

When parents did smoke around them, this figure increased, and when they smoked over 15 cigarettes a day, it went up to an average of 200ng. This increased the risk of health issues, including coughing and respiratory problems.

According to researcher Ashley Merianos “It just goes to show that indoor smoking bans don’t necessarily protect children from tobacco smoke exposure and related pollutants, such as thirdhand smoke. It also shows that exposure to tobacco smoke toxicants is more widespread than previously thought because exposure in children is not limited to inhaling secondhand smoke.”

“Future work should explore the associations of hand nicotine and age to determine how children’s changing interactions with their environment and behaviors contribute to increased nicotine in two- to four-year-olds, whether handwashing decreases the risk and whether increased levels are associated with increased [secondhand smoke-related] clinical illnesses.”

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