Learn How to Prevent
Thirdhand Smoke Exposure

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue that is left behind on clothes, skin, furniture, walls, and other surfaces after someone smokes.

Thirdhand smoke is also known as “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke”. The mixture of pollutants in thirdhand smoke is toxic to humans, especially children.

image of the reproductive system and text on effects of THS

What Does Thirdhand Smoke Exposure Do to Our Bodies?

The chemicals in thirdhand smoke can affect the normal function of many parts of our body. Researchers at Nantong University’s Institute of Reproductive Medicine reviewed existing thirdhand smoke research to summarize the effects of thirdhand smoke chemicals on our livers, lungs, brains, and our immune and reproductive systems. By Leta...

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Can I remove thirdhand smoke from my home?

The short answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

If people only occasionally used tobacco in your home, you may be able to clean and remove much of the thirdhand smoke. If people frequently used tobacco in your home and it is heavily polluted with thirdhand smoke, it is probably impossible to remove the residue without major and expensive renovations to your home.

The long answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Removing thirdhand smoke from your home includes two approaches: cleaning household objects and cleaning your home’s structure. Getting rid of thirdhand smoke residue on household objects, like dishes, toys, and blankets, is straightforward. Cleaning carpets, furniture, upholstery, mattresses, books, and other personal belonging can be complicated if not impossible. Removing thirdhand smoke from structural elements, such as walls, floors, ceilings, doors, cabinets, and airducts, is difficult and expensive, especially if there is a lot of thirdhand smoke in the home.

Cleaning Household Objects

  • Clean clothes, toys, and bedding in a washing machine. Depending on how polluted the fabrics are, you may need to wash them multiple times.
  • Clean kitchenware and washable toys in a dishwasher. Depending on how polluted the objects are, you may need to wash them multiple times.
  • Use diluted vinegar or basic cleaning solutions, such as Simple Green, to wash other objects and surfaces.
  • Consider replacing objects that cannot be cleaned, such as mattresses, rugs, or large furniture.

The Challenge of Cleaning Structural Surfaces

  • If you hire a professional (e.g., painters, remediation experts), they typically use Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) to clean surfaces around the home. TSP is a hazardous chemical, and it requires specialized tools and personal protective equipment. TSP cannot remove thirdhand smoke residue embedded in porous materials like wood panels, particle board, and drywall.
  • Alcohol-based primers and paint may trap thirdhand smoke residue on a wall. It may remove the tobacco odor (at least temporarily), but it does not remove thirdhand smoke chemicals.
  • Ozone generators remove tobacco odors from the air by changing odorant into odorless compounds. Ozone generators create new chemicals and do not remove chemicals embedded in materials.
  • Masking tobacco odors with fragrances also does not remove the chemicals. It simply covers up unpleasant smells.
  • In homes where smoking has taken place over years, thirdhand smoke chemicals can soak into surfaces and become embedded in walls, flooring, carpets, and HVAC systems. Once the chemicals are embedded, cleaning the surface is not enough– the residue will resurface and re-emit back into the air. You must remove all of the thirdhand smoke, even what has soaked into surfaces in your home.
  • If thirdhand smoke is embedded in building materials, the only way to guarantee the residue is gone is to completely remodel by removing and replacing all walls, flooring, air ducts, etc.

Updated: February 2024

Sources:

Ask This Old House. Understanding Thirdhand Smoke. Home Safety Videos. Retrieved from: https://www.thisoldhouse.com/home-safety/21249597/understanding-thirdhand-smoke

Bahl V, Jacob P, 3rd, Havel C, Schick SF, Talbot P. Thirdhand cigarette smoke: factors affecting exposure and remediation. PloS one. 2014;9(10):e108258. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0108258. PubMed PMID: 25286392; PMCID: 4186756.

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Zakarian JM, Dodder NG, Record RA, Hovell MF, Mahabee-Gittens EM, Padilla S, Markman L, Watanabe K, Novotny TE. Remediating Thirdhand Smoke Pollution in Multiunit Housing: Temporary Reductions and the Challenges of Persistent Reservoirs. Nicotine Tob Res. 2021;23(2):364-72. Epub 2020/08/18. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntaa151. PubMed PMID: 32803265; PMCID: PMC7822102.

Matt GE, Hoh E, Quintana PJE, Zakarian JM, Arceo J. Cotton pillows: A novel field method for assessment of thirdhand smoke pollution. Environ Res. 2019;168:206-10. Epub 2018/10/15. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.09.025. PubMed PMID: 30317105.

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Uribe AM, Hovell MF. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2011;20(1):e1. doi: 10.1136/tc.2010.037382. PubMed PMID: 21037269; PMCID: 3666918.

Sleiman M, Destaillats H, Smith JD, Liu C-L, Ahmed M, Wilson KR, et al. Secondary organic aerosol formation from ozone-initiated reactions with nicotine and secondhand tobacco smoke. Atmospheric Environment. 2010;44(34):4191-8. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.atmosenv.2010.07.023.

Tang X, Gambier C, López-Gálvez N, Padilla S, Rapp VH, Russell ML, et al. Remediation of Thirdhand Tobacco Smoke with Ozone: Probing Deep Reservoirs in Carpets. Environ Sci Technol. 2023;57(27):9943-54. Epub 20230627. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.3c01628. PubMed PMID: 37366549.

What surfaces does thirdhand smoke stick to?

The Short Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Thirdhand smoke sticks to: 

Indoor Surfaces, such as:

  • Walls
  • Carpets
  • Windows
  • Doors

Household Objects, such as:

  • Furniture
  • Toys
  • Books
  • Dishes
  • Bedding
  • Curtains

People, including:

  • Hair
  • Skin
  • Clothing

Thirdhand smoke can off-gas from these materials, and we can sometimes smell it as stale tobacco. The chemicals in thirdhand smoke can be spread by moving polluted objects from one place to another. 

The Long Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

After tobacco smoke disappears, thirdhand smoke stays on surfaces, in dust, and on objects. Thirdhand smoke soaks into materials and sticks to most indoor surfaces. It can stick to walls, carpets, windows, and doors. It can stick to household objects, such as furniture, books, toys, dishes, silverware, curtains, blankets, and pillows. It can stick to skin, hair, and clothing too. People can carry thirdhand smoke from one place to another if they move polluted objects. 

In an environment where someone smokes tobacco for years, thirdhand smoke contaminates every surface and object. This includes hidden surfaces, such as under tables, inside closets and drawers, in the spongy material underneath a carpet, and in wallboard and housing insulation. Some surfaces, such as drywall, carpets, and pillows, act like sponges soaking up water and storing toxic thirdhand smoke chemicals. Just like water evaporating from a wet sponge, these chemicals can be released back into the air, leading to exposure long after someone smokes. People can move thirdhand smoke chemicals from place to place, such as when someone moves furniture from a smoking home into a smokefree home or when someone enters a smokefree indoor space after a smoking break.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: February 2024

Sources:

Matt GE, Hoh E, Quintana PJE, Zakarian JM, Arceo J. Cotton pillows: A novel field method for assessment of thirdhand smoke pollution. Environ Res. 2019 Jan;168:206-210. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.09.025. Epub 2018 Sep 22. PMID: 30317105; PMCID: PMC6800039.

Matt, G. E., Quintana, P. J., Hovell, M. F., Chatfield, D., Ma, D. S., Romero, R., & Uribe, A. (2008). Residual tobacco smoke pollution in used cars for sale: air, dust, and surfaces. Nicotine Tob Res, 10(9), 1467-1475. doi:10.1080/14622200802279898.

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Zakarian JM, Hoh E, Hovell MF, Mahabee-Gittens M, Watanabe K, Datuin K, Vue C, Chatfield DA. When smokers quit: exposure to nicotine and carcinogens persists from thirdhand smoke pollution. Tob Control. 2016;26(5):548-556. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053119.

Merianos AL, Matt GE, Stone TM, Jandarov RA, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Quintana PJE, Lopez-Galvez N, Stone L, Mahabee-Gittens EM. Contamination of surfaces in children’s homes with nicotine and the potent carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamine NNK. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2023 Dec 16. doi: 10.1038/s41370-023-00629-8. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 38104233.

Northrup TF, Stotts AL, Suchting R, Khan AM, Green C, Klawans MR, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Hovell MF, Matt GE, Thirdhand Smoke Contamination and Infant Nicotine Exposure in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: An Observational Study. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2021 Feb;23(2);373–382. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntaa167.

Quintana PJE, Lopez-Galvez N, Matt GE, Merianos AL, Dodder NG, Hoh E, et al. Cotton pillow samplers for assessment of thirdhand smoke in homes of smokers and nonsmokers with children. Journal of Environmental Exposure Assessment. 2023;2(4):23. doi: 10.20517/jeea.2023.28.

Schick SF, Farraro KF, Perrino C, Sleiman M, van de Vossenberg G, Trinh MP, Hammond SK, Jenkins BM, Balmes J. Thirdhand cigarette smoke in an experimental chamber: evidence of surface deposition of nicotine, nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and de novo formation of NNK. Tob Control. 2014 Mar;23(2):152-9. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050915. Epub 2013 May 28. PMID: 23716171.

What does it mean when we smell stale tobacco smoke?

The Short Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

If you smell stale tobacco smoke, thirdhand smoke is in the air. What you smell are the toxic chemicals that are released into the air from the carpets, walls, and furniture. As soon as your nose picks up the odor, the polluted air gets into your lungs.  From there, the toxic chemicals get into your blood and to every part in your body.

However, thirdhand smoke can still be around even if you don’t smell stale tobacco smoke. There may be too few chemicals in the air to smell, or the chemicals are always odorless. 

The Long Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Have you ever walked into a room and smelled the scent of stale tobacco smoke? Or maybe smelled it as someone walked by? The smell of stale cigarette smoke–even when no one is smoking–is a sign of thirdhand smoke. As we breathe in, odor receptors in our noses recognize the chemicals in thirdhand smoke and trigger a signal in our brains that allows us to notice stale tobacco smoke.  

When we smell stale tobacco smoke, it means that thirdhand smoke pollutants have been released into the air from the surfaces where they accumulated. As we breathe this polluted air, we are bringing thirdhand smoke pollutants into our bodies. Thirdhand smoke pollutants contain chemicals that can irritate many of our organs (including the nose, throat, lungs, liver, and skin), cause inflammation, harm normal cell functioning, damage DNA, and cause cancer in humans. Recent studies are finding similar impacts from thirdhand aerosols from e-cigarettes.

Even when we cannot smell tobacco smoke, thirdhand smoke can still be present. Our sense of smell is a good warning system, but we can only smell an odor when the amount of a chemical is above the level that our noses can detect. In addition, some of the chemicals in thirdhand smoke are odorless; we cannot smell them no matter how much is present. 

So, while the smell of stale tobacco smoke can be a good indicator of thirdhand smoke, we can still be exposed to these harmful chemicals even if we cannot detect them.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: February 2024 

Sources:

Hang B, Wang P, Zhao Y, Sarker A, Chenna A, Xia Y, Snijders AM, Mao JH. Adverse health effects of thirdhand smoke: From cell to animal models. Int J Mol Sci. 2017 Apr 28;18(5). pii: E932.

Martins-Green M, Adhami N, Frankos M, Valdez M, Goodwin B, Lyubovitsky J, Dhall S, Garcia M, Egiebor I, Martinez B, Green HW, Havel C, Yu L, Liles S, Matt  G, Destaillats HSleiman MGundel LA, Benowitz N, Jacob III P, Hovell M, J.P. Winickoff, M. Curras-Collazo. Cigarette smoke toxins deposited on surfaces: Implications for human health. PLoS One. 2014:9:1:e86391.

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Zakarian JM, Hoh E, Hovell MF, Mahabee-Gittens M, Watanabe K, Datuin K, Vue C, Chatfield DA. When smokers quit: exposure to nicotine and carcinogens persists from thirdhand smoke pollution. Tob Control. 2016; 26(5):548-556.

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Uribe AM, Hovell MF. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2011;20(1):e1.

Pozuelos G, Kagda M, Schick S, Girke T, Volz DC, Talbot P. Acute exposure to thirdhand smoke leads to rapid changes in the human nasal epithelial transcriptome. JAMA Network Open. 2019. 2(6):e196362. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.6362

Thorpe AE, Donovan C, Kim RY, Vindin HJ, Zakarya R, Miyai H, et al. Third-Hand Exposure to E-Cigarette Vapour Induces Pulmonary Effects in Mice. Toxics. 2023;11(9):749.

What is thirdhand smoke? 🎥

Watch a video that answers this question here.

 

The short answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

The long answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue left behind after secondhand tobacco smoke disappears from the air. Secondhand smoke is a combination of sidestream smoke from a cigarette and mainstream smoke exhaled by smokers. Thirdhand smoke is a mixture of toxic chemicals that sticks to surfaces, embeds in materials, and gathers in house dust. It embeds in carpets, walls, furniture, blankets, and toys and can re-emit from these into the air. Thirdhand smoke can linger indoors for years. People can be exposed to it by absorbing it through their skin, by consuming contaminated objects or dust, and by breathing polluted air.

The U.S. Surgeon General has concluded that there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. The California Air Resources Board has classified secondhand smoke as a toxic air contaminant. Many chemicals in secondhand smoke are also in thirdhand smoke, such as cancer-causing compounds, toxicants that harm reproductive organs, and toxicants that interfere with development (as defined by California’s Proposition 65 and the International Agency for Cancer Research). Thirdhand smoke also contains additional toxic chemicals that are not found in secondhand smoke because they form when tobacco smoke chemically changes in the environment.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: February 2024

Sources:

California Environmental Protection Agency, Air Resources Board, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Technical support document for the “Proposed Identification of Environmental Tobacco Smoke as a Toxic Air Contaminant, Part A. http://www.arb.ca.gov/regact/ets2006/ets2006.htm

Hua M, Luo W, Khachatoorian C, McWhirter KJ, Leung S, Martinez T, et al. Exposure, Retention, Exhalation, Symptoms, and Environmental  

Jacob, P., 3rd, N. L. Benowitz, H. Destaillats, L. Gundel, B. Hang, M. Martins-Green, G. E. Matt, P. J. Quintana, J. M. Samet, S. F. Schick, P. Talbot, N. J. Aquilina, M. F. Hovell, J. H. Mao, and T. P. Whitehead. 2017. Thirdhand Smoke: New Evidence, Challenges, and Future Directions. Chem Res Toxicol 30 (1):270-294. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00343.

Matt, G.E., P.J. Quintana, H. Destaillats, L.A. Gundel, M. Sleiman, B.C. Singer, P. Jacob, N. Benowitz, J.P. Winickoff, V. Rehan, P. Talbot, S. Schick, J. Samet, Y. Wang, B. Hang, M. Martins-Green, J.F. Pankow, and M.F. Hovell. 2011. Thirdhand tobacco smoke: emerging evidence and arguments for a multidisciplinary research agenda. Environ Health Perspect 119 (9):1218-26. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1103500.

Sleiman M, Destaillats H, Smith JD, Liu C, Ahmed M, Wilson KR Gundel LA. Secondary organic aerosol formation from ozone-initiated reactions with nicotine and secondhand
tobacco smoke. Atmos Env. 2010; 44:4191-4198.

Son Y, Giovenco DP, Delnevo C, Khlystov A, Samburova V, Meng Q. Indoor Air Quality and Passive E-cigarette Aerosol Exposures in Vape-Shops. Nicotine Tob Res. 2020 Oct 8;22(10):1772-1779. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntaa094. PMID: 32445475; PMCID: PMC7542645.

State of California, Environmental Protection Agency. Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. February 25, 2022. https://oehha.ca.gov/proposition-65/proposition-65-list

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2006. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. Available: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/

What do we know about the health risks of thirdhand smoke? 🎥

Watch a video that answers this question here.

The Short Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Thirdhand smoke affects both people and pets, from tiny cells to entire organ systems. It can be found in nearly any indoor environment, including homes, cars, and cafes, and it can harm those who don’t smoke. It can be toxic residue on surfaces and in dust as well as chemicals in the air. 

We know about the health risks of thirdhand smoke from four major types of research:

  • Studies of thirdhand smoke chemistry have shown that it contains more than 25 chemicals known to cause cancer, affect a person’s ability to have children, or cause birth defects.
  • Laboratory studies of lung, skin, liver, blood, and reproductive cells have shown that thirdhand smoke can impair a cells’ ability to function and repair themselves.
  • Animal studies have shown many health effects, including slow wound healing, increased “bad” cholesterol, and lung inflammation. 
  • Studies with healthy human volunteers have shown damage to human cells and increased respiratory illnesses in children, including pulmonary illness, viral/other infectious illness, and bacterial infections.

The Long Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Thirdhand smoke chemicals can be found in nearly every type of indoor environment, including single-family homes, low-income multiunit housing, high-end condominiums, homes of people with smoking bans, homes of people who previously smoked, homes after people who smoke moved out, nonsmoking rooms in hotels, cafes, other public places, rental cars, and public transportation. Thirdhand smoke can be both toxic residue on surfaces and in dust and dangerous chemicals in the air in these spaces. 

Thirdhand smoke impacts the health of people and animals at multiple levels. It can harm genetic material, affect the ways individual cells function, interfere with the body’s ability to fend of infections, and impair entire organ systems in the human body. Thirdhand smoke can make pre-existing conditions worse or create new ones. 

Scientific evidence about the health effects of thirdhand smoke exposure comes from four major types of studies:

1) Health effects of chemicals found in thirdhand smoke

Thirdhand smoke contains some of the same toxic chemicals as first- and secondhand smoke, including nicotine, tobacco-specific nitrosamines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles. Overwhelming evidence suggests that exposure to this mixture of toxic chemicals and ultrafine particulate matter is harmful to human health. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer lists some of these chemicals because they are known to cause cancer. California law requires more than 25 of the pollutants found in thirdhand smoke to be listed under Proposition 65 because they are known to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm. Additional harmful chemicals form when thirdhand smoke on surfaces and in dust comes in contact with other chemicals, such as ozone, in an indoor environment. 

2) Health effects of thirdhand smoke exposure on human cells 

Studies of human cells show that exposure to thirdhand smoke can directly damage DNA (e.g., DNA strand breaks), the genetic material found in nearly every cell that contains the instructions our cells need to develop, function, grow, and reproduce. Thirdhand smoke causes oxidative stress in human cells, interfering with their normal functioning and repair mechanisms. Thirdhand smoke chemicals impair our cells’ ability to regenerate and repair themselves.  Thirdhand smoke can harm various cell types in the human body, include lung, skin, liver, blood, and reproductive cells.

3) Health effects of thirdhand smoke exposure on animals 

In 1939, Dr. A. H. Roffo published one of the first animal studies on thirdhand smoke. He showed that rabbits developed skin cancer when thirdhand smoke residue was applied to their skin. In 1953, Dr. E. L. Wydner conducted a similar experiment in mice, showing the same outcomes. A more recent study by Dr. Martins-Green showed that mice exposed to thirdhand smoke through their bedding material have the following symptoms:

  • slow wound healing
  • inflammation in lungs
  • elevated levels of fat in the liver
  • high blood sugar levels
  • increased blood clotting
  • hyperactive behavior
  • poor weight gain after birth
  • elevated LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels

4) Health effects of thirdhand smoke on humans

Researchers have found that people living in or visiting places where people have smoked in the past are exposed to toxic components of thirdhand smoke. Researchers determined this by measuring thirdhand smoke biomarkers in people’s urine, blood, or saliva.  They even found thirdhand smoke toxicants in newborns, infants, children, and nonsmoking adults living in thirdhand smoke-polluted environments.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco studied the effects of thirdhand smoke exposure in healthy, non-smoking human volunteers in a laboratory setting. They found that thirdhand smoke damaged the participants’ lung cells after only three hours of exposure.

Researchers the from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and San Diego State University found that children exposed to thirdhand smoke were more likely to be diagnosed with pulmonary illness, viral/other infectious illness, and bacterial infection.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: April 2024

Sources:

Roffo, A. H. (1939) Krebserzeugendes Benzpyren, gewonnen aus Tabakteer.
J. Cancer Res. Clin. Oncol. 49, 588−597.

Hang B, Wang P, Zhao Y, Sarker A, Chenna A, Xia Y, Snijders AM, Mao JH. Adverse health effects of thirdhand smoke: From cell to animal models. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(5). pii: E932. doi: 10.3390/ijms18050932.

Jacob P 3rd, Benowitz NL, Destaillats H, Gundel L, Hang B, Martins-Green M, Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Samet JM, Schick SF, Talbot P, Aquilina NJ, Hovell MF, Mao JH, Whitehead TP. Thirdhand Smoke: New Evidence, Challenges, and Future Directions. Chem Res Toxcicol. 2017;30(1):270-294. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00343. Epub 2016 Dec.

Martins-Green M, Adhami N, Frankos M, Valdez M, Goodwin B, Lyubovitsky J, Dhall S, Garcia M, Egiebor I, Martinez B, Green HW, Havel C, Yu L, Liles S, Matt  G, Destaillats HSleiman MGundel LA, Benowitz N, Jacob III P, Hovell M, J.P. Winickoff, M. Curras-Collazo. Cigarette smoke toxins deposited on surfaces: Implications for human health. PLoS One. 2014:9:1:e86391.

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Jandarov RA, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Matt GE. Differential associations of hand nicotine and urinary cotinine with children’s exposure to tobacco smoke and clinical outcomes. Environ Res. 2021 Nov;202:111722. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.111722. Epub 2021 Jul 21. PMID: 34297932; PMCID: PMC8578289.

Matt GE, Greiner L, Record RA, Wipfli H, Long J, Dodder NG, Hoh E, Lopez Galvez N, Novotny TE, Quintana PJE, Destaillats H, Tang X, Snijders AM, Mao JH, Hang B, Schick S, Jacob P, Talbot P, Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Northrup TF, Gundel L, Benowitz NL. Policy-relevant differences between secondhand and thirdhand smoke: strengthening protections from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke pollutants. Tob Control. 2023 Jun 1. doi: 10.1136/tc-2023-057971

Pozuelos G, Kagda M, Schick S, Girke T, Volz DC, Talbot P. Acute exposure to thirdhand smoke leads to rapid changes in the human nasal epithelial transcriptome. JAMA Network Open. 2019. 2(6):e196362. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.6362

Pratt K, Hilty A, Jacob P, Schick SF. Respiratory Exposure to Thirdhand Cigarette Smoke Increases Concentrations of Urinary Metabolites of Nicotine. Nicotine and Tobacco Research. 2023 Jul 1;25(8):1424–30. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntad002

Sakamaki-Ching S, Schick S, Grigorean G, Li J, Talbot P. Dermal thirdhand smoke exposure induces oxidative damage, initiates skin inflammatory markers, and adversely alters the human plasma proteome. eBioMedicine. 2022;84:104256. doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-92702-1

Tang X, Benowitz N, Gundel L, Hang B, Havel CM, Hoh E, et al. Thirdhand Exposures to Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines through Inhalation, Dust Ingestion, Dermal Uptake, and Epidermal Chemistry. Environmental Science & Technology. 2022;56(17):12506-16. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c02559.

Thorpe AE, Donovan C, Kim RY, Vindin HJ, Zakarya R, Miyai H, et al. Third-Hand Exposure to E-Cigarette Vapour Induces Pulmonary Effects in Mice. Toxics. 2023;11(9):749.

Wynder EL, Graham EA, Croninger AB. 1953. Experimental production of carcinoma with cigarette tar. Cancer Res. 13, 855-64.

Yang H, Wang X, Wang P, He L, Schick SF, Jacob P, et al. Thirdhand tobacco smoke exposure increases the genetic background-dependent risk of pan-tumor development in Collaborative Cross mice. Environment International. 2023;174:107876. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2023.107876.

What products contribute to thirdhand chemical residue? 🎥

Watch a video that answers this question here.

The Short Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

All tobacco products can leave behind a thirdhand chemical residue. These products include:

  • Cigarettes, cigars, cigarillos, little cigars, and tobacco pipes
  • Water pipes (hookah or shisha)
  • Smokeless tobacco products (chew, spit, snuff, and snus)

In addition, e-cigarettes and vapes leave behind aerosol residue. The aerosol residue contains harmful chemicals.

The Long Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Tobacco products are manufactured from the leaves of the tobacco plant. Some toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke occur naturally in the tobacco plant, others are added or created during the manufacturing process, and yet others form when tobacco is burned.   

Cigarettes are not the only source of thirdhand smoke. Any tobacco product that is burned, including cigars, cigarillos, little cigars, tobacco pipes, and water pipes (hookah or shisha), can leave behind a toxic chemical residue of thirdhand smoke.

 Even tobacco products that do not burn can make thirdhand residue, such as electronic cigarettes and vaping products. This is because e-cigarette “vapor” is not just harmless water vapor. The liquid that gets heated is made of nicotine, propylene glycol, flavor chemicals, and substances left over from the extraction of nicotine from tobacco plants. Scientists refer to the “vapor” as aerosols, which are the tiny particles or droplets of nicotine, propylene glycol, flavor chemicals, and other toxic substances suspended in the air.

A recent study of vapor from JUUL e-cigarettes found that the aerosols build up on nearby surfaces when people vape. Thirdhand aerosols from nicotine and cannabis have been have been found in indoor environments after these products have been vaped. While thirdhand aerosols from vaping products may not smell like thirdhand smoke from tobacco smoke, its chemicals linger on surfaces and in dust.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: February 2024

Sources:

Chen, H., Li, G., Allam, V. S. R. R., Wang, B., Chan, Y. L., Scarfo, C., Ueland, M., Shimmon, R., Fu, S., Foster, P., & Oliver, B. G. (2020). Evidence from a mouse model on the dangers of thirdhand electronic cigarette exposure during early life. ERJ Open Research, 6(2), 00022–02020. https://doi.org/10.1183/23120541.00022-2020.

Goniewicz ML, Lee L. Electronic cigarettes are a source of thirdhand exposure to nicotine. Nicotine Tob Res. 2015; 17(2):256-258. Published online 2014 August 30. 

Hua M, Luo W, Khachatoorian C, McWhirter KJ, Leung S, Martinez T, et al. Exposure, Retention, Exhalation, Symptoms, and Environmental Accumulation of Chemicals During JUUL Vaping. Chemical Research in Toxicology. 2023;36(3):492-507. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.2c00390.

Jacob P 3rd, Benowitz NL, Destaillats H, Gundel L, Hang B, Martins-Green M, Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Samet JM, Schick SF, Talbot P, Aquilina NJ, Hovell MF, Mao JH, Whitehead TP. Thirdhand Smoke: New Evidence, Challenges, and Future Directions. Chem Res Toxicol. 2017;30(1), 270-294.  

Marcham CL, Floyd EL, Wood BL, Arnold S, & Johnson DL. (2019). E-cigarette nicotine deposition and persistence on glass and cotton surfaces. Journal of occupational and environmental hygiene, 16(5), 349–354. https://doi.org/10.1080/15459624.2019.1581366

Sempio C, Lindley E, Klawitter J, Christians U, Bowler RP, Adgate JL, Allshouse W, Awdziejczyk L, Fischer S, Bainbridge J, Vandyke M, Netsanet R, Crume T, Kinney GL. Surface detection of THC attributable to vaporizer use in the indoor environment. Sci Rep. 2019; 9(1):18587. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-55151-5.

Son Y, Giovenco DP, Delnevo C, Khlystov A, Samburova V, Meng Q. Indoor air quality and passive e-cigarette aerosol exposures in vape-shops [published online ahead of print, 2020 May 23]. Nicotine Tob Res. 2020;ntaa094. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntaa094.

Thorpe AE, Donovan C, Kim RY, Vindin HJ, Zakarya R, Miyai H, et al. Third-Hand Exposure to E-Cigarette Vapour Induces Pulmonary Effects in Mice. Toxics. 2023;11(9):749.

Yeh, K., Li, L., Wania, F., & Abbatt, J. P. (2022). Thirdhand smoke from tobacco, e-cigarettes, cannabis, methamphetamine and cocaine: Partitioning, reactive fate, and human exposure in indoor environments. Environment International, 160, 107063. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.107063

How can I be exposed to thirdhand smoke? 🎥

Watch a video that answers this question here.

The Short Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

People can be exposed to thirdhand smoke by:

  1. Absorbing thirdhand smoke residue through their skin when touching polluted objects or surfaces, such as floors, rugs, or blankets. 
  2. Breathing in thirdhand smoke chemicals and particles that are released into the air from surfaces.
  3. Swallowing thirdhand smoke residue when putting polluted objects, such as silverware or toys, in their mouths. Teething children are at high risk for this.

The Long Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

There are three main ways that people can be exposed to thirdhand smoke.

Touching

People can be exposed to thirdhand smoke when their skin comes in contact with a polluted surface. These include the steering wheel of a car, clothes, blankets, toys, and furniture. Thirdhand smoke in the air can also stick to your skin.  Some of the thirdhand smoke chemicals can enter your body through the skin, get into your bloodstream, and circulate through your body. They can harm your DNA, immune system, and cardiovascular system. If you think you have touched surfaces contaminated with thirdhand smoke, wash your hands immediately.

Breathing 

People can breathe in thirdhand smoke chemicals and particles suspended in the air. Thirdhand smoke can be released into the air from surfaces such as clothing, furniture, carpets, walls, or pillows. When this happens, we can sometimes smell stale tobacco smoke – but not always. When you smell stale tobacco smoke, it is not just a foul odor. It is a mixture of toxic chemicals that enters your body through your lungs. If you do not smell stale tobacco smoke, that does not necessarily mean there is not any thirdhand smoke present because some thirdhand smoke chemicals are odorless.

Entering the Mouth

People can swallow thirdhand smoke when they put objects polluted with thirdhand smoke, such as utensils, cups, toys, or fingers, into their mouths. Young children are at the highest risk of swallowing thirdhand smoke because they put many objects in their mouths, particularly when teething.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: February 2024

Sources:

Matt GE, Merianos AL, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Mahabee-Gittens EM. Prevalence and Income-Related Disparities in Thirdhand Smoke Exposure to Children. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e2147184. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.47184

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E., et al. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: Residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob. Control. 2011; 20. e1 10.1136/tc.2010.037382.

Matt GE, Merianos AL, Stone L, Wullenweber C, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, et al. Changes and stability of hand nicotine levels in children of smokers: Associations with urinary biomarkers, reported child tobacco smoke exposure, and home smoking bans. Environ Int. 2023;181:108239. Epub 20230927. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.108239. PubMed PMID: 37852151

Matt GE, Merianos AL, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Mahabee-Gittens EM. Prevalence and Income-Related Disparities in Thirdhand Smoke Exposure to Children. JAMA Network Open. 2022;5(2):e2147184-e. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.47184.

Jacob P, Benowitz NL 3rd, Destaillats H, Gundel L, Hang B, Martins-Green M, et al. Thirdhand smoke: New evidence, challenges, and future directions. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 2017; 30:270–294. 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00343.

Tang X, Benowitz N, Gundel L, Hang B, Havel CM, Hoh E, Jacob P, Mao Jian-Hua, Martins-Green Manuela, Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Russell M, Sarker Altaf, Schick S, Snijders A, and Destaillats H. Thirdhand Exposures to Tobacco-Specific Nitrosamines through Inhalation, Dust Ingestion, Dermal Uptake, and Epidermal Chemistry. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2022; https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c02559.

How long does thirdhand smoke last?

The Short Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Thirdhand smoke can stay on surfaces for years after the people who smoked stopped smoking or moved out. Because it can stay for years, researchers have found high levels of thirdhand smoke in apartments even when current residents do not smoke or allow smoking in their homes. In some of these homes, the levels of thirdhand smoke were so high that they were similar to levels in homes where people actively smoke indoors.

The Long Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

In homes where tobacco has been smoked regularly over many years, the thirdhand smoke residue is likely to be embedded in materials throughout the home. These pollution reservoirs can be very persistent. For instance, we have found high levels thirdhand smoke on surfaces more than 5 years after the last known cigarette was smoked. 

In one case, after a person who had smoked in the home moved out, the home was cleaned and remained empty for months. Still, thirdhand smoke levels on household surfaces were similar to those found in the homes of people who actively smoke. 

In a second case, a person with a lifelong one-pack-per-day habit successfully quit. Over five years later, thirdhand smoke levels on their household furniture were similar to levels commonly found in the homes of people who actively smoke.

Toxic thirdhand smoke residue is widespread and persistent. One study measured thirdhand smoke on surfaces in 220 apartments in San Diego. The researchers found thirdhand smoke in every apartment, even though most (88%) of the residents do not use any tobacco products. This is likely because previous residents smoked in the units or neighbors smoked in nearby units, and thirdhand smoke can stick around for years.  

Although it can be challenging to remove existing thirdhand smoke pollution, there are steps you can take. To prevent the build-up of thirdhand smoke in your home, do not allow anyone to smoke in or around you, your home, or your vehicle.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: February 2024

Sources:

Matt GE, Quintana PJE., Hoh E, Zakarian J, Dodder N, Record R., Hovell M, Mahabee-Gittens M, Padilla S, Markman L, Watanabe K, Novotny T, Persistent tobacco smoke residue in multiunit housing: Legacy of permissive indoor smoking policies and challenges in the implementation of smoking bans, Preventive Medicine Reports, Volume 18, 2020, 101088, ISSN 2211-3355, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2020.101088.

Matt, GE, Quintana PJE., Hovell M, Chatfield D, Ma D, Romero R, Uribe A, Residual tobacco smoke pollution in used cars for sale: Air, dust, and surfaces, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, Volume 10, Issue 9, September 2008, Pages 1467–1475, https://doi.org/10.1080/14622200802279898.

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Zakarian JM, Fortmann A, Chatfield D, Hoh E, Uribe A, Hovell M. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure, Tobacco Control, 2011;20:el, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tc.2010.037382.

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Zakarian JM, Hoh E, Hovell M, Mahabee-Gittens M, Watanabe K, Datuin K, Vue C, Chatfield D. When smokers quit: exposure to nicotine and carcinogens persists from thirdhand smoke pollution, Tobacco Control, 2017;26:548-556, http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053119.

How can I protect my child from thirdhand smoke in homes?

The Short Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Young children are at the greatest risk of thirdhand smoke exposure. Here are some ways to keep thirdhand smoke out of their homes: 

  • Make sure all your child’s indoor environments are 100% smokefree. Don’t let anyone smoke in your home.
  • If your child spends time with someone who smokes, have them wash their hands and face and change their clothes before seeing your child.
  • If your child comes into contact with second- or thirdhand smoke, they should shower and change their clothes as soon as possible after.
  • Avoid thirdhand smoke when moving to a new home by asking if anyone has ever smoked in it.

The Long Answer:

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of exposure to thirdhand smoke. The best way to prevent exposure to thirdhand smoke is to ensure that your child’s home is 100% smokefree.

That means no smoking or vaping tobacco, e-cigarettes, or cannabis at any time inside your home or anywhere else your child spends time. This includes homes of friends and family, hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, and childcare.

Here are additional steps you can take to keep thirdhand smoke out of your child’s environment.

In your home: 

  • Remember that smoke can drift into your home, so do not allow anyone to smoke outside near doors, windows, or ventilation systems.
  • Before renting an apartment or buying a new home, ask questions about previous residents’ use of tobacco, e-cigarettes, and cannabis. 
  • Before bringing something used into your home, such as furniture or clothing, ask about tobacco, e-cigarette, and marijuana use by previous owners. If you can’t find out, factor that into your decision.
  • Before someone who smokes visits your home, explain that when people smoke, thirdhand smoke residue sticks to their clothes, hands, face, body, and hair. Then, ask them to wash their hands, shower, and change into clean clothes before spending time in your home or with your child.  

In someone else’s home:

  • Do your best to make sure adults who spend time with your child are 100% smokefree, especially childcare workers. 
  • If your child spends time with someone who smokes, have them wash their hands and face and change their clothes before seeing your child.
  • If you cannot avoid your child spending time somewhere that may contain thirdhand smoke, when your child comes home, have them shower and change into clean clothes.

If you believe that a home is polluted with thirdhand smoke:

It can be very difficult to remove thirdhand smoke from indoor environments, especially if the smoking took place for a long period of time. Depending on the size of the reservoir of pollutants, complete renovation may be required. If you cannot avoid your child spending time in a home that may contain thirdhand smoke, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your child’s exposure. 

  • You may be able to reduce thirdhand smoke in your home by (1) opening windows to air out rooms each week, (2) regularly wiping surfaces with a diluted white vinegar solution, (3) frequent dusting, and (4) weekly vacuuming with a HEPA filter.
  • If you have washable items that came from a home where someone smoked, such as clothes, toys, or blankets, thoroughly wash them or consider discarding them. 
  • Regularly wash your child’s blankets, bedding, and toys.
  • Remember that it is nearly impossible to remove thirdhand smoke from walls, carpets, HVAC systems, and other large housing structures. If your home is polluted with thirdhand smoke, you will likely have to renovate and replace these.
  • When moving into a new home, always ask if previous residents smoked and about the building’s smoking policies. If possible, choose a new home that has not been smoked in and a property that has a strict indoor smoking ban.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: March 2024

Sources:

Aquilina NJ, Jacob P, Benowitz NL, Fsadni P, Montefort S. Secondhand smoke exposure in school children in Malta assessed through urinary biomarkers. Environmental Research. 2022;204:112405. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2021.112405.

Jacob III P, Benowitz NL, Destaillats H, Gundel L, Hang B, Martins-Green M, Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Samet JM, Schick SF, Talbot P. Thirdhand smoke: new evidence, challenges, and future directions. Chemical research in toxicology. 2017 Jan 17;30(1):270-94.

Jenssen BP, Walley SC, Boykan R, Little Caldwell A, Camenga D, Section on Nicotine and Tobacco Prevention and Treatment, Committee on Substance Use and Prevention, Gonzalez L, Agarwal R, Quigley J, Zoucha K, Walker-Harding L, Kurien C, Ba’Gah R, Jarrett R. Protecting Children and Adolescents From Tobacco and Nicotine. Pediatrics. 2023 May 1;151(5):e2023061806. doi:10.1542/peds.2023-061806.

Kassem NO, Daffa RM, Liles S, Jackson SR, Kassem NO, Younis MA, Mehta S, Chen M, Jacob P 3rd, Carmella SG, Chatfield DA, Benowitz NL, Matt GE, Hecht SS, Hovell MF.Children’s exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke carcinogens and toxicants in homes of hookah smokers. Nicotine Tob Res. 2014 Jul;16(7):961-75. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntu016. Epub 2014 Mar 3.

Kelley ST, Liu W, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Mahabee-Gittens EM, Padilla S, Ogden S, Frenzel S, Sisk-Hackworth L, Matt GE. Altered microbiomes in thirdhand smoke-exposed children and their home environments. Pediatr Res. 2021. doi: 10.1038/s41390-021-01400-1. PubMed PMID: 33654287.

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Hoh E, Quintana PJE, Matt GE. Nicotine on children’s hands: limited protection of smoking bans and initial clinical findings. Tob Use Insights. 2019;12:1-6. PMID: 30728727; PMCID: PMC6351963.

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Jandarov RA, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Matt GE. Differential associations of hand nicotine and urinary cotinine with children’s exposure to tobacco smoke and clinical outcomes. Environ Res. 2021;202:111722. Epub 2021/07/24. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.111722. PubMed PMID: 34297932.

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Stone L, Wullenweber CA, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Lopez-Galvez N, Matt GE. Hand nicotine as an independent marker of thirdhand smoke pollution in children’s environments. Science of The Total Environment. 2022;849:157914. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.157914.

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Merianos AL, Stone L, Lopez-Galvez N, Matt GE. Collecting Hand Wipe Samples to Assess Thirdhand Smoke Exposure. Front Public Health. 2021 Dec 20;9:770505. doi:10.3389/fpubh.2021.770505

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Hovell MF, Bernert JT, Song S, Novianti N, Juarez T, Floro J, Gehrman C, Garcia M, Larson S. Households contaminated by environmental tobacco smoke: sources of infant exposures. Tob Control. 2004 Mar;13(1):29-37. PubMed PMID:14985592.

Northrup TF, Matt GE, Hovell MF, Khan AM, Stotts AL. Thirdhand smoke in the homes of medically fragile children: Assessing the impact of indoor smoking levels and smoking bans. Nicotine Tob Res. 2016;18(5):1290-8. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntv174. PubMed PMID:26315474.

Quintana PJE, Lopez-Galvez N, Matt GE, Merianos AL, Dodder NG, Hoh E, Stone L, Wullenweber CA, Mahabee-Gittens EM. Cotton pillow samplers for assessment of thirdhand smoke in homes of smokers and nonsmokers with children. J Environ Expo Assess. 2023;2(4):23. doi: 10.20517/jeea.2023.28.

How can I protect my child from thirdhand smoke in cars?

The Short Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Young children are at the greatest risk of thirdhand smoke exposure, and they need to be protected from exposure in all indoor environments – including inside cars. Here are some ways to protect your child from thirdhand smoke exposure in cars.

  • Don’t let anyone smoke or vape in your car.
  • If your child rides with someone who smokes or vapes, be sure they do not smoke or vape when your child is in the car, and ask them to put the air conditioning in “outside air mode” to help bring fresh air into the car when your child rides with them.
  • Wash your child’s car seat after using it in a polluted car, and don’t leave it in the car between rides.
  • When buying a used car, ask if anyone has ever smoked in it.

The Long Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Babies and young children are at the greatest risk of exposure to thirdhand smoke. They can be exposed to thirdhand smoke in any indoor environment – including inside cars. Cars are full of materials that collect tobacco smoke pollutants such as upholstery, ceiling liner, and floor mats.  The polluted air is trapped inside when the car is parked.  Children often spend significant amounts of time in a car. Here are some steps you can take to keep your child safe from thirdhand smoke in cars.

Make sure your child travels in 100% smokefree cars. 

  • Don’t allow any smoking or vaping in your car at any time, and don’t let your child ride with anyone who allows smoking or vaping in their car. 
  • If you are buying a used car, be sure to ask about smoking by previous owners. 
  • Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to remove thirdhand smoke once it is embedded in a car. Even aggressive cleaning will not remove the toxic chemicals hidden in upholstery or the ventilation system. 

If you cannot avoid your child riding in a car that may contain thirdhand smoke, there are a few steps you can take to reduce your child’s exposure:

  • When your child is in a car polluted with thirdhand smoke, turn on the air-conditioning using the “outside air mode.” Make sure you do not simply recirculate the air in your car; this is sometimes the default setting in a car. By bringing outside air into the car using air-conditioning, you will reduce the concentration of thirdhand smoke pollutants in the air of the car.
  • Do not leave the car seat in the car. Put your child’s car seat in the car only when your child will be using it. The less time the car seat is in the car, the less time it will be exposed to toxic thirdhand smoke.
  • Before you put the car seat in the car, put a clean towel under the car seat. The towel will act as a physical barrier between the car’s upholstery, which contains thirdhand smoke pollutants, and the clean car seat.
  • When you are finished using the car seat, remove it and the towel. Wipe the car seat with a solution of diluted vinegar and water and throw the towel into the laundry.
  • As much as possible, limit the amount of time your child is in the car.
  • Because children can absorb thirdhand smoke through their skin, it is a good idea to wash your child’s hands and face after the car ride.

The best way to protect your child from thirdhand smoke exposure in a car is to (1) never ride in cars that have been smoked in, (2) never let anyone smoke in your car, and (3) always ask for a non-smoking rental car—if you smell tobacco odor in the rental car, ask for another.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: April 2024

Sources:

Fortmann, A. L., R. A. Romero, M. Sklar, V. Pham, J. Zakarian, P. J. Quintana, D. Chatfield and G. E. Matt. Residual tobacco smoke in used cars: futile efforts and persistent pollutants. Nicotine Tob Res 2010; 12(10): 1029-1036.

Matt GE, Fortmann AL, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Romero RA, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Hovell MF. Towards smoke-free rental cars: an evaluation of voluntary smoking restrictions in California. Tobacco control. 2013 May 1;22(3):201-7.

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Hovell MF, Chatfield D, Ma DS, Romero R, Uribe A. Residual tobacco smoke pollution in used cars for sale: air, dust, and surfaces. Nicotine Tob Res. 2008;10(9):1467-1475. doi: 10.1080/14622200802279898.

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Stone L, Wullenweber CA, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Lopez-Galvez N, Matt GE. Hand nicotine as an independent marker of thirdhand smoke pollution in children’s environments. Science of The Total Environment. 2022;849:157914. doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.157914.

Matt GE, Fortmann AL, Quintana PJ, et al. Towards smoke-free rental cars: an evaluation of voluntary smoking restrictions in California. Tobacco control. 2013;22(3):201-207.

If someone smokes outside, do they bring thirdhand smoke with them when they enter a home or car?

The Short Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Yes, after they smoke, people do bring thirdhand smoke with them when they enter a home or car.

When someone smokes, thirdhand smoke sticks to their clothes, skin, and hair. The thirdhand smoke chemicals can transfer from the person to surfaces they come into contact with. The chemicals can be released back into the air, producing a smell of old or stale tobacco smoke.  

To avoid people carrying thirdhand smoke into their home or car, ask them to change clothes, wash their hands and face, and shower before entering your home or car.

The Long Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

When someone who smokes outside enters a car or home, they bring thirdhand smoke with them. Often, they will smell like tobacco smoke, but even if they don’t, they still carry thirdhand smoke chemicals on their clothes, skin, hair, and breath. We smell tobacco smoke when the thirdhand smoke chemicals are released into the air, a process known as off-gassing. Some of these chemicals in the air are recognized by the odor receptors in our noses, and our brains tell us that this is the unpleasant smell of stale tobacco smoke.

Once this tobacco residue is brought inside, the effects are similar to when someone smokes a cigarette inside your car or home. The gases and particles in the tobacco residue on the hands, clothes, skin, and hair of the person who smoked can be transferred, stick to, and ultimately become embedded in materials and objects. In your home, these include carpets, walls, furniture, blankets, and toys. In your car, these include the seat covers, steering wheel, floor mats, and ceiling liner. The gases and particles can also be released into the air and accumulate in dust. As a result, people and pets may be exposed to toxic thirdhand smoke even though no one smoked inside your car or home.

The first step to avoiding exposure to thirdhand smoke is to tell family members and friends about thirdhand smoke and encourage them to avoid exposure. Ask friends and family who smoke to  adopt these strategies to protect others: 

  1. Always wash your hands and face very carefully after smoking to remove tobacco residue from your skin.
  2. Wash clothes worn while smoking each day to avoid releasing toxic compounds into the air.
  3. If possible, ask them to shower  and change into clean clothes upon entering your home  

Be sure to thank them for helping to protect you and your loved ones from toxic thirdhand smoke.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: March 2024

Sources:

Fortmann A L, Romero RA, Sklar RA, Pham V, Zakarian J, Quintana JP, Chatfield D, Matt GE. Residual tobacco smoke in used cars: futile efforts and persistent pollutants. Nicotine Tob Res. 2010;12(10):1029-36.

Licina D, Morrison GC, Bekö  G, Weshler CJ, Nazaroff W. Clothing-mediated exposures to chemicals and particles. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2019; 53(10):5559-5575

Lidón-Moyano C, Fu M, Pérez-Ortuño R, Ballbè M, Garcia E, Martín-Sánchez JC, Pascual JA, Fernández E, Martínez-Sánchez JM. Third-hand exposure at homes: Assessment using salivary cotinine. Enviro Res. 2021;196:110393. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110393

Matt GE, Romero R, Ma DS, Quintana JP, Hovell MF, Donohue M, Messer K, Salem S, Aguilar M, Boland J, Cullimore J, Crane M, Junker J, Tassainario P, Timmermann V, Wong K, Chatfield D. Tobacco use and asking prices of used cars: Prevalence, costs, and new opportunities for changing smoking behavior. Tob Induc Dis. 2008; Jul 31; 4(1):2. doi: 10.1186/1617-9625-4-2. 

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Hovell MF, Chatfield D, Ma DS, Romero R, Uribe A. Residual tobacco smoke pollution in used cars for sale: air, dust, and surfaces. Nicotine Tob Res. 2008;10(9):1467-75. doi: 10.1080/14622200802279898. 

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Uribe AM, Hovell MF. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: Residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2011; 20(1):e1. doi: 10.1136/tc.2010.037382

Northrup TF, Stotts AL, Suchting R, et al. Thirdhand Smoke Contamination and Infant Nicotine Exposure in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit: An Observational Study. Nicotine Tob Res. 2021;23(2):373-382.

Rosen LJ, Zucker DM, Gravely S, Bitan M, Rule AM, Myers V. Tobacco Smoke Exposure According to Location of Home Smoking in Israel: Findings from the Project Zero Exposure Study. IJERPH. 2023 Feb 16;20(4):3523. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20043523.

Sheu R, Stönner C, Ditto J, Klüpfel T, Williams J, Gentner D. Human transport of thirdhand tobacco smoke: A prominent source of hazardous air pollutants into indoor nonsmoking environments. Science Advances. 2020; 6(10):eaay4109.

Quintana PJE, Lopez-Galvez N, Matt GE, Merianos AL, Dodder NG, Hoh E, Stone L, Wullenweber CA, Mahabee-Gittens EM. Cotton pillow samplers for assessment of thirdhand smoke in homes of smokers and nonsmokers with children. J Environ Expo Assess. 2023;2(4):23. doi: 10.20517/jeea.2023.28.

Quintana PJ, Matt GE, Chatfield D, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Hoh E. Wipe sampling for nicotine as a marker of thirdhand tobacco smoke contamination on surfaces in homes, cars, and hotels. Nicotine Tob Res. 2013;15(9):1555-63. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntt014.

Who is most likely to be exposed to thirdhand smoke? 🎥

Watch a video that answers this question here.

The Short Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Infants and young children are more likely to breathe in, swallow, or touch thirdhand smoke chemicals for three reasons:

  1. They spend most of their time indoors, especially on the floor. This means they are nearer to carpets and dust contaminated with thirdhand smoke chemicals. 
  2. They explore by putting things into their mouths. This means they can put toys, blankets, and other objects contaminated with thirdhand smoke chemicals into their mouths. 
  3. Their bodies are developing. Young children breathe more frequently. This means that they have more chances to breathe in thirdhand smoke chemicals. Also, their skin is thinner than adults, so it does not create a barrier to keep the chemicals out.   

The Long Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Infants and young children are the most likely to be exposed to thirdhand smoke for these three reasons:

1. Time Spent Indoors

Infants and young children spend more time on average indoors than adults. Human activity surveys have shown that infants spend 90% of their time indoors at home. If their home environments are polluted with thirdhand smoke, infants are at a higher risk of exposure.

2. Child Behavior

Infants and young children explore their environment with their hands and bodies. Before they can walk, they move around by crawling along the floor, where they can touch polluted objects and pick up polluted dust and particles along the way. Their small size lets them fit into tight spaces where dust and particles might collect. Through crawling and exploring their environment, their hands, mouths, hair, clothes, and toys can collect thirdhand smoke. 

As part of exploring their environment, children and infants put many objects into their mouths: their own hands, toys, blankets, their parents’ fingers, a car seat strap, and more. Just about anything they discover goes into their mouths, including everyday objects parents may use to distract a child, such as a cell phone, car keys, or TV remote. 

If their environment contains surfaces, objects, or dust contaminated with toxic thirdhand smoke, the chemicals can enter their bodies through touching, inhaling, or swallowing them.  

3. Growth and Development

The respiratory systems of infants and young children are developing, and they breathe more times each minute than adults do. This increased respiratory rate means that in relation to their size, they can breathe in more thirdhand smoke than adults can. Their other organ systems are immature and growing too—this includes their skin. The skin of an infant or child is thinner than the skin of adults, meaning that their skin creates less of a barrier to keep thirdhand smoke chemicals from being absorbed into their bodies. Their immune systems are also developing, making them more vulnerable to the effects of tobacco pollutants than adults.  A weakened immune system makes it more difficult to fend off infections.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: May 2024

Sources:

Breunis, L. J., Versteylen, M., Radó, M. K., Dereci, N., Boderie, N. W., de Kroon, M. L. A., Been, J. V. Pediatric patients’ views regarding smoke-free hospital grounds compared to those of adults: A survey study. Tobacco Prevention & Cessation. 2022 Feb;8:7. doi: 10.18332/tpc/145311. 

Jenssen BP, Walley SC, Boykan R, Little Caldwell A, Camenga D, Section on Nicotine and Tobacco Prevention and Treatment, Committee on Substance Use and Prevention, Gonzalez L, Agarwal R, Quigley J, Zoucha K, Walker-Harding L, Kurien C, Ba’Gah R, Jarrett R. Protecting Children and Adolescents From Tobacco and Nicotine. Pediatrics. 2023 May 1;151(5):e2023061806. doi:10.1542/peds.2023-061806.

Kelley ST, Liu W, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Mahabee-Gittens EM, Padilla S, Ogden S, Frenzel S, Sisk-Hackworth L, Matt GE. Altered microbiomes in thirdhand smoke-exposed children and their home environments. Pediatr Res. 2021 Dec;90(6):1153-1160. doi: 10.1038/s41390-021-01400-1

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Jandarov RA, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Matt GE, Differential associations of hand nicotine and urinary cotinine with children’s exposure to tobacco smoke and clinical outcomes, Enviro Res. 2021;202:111722. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.111722.

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Matt GE. Preliminary evidence that high levels of nicotine on children’s hands may contribute to overall tobacco smoke exposure. Tob Control. 2018;27(2):217-219. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053602. 

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Matt GE. Nicotine on children’s hands: Limited protection of smoking bans and initial clinical findings. Tob Use Insights. 2019;12:1-6. doi:10.1177/1179173X18823493. 

Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Stone L, Wullenweber CA, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Dodder NG, Lopez-Galvez N, Matt GE, Hand nicotine as an independent marker of thirdhand smoke pollution in children’s environments, Science of The Total Environment. 2022;849;157914. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.157914.

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Hovell MF, Bernert JT, Song S, Novianti N, Juarez T, Floro J, Gehrman C, Garcia M, Larson S. Households contaminated by environmental tobacco smoke: sources of infant exposures. Tobacco Control. 2004;13:29–37. doi: 10.1136/tc.2003.003889.

Merianos AL, Jandarov RA, Gordon JS, Lyons MS, Mahabee-Gittens EM. Healthcare resources attributable to child tobacco smoke exposure. PLOS ONE. 2021;16(2): e0247179. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0247179.

Merianos AL, Mahabee-Gittens EM, Choi K. Tobacco smoke exposure and inadequate sleep among U.S. school-aged children. Sleep Medicine. 2021;86:99-105. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2021.08.012.

Northrup TF, Khan AM, Jacob P, Benowitz NL, Hoh E, Hovell MF, Matt GE, Stotts AL. Thirdhand smoke contamination in hospital settings: Assessing exposure risk for vulnerable pediatric patients. Tob Control. 2016;25: 619-623. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2015-052506.

Parks J, McLean KE, McCandless L, de Souza RJ, Brook JR, Scott J, Turvey SE, Mandhane PJ, Becker AB, Azad MB, Moraes TJ, Lefebvre DL, Sears MR, Subbarao P, Takaro TK. Assessing secondhand and thirdhand tobacco smoke exposure in Canadian infants using questionnaires, biomarkers, and machine learning. J Expo Sci Environ Epidemiol. 2022;32:112–123. doi: 10.1038/s41370-021-00350-4.

What are the advantages of making my rental properties smokefree?

The Short Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind when someone smokes tobacco. Thirdhand smoke is unhealthy for people and pets. It can stick around for a long time in homes and cars. It gets into your body if you inhale, swallow, or touch the chemicals. Getting rid of it is really hard and can cost a lot of money.

Most importantly, smokefree properties protect people’s health by reducing their exposure to toxic second- and thirdhand smoke.  In addition, making rental properties smokefree will save you money. Many people know the dangers of secondhand smoke and want to live somewhere smokefree. Finally, smokefree properties have less fire risk and smoking-related maintenance, such as having to do less deep cleaning of thirdhand smoke-polluted rooms in-between tenants. 

The Long Answer

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Much of the public knows that secondhand smoke is bad for your health. For this reason, smokefree rental properties are in high demand. Surveys show that most renters prefer 100% smokefree properties. 

Smokefree rental properties save money by:

  • reducing the risk of tobacco-related fires in apartments.
  • lowering fire and liability insurance premiums for the property.
  • avoiding the need for expensive smoking-related repairs when tenants move out.
  • reducing litter from tobacco waste, such as cigarette butts.
  • reducing complaints about unpleasant odors and unhealthy air because of smoke intrusion.

Smokefree rental properties save lives and protect the health of tenants by:

  • eliminating current tenants’ exposure to secondhand smoke that drifts between apartments.
  • preventing future residents’ exposure to thirdhand smoke chemicals that have embedded in rugs, walls, and other surfaces in units where previous tenants smoked. 

Save money, save lives. Make your property smokefree.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.

Updated: May 2024

Sources:

American Lung Association. Smokefree housing: Renter poll. Retrieved January 10, 2020 from https://center4tobaccopolicy.org/tobacco-policy/smokefree-multi-unit-housing/smokefree-housing-renter-poll/

Licht AS, King BA, Travers MJ, Rivard C, Hyland AJ. Attitudes, experiences, and acceptance of smoke-free policies among US multiunit housing residents. AJPH. 2012;102(10): 1868-1871.

Ong MK, Diamant AL, Zhou Q, Park H-Y, Kaplan R. Estimates of smoking-related property costs in California multiunit housing. AJPH. 2012;102(3):490-493.

Thorpe LE, Anastasiou E, Wyka K, Tovar A, Gill E, Rule A, Elbel B, Kaplan SA, Jiang N, Gordon T, Shelley D. Evaluation of Secondhand Smoke Exposure in New York City Public Housing After Implementation of the 2018 Federal Smoke-Free Housing Policy. JAMA Netw Open. 2020 Nov 5 [cited 2021 Apr 22];3(11):e2024385. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.24385.

Toy P, Yount C, Meng Y, Zou W, Ventura J, Do H, Pourat N. Health at risk: Policies are needed to end cigarette, marijuana, and e-cigarette secondhand smoke in multi-unit housing in Los Angeles. National Library of Medicine. 2020.

What questions should I ask before signing my next apartment lease?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.


Before you sign the lease on an apartment, consider the following:

  • The definition of “smokefree” differs for each apartment complex. Sometimes, smokefree means that smoking is restricted is prohibited in some areas (e.g., common areas) but allowed in others (e.g., patio, apartment). Other times smoking may be banned everywhere on the property.  
  • “Smokefree” does not necessarily mean your new apartment is free of toxic thirdhand smoke residue. Thirdhand smoke can be left behind by a former resident, or by a neighbor who ignored the smoking policies.


Make sure you understand the smoking restrictions for the property selected. Ask the property manager “Where on the property is smoking allowed?”


The preferred answer to this question is, “We do not allow smoking of any product, including marijuana and electronic cigarettes, anywhere on the property. Residents must leave the property to smoke.”

The most common response is, “We restrict smoking and use of electronic cigarettes to specific areas.” 


Smoke travels easily through open windows, hallways, heating and cooling systems, and around pipes and electrical wiring. If people are allowed to smoke inside their apartment units, outside on their porches or balconies, or in common areas near buildings or stairwells, the smoke may find its way into your apartment.

Ask where people are allowed to smoke.

 

  • Is smoking allowed inside apartment units?
  • Is smoking allowed outside apartment units, on balconies, or on porches?
  • Is smoking allowed in common areas or parking lots?
  • Is there a designated smoking area? If so, is it more than 50 feet from any building?


In addition, you want to ask the property management the following:

 

  • How do tenants or visitors know about the smoking policy? Are there signs posted throughout the complex about a non-smoking policy, including the penalty for violating it?
  • What is the penalty for violating the smoking policy? Do you evict tenants who violate the smoking policy?
  • How do you handle tenants’ complaints about others smoking?


Once you are convinced that the smoking policies are enforced and that no smoking is tolerated on the premises, you still need to confirm that thirdhand smoke is not present in apartment units. If previous apartment residents smoked inside or outside of the apartment, toxic thirdhand smoke residue can remain for years after they move out. Make sure to ask the property manager:

 

  • Did the people who lived in this apartment smoke?


If the answer is “yes”, you should investigate more by asking:

 

  • How long did they live in the apartment?
  • What kind of cleaning or renovation was done to the unit after they moved out?


We recommend that you request a unit that was not previously occupied by someone who smoked. The longer a smoking tenant lives in the apartment unit, the more time there will be for thirdhand smoke residue to build up. It is important to find out how property management prepares and cleans apartments for new tenants. 

It is unlikely that standard cleaning and applying a coat of paint will remove thirdhand smoke if the smoking was heavy and occurred for a long time. Renovation to remove thirdhand smoke may need to include removal and replacement of carpeting, furniture, walls, ceilings, and ventilation systems.


We know it is challenging to find good housing. Many factors go into a final decision about where to live. Since there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke, we suggest avoiding a unit where a former smoker lived. We also suggest avoiding properties that allow smoking anywhere on the property and where there are few consequences for violating smoking policies.

Do you have more questions about the toxic legacy of tobacco smoke, how it affects human health, and what we can do about it? Learn more here.


Updated: February 2023


Sources


DeCarlo PF, Avery AM, Waring MS. Thirdhand smoke uptake to aerosol particles in the indoor environment. Sci Adv. 2018;9: 4(5): eaap8368. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aap8368.


Mahabee-Gittens EM, Merianos AL, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Matt GE. (2019) Nicotine on children’s hands: Limited protection of smoking bans and initial clinical findings. Tob Use Insights. doi:10.1177/1179173X18823493.

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Zakarian JM, Dodder NG, Record RA, Hovell MF, Mahabee-Gittens EM, Padilla S, Markman L, Watanabe K, Novotny TE. Remediating Thirdhand Smoke Pollution in Multiunit Housing: Temporary Reductions and the Challenges of Persistent Reservoirs. Nicotine Tob Res. 2021 Jan 22;23(2):364-372. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntaa151.

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Uribe AM, Hovell MF. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2011;20(1):e1.

Toy P, Yount C, Meng Y, Zou W, Ventura J, Do H, Pourat N. Health at risk: Policies are needed to end cigarette, marijuana, and e-cigarette secondhand smoke in multi-unit housing in Los Angeles. National Library of Medicine. 2020, https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-101773749-pdf.

Do electronic cigarettes create thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, do not burn tobacco. Instead, e-cigarettes heat a fluid that contains nicotine, a chemical solvent, and flavor chemicals. This heated fluid creates a vapor made up of tiny droplets that looks like cigarette smoke. Just like tobacco smoke, e-cigarette vapor sticks to clothes, furniture, and other surfaces creating thirdhand smoke.

Research has found nicotine residue from e-cigarettes on indoor surfaces days after vaping had stopped. Researchers have shown that children can pick up this nicotine on their hands. Nicotine on surfaces reacts with other chemicals in the air to produce new compounds that can cause cancer and worsen asthma.

In places where vaping is allowed, such as vape shops, the air quality is poor, exposing patrons and workers to toxic secondhand and thirdhand vapor. To prevent the build-up of e-cigarette residue in your home and car, do not allow anyone to vape in those spaces.

Updated: March 2023

Sources

Goniewicz, M. L., & Lee, L. (2015). Electronic cigarettes are a source of thirdhand exposure to nicotine. Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 17(2), 256–258. https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/ntu152

 

Hua, M., Luo, M., Khachatoorian, C., McWhirter K.J., Leung, S., Martinez, T., Talbot, P. (2023). Exposure, Retention, Exhalation, Symptoms, and Environmental Accumulation of Chemicals During JUUL Vaping, Chem. Res. Toxicol. 36(3), 492–507, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.chemrestox.2c00390

 

Khachatoorian, C., Jacob III, P., Benowitz, N. L., & Talbot, P. (2019). Electronic cigarette chemicals transfer from a vape shop to a nearby business in a multiple-tenant retail building. Tobacco Control, 28(5), 519–525. https://doi.org/10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2018-054316

 

Li, D., Shi, H., Xie, Z., Rahman, I., McIntosh, S., Bansal-Travers, M., Winickoff, J. P., Drehmer, J. E., & Ossip, D. J. (2020). Home smoking and vaping policies among US adults: Results from the Population Assessment of Tobacco and Health (Path) study, wave 3. Preventive Medicine, 139, 106215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2020.106215

 

Marcham, C. L., Floyd, E. L., Wood, B. L., Arnold, S., & Johnson, D. L. (2019). E-cigarette nicotine deposition and persistence on glass and cotton surfaces. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene, 16(5), 349–354. https://doi.org/10.1080/15459624.2019.1581366

 

Pozuelos, G. L., Rubin, M., Vargas, S., Ramirez, E., Bandaru, D., Sha, J., Wohlschlegel, J., & Talbot, P. (2022). Nicotine affects multiple biological processes in epiderm™ organotypic tissues and keratinocyte monolayers. Atmosphere, 13(5), 810. https://doi.org/10.3390/atmos13050810

 

Son, Y., Giovenco, D. P., Delnevo, C., Khlystov, A., Samburova, V., & Meng, Q. (2020). Indoor air quality and passive e-cigarette aerosol exposures in vape-shops. Nicotine & Tobacco Research: Official Journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco22(10), 1772–1779. https://doi.org/10.1093/ntr/ntaa094

Can you test for thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemicals that break down and interact with the environment. Scientists have developed sensitive tests1 using those chemical markers that can detect thirdhand smoke chemicals in the air, in house dust, on surfaces of indoor environments, and on people. However, these tests are expensive to conduct and few are available outside of university laboratories available at this time.

EMSL produces a test kit for nicotine on surfaces, but this test is only sensitive enough to detect high levels of nicotine. A report of “no nicotine detected” from this test kit may give a false sense of security, as only the most polluted surfaces would be reported as having detectable levels of nicotine. According to the information on their website, the “reporting limit” is about 15 times higher (15 µg/m2) than typically found in the homes of nonsmokers with indoor smoking bans (1 µg/m2) as determined in San Diego homes).

Knowsmoke produces a test kit that is marketed to the automobile and rental car industry.  It is designed to measure nicotine in upholstery and carpeting. Little is currently known about its level of detection, reliability, or validity. Further study is needed to understand the implications of its test results.

The Home Air Check measures nicotine in the air. This test is not specific to thirdhand smoke, and a report of “detect” could come from secondhand smoke or thirdhand smoke. Its reported lower limit of detection is 1 ng/liter or 1 µg/m3. This detection limit is much too high to serve as a sensitive test for secondhand smoke or thirdhand smoke. 

For a test of thirdhand smoke to be useful to a nonsmoker who wants assurance that a home is free of tobacco smoke pollutants, a test must be significantly more sensitive than what is currently commercially available. In addition, we need to be able to compare test results to reference settings with a known smoking history to evaluate whether measured thirdhand smoke levels are consistent with smoke free nonsmoker spaces. At the Thirdhand Smoke Resource Center, we are currently developing tests that are more sensitive to detecting thirdhand smoke. If you are in urgent need of a test, we recommend reaching out to us and sharing your concerns: contact@thirdhandsmoke.org.

Several chemical markers are used to measure thirdhand smoke: nicotine (a compound that increases the risk of cardiovascular, respiratory, and gastrointestinal disorders), tobacco specific nitrosamines (powerful carcinogens produced when tobacco burns), and nicotelline (a byproduct of nicotine that is easier to measure).

Updated: March 2023

Sources:

Aquilina NJ, Havel CM, Cheung P, Harrison RM, Ho KF, Benowitz NL, Jacob P III. Ubiquitous atmospheric contamination by tobacco smoke: nicotine and a new marker for tobacco smoke-derived particulate matter, nicotelline. Env Int. 2021; vol 150. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2021.106417.

EMSL Analytical, Inc. Nicotine Smoke Contamination Test Kit. Nicotine Data Sheet. 

Home Air Check. Tobacco Smoke Check. https://www.homeaircheck.com/product/tobacco-smoke-test/

Knowsmoke, Knowsmoke Test Kit. https://www.knowsmoke.com/product/knowsmoke-test-kit/

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, et al. A Casino goes smoke free: a longitudinal study of secondhand and thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2018;27(6):643-649.

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Uribe AM, Hovell MF. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2011;20(1):e1. doi:10.1136/tc.2010.037382.

Quintana PJ, Matt GE, Chatfield D, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Hoh E. Wipe sampling for nicotine as a marker of thirdhand tobacco smoke contamination on surfaces in homes, cars, and hotels. Nicotine Tob Res. 2013;15(9):1555-1563.

What should I ask before renting a car?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

You need to rent a car. Whether for business or pleasure, a little bit of research and a few simple steps can maximize your chances of a ride 100% free of tobacco smoke pollutants.

Before reserving your car:

  1. Choose a rental car company that advertises non-smoking vehicles. Better yet, choose a rental car company with a no smoking policy for all of their vehicles.
  2. Read the non-smoking policy to make sure it includes electronic cigarettes.
  3. Make sure the fine for violating the policy is enough to make someone think twice before lighting up in the car.
  4. Specify on your reservation that you will only accept a non-smoking vehicle.

At the rental counter:

  1. Verbally confirm that you want a smokefree car (even if the company has a no smoking policy).
  2. Request a car that has low mileage (fewer drivers mean fewer opportunities for smoking to have occurred).

Before you drive out of the rental car lot:

  1. Be sure the car is designated in some way as “non-smoking”, such as a sticker on the car window (reminders inside the vehicle reduce chances a previous renter smoked inside the car).
  2. Look for evidence of tobacco use (litter, burn marks, cloudy windows inside, odor of tobacco).
  3. If you are not convinced the vehicle is non-smoking, request another vehicle.

When you return the vehicle:

  1. Reinforce the rental company’s good choices (thank the management and staff for providing non-smoking vehicles).
  2. Post a positive review about your smokefree ride and share it on social media.


Updated: March 2023

Sources:

Matt GE, Fortmann AL, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Romero RA, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, & Hovell MF. Towards smoke-free rental cars: An evaluation of voluntary smoking restrictions in California. Tob Control. 2013: 22(3):201-7.

Matt GE, Quintana JP, Hovell MF, Chatfield D, Ma DS, Romero R, & Uribe A. Residual tobacco smoke pollution in used cars for sale: Air, dust, and surfaces. Nicotine Tob Res. 2008;10(9):1467-1475. doi: 10.1080/14622200802279898

Can thirdhand smoke hurt my pet?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

The harmful effects of second- and thirdhand smoke exposure on people are widely known, but the same effects can apply to cats, dogs, and even birds and fish!  Most pet owners protect their pets from tobacco smoke because they know that as they breathe in secondhand smoke in the air, they inhale hundreds of carcinogenic toxic chemicals.

Cats and Dogs

If your cat or dog spends a lot of time indoors in an environment that contains thirdhand smoke, they may be exposed to the chemicals in thirdhand smoke. If pets sleep or play on floors or furniture polluted with thirdhand smoke, the residue can be transferred onto their fur. If pets snuggle with humans who smoke, tobacco residue may be transferred onto their fur from clothing or skin. Cats and dogs can inhale thirdhand smoke chemicals that off-gas from carpets, furniture, blankets, and other polluted surfaces. 

Cats are at increased risk for ingesting thirdhand smoke because of their grooming habits. Cats frequently lick their fur to clean and maintain their coat. In the process, they ingest any thirdhand smoke residue that has accumulated on their fur.

A recent study examined the fur of cats who lived with non-smokers and smokers (indoor and outdoor smokers). The study determined that cats with more exposure to second- and thirdhand tobacco smoke in their homes had an increased amount of hair nicotine concentration compared to cats with less exposure. The nicotine levels in the cat’s hair increased with the number of cigarettes the owners smoked each day—the more cigarettes smoked, the higher the nicotine level in the cat’s hair. The location where the owners smoked also mattered. Cats whose owners smoked inside the home had higher levels of nicotine in their hair than cats whose owners smoked outside or not at all. Other studies have shown that tobacco smoke toxicants increase the risk of cancer in cats.

Dogs can absorb tobacco smoke residue through their skin, and they can ingest it by licking it off their fur, toys, and the hands of someone who smoked. In indoor environments, dogs can inhale contaminated house dust or ultra-fine particles and gases that are released back into the air. Like humans, inhaling ultra-fine particles can make a dog’s breathing problems worse.

A dog’s breed influences the health effects of tobacco smoke exposure. A dog’s nose acts like a filter. Dogs with shorter noses have a smaller “filter,” so toxic particles are not stopped in the nose and get into the lungs, where they can cause harm. Dogs with longer noses have a larger “filter,” so more of the toxic particles are stopped before they get to the lungs. However, the particles can get stuck in the nose and sinuses, where they can cause harm. 

But what about other household pets?

 

Birds and Fish

 

Birds and fish also need protection from thirdhand smoke. Just like humans, birds can be exposed to the particles and gasses of thirdhand smoke through breathing, eating, and touching the toxic residue left behind by tobacco smoke. Birds are sensitive to air pollution. Birds can develop breathing problems, such as allergies, pneumonia, and sinus irritation, when they are exposed to air polluted by tobacco smoke.


Birds can accidentally eat thirdhand smoke residue. Birds like to “preen” themselves. If their feathers have been coated with thirdhand smoke, they will ingest it as they groom. If they perch on the clothes or skin of someone who has smoked, they can absorb thirdhand smoke through their feet or ingest it as they preen someone’s hair. Along with a variety of health problems, birds exposed to tobacco smoke can develop feather plucking, a condition that is very difficult to treat.

Thirdhand smoke can hurt your fish, too. Because nicotine is toxic to fish and easily dissolves in water, it can contaminate the tank and poison the fish. If your fish are exposed to nicotine, they may get muscle spasms, rigid fins, lose their color, or die.

The best way to protect your pet from thirdhand smoke is to ban smoking inside your home. If you smoke, do your best to stop (support is available at 1-800-QUITNOW, and 1-800-300-8086 at Kick It CA), and enforce a smoking ban in your home. The best way to avoid second- and thirdhand smoke exposure is to not smoke at all. However, if you or a visitor do smoke, it should be done outside away from the house. When returning inside after smoking, immediately wash your hands and change your clothing.


Your pet cannot make a choice to avoid second- or thirdhand smoke, but you can! Take these simple steps:

  • Do not let anyone smoke around your pet (inside or outside).
  • Do not let anyone bring thirdhand smoke into your pet’s home.
  • Do not move your pet into a new home that contains thirdhand smoke. Before moving into a new home, ask about smoking policies and habits of previous residents. 


Updated: March 2023

Sources:

 

Bertone-Johnson, E. R., Procter-Gray, E., Gollenberg, A. L., et al. (2008) Environmental tobacco smoke and canine urinary cotinine level. Environmental Research 106, 361-364


Iosr J., Sandhya K., & Patil S. Toxic effect of Cigarette Smoke on Vital organs of Aquarium fish Carassius auratus.

Matt GE, Hoh E, Quintana PJE, Zakarian JM, Arceo J. Cotton pillows: A novel field method for assessment of thirdhand smoke pollution. Environ Res. 2019;168:206-10. Epub 2018/10/15. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.09.025.

Picket, L. (2021). Secondhand smoke causes cancer in cats. 2021. https://www.nwaonline.com/news/2021/jan/04/secondhand-smoke-causes-cancer-in-cats/

Reif JS, Bruns C, and Lower KS. Cancer of the nasal cavity and paranasal sinuses and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke in pet dogs. Am J. Epidemiology.1998; 147(5): 488-492.

Roza MR, Viegas CA. The dog as passive smoker: effects of exposure to environmental cigarette smoke on domestic dogs. Nicotine Tob Res. 2007; 9(11): 1171-1176.

Slaughter E, Gersberg RM, Watanabe K, et al Toxicity of cigarette butts, and their chemical components, to marine and freshwater fish Tobacco Control 2011;20:i25-i29.

Smith, V. A., McBrearty, A. R., Watson, D. G., Mellor, D. J., Spence, S., & Knottenbelt, C. (2017). Hair nicotine concentration measurement in cats and its relationship to owner-reported environmental tobacco smoke exposure. The Journal of small animal practice, 58(1), 3–9.

Snyder, L. A., Bertone, E. R., Jakowski, M. S., et al. (2004) p53 expression and environmental tobacco smoke exposure in feline oral squamous cell carcinoma. Veterinary Pathology 41, 209-214.

US Food and Drug Administration. Second and (thirdhand) smoke may be making your pet sick. 2016. Retrieved 03/22/2020 from: https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/secondhand-and-third-hand-smoke-may-be-making-your-pet-sick

Does cannabis create thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue left behind by secondhand smoke that can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, fabrics, and building materials, turning them into reservoirs of pollutants. Also known as “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke”, the mixture of pollutants in thirdhand smoke is toxic to humans, especially children.

Scientists have just started to study the smoke from cannabis. The studies show that cannabis smoke has some of the same cancer-causing chemicals as tobacco smoke. Cannabis smoke leaves behind thirdhand smoke residue that is like the residue from tobacco smoke.

Just like vaping nicotine creates thirdhand smoke, vaping cannabis creates thirdhand smoke too. The active ingredient in cannabis that produces the “high” accumulates on surfaces in rooms where cannabis has been vaped. Although exposure to cannabis-related thirdhand smoke residue will not get someone “high”, the cannabis residue can accumulate on surfaces, collect in dust, and soak into materials.

Updated: March 2023

Sources:

Huang, A. S., Murphy, M. B. C., Jacob, P., & Schick, S. F. PM2.5 concentrations in the smoking lounge of a cannabis store. Environmental Science & Technology Letters, 2022; 9(6), 551–556. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.estlett.2c00148

Moir D, Rickert WS, Levasseur G, Larose Y, Maertens R, White P, Desjardins S. A comparison of mainstream and sidestream marijuana and tobacco cigarette smoke produced under two machine smoking conditions. Chem Res Toxicol. 2008; 21(2):494-502.

Sempio C, Lindley E, Klawitter J, Christians U, Bowler RP, Adgate JL, Allshouse W, Awdziejczyk L, Fischer S, Bainbridge J, Vandyke M, Netsanet R, Crume T, Kinney GL. Surface detection of THC attributable to vaporizer use in the indoor environment. Sci Rep. 2019; 9(1):18587. doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-55151-5.

Yeh, K., Li, L., Wania, F., & Abbatt, J. P. D. Thirdhand smoke from tobacco, e-cigarettes, cannabis, methamphetamine and cocaine: Partitioning, reactive fate, and human exposure in indoor environments. Environment International, 2022; 160, 107063. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.107063

What policies protect me from thirdhand smoke in my workplace?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. Thirdhand smoke can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

 

Federal laws protect everyone from secondhand smoke exposure on airplanes and in federal buildings. There are no federal laws that protect workers in the workplace. Workplace smoking bans are put in place by employers or result from state and local laws. Some states have total workplace smoking bans, while others have partial or no bans. Employers may ban smoking in the workplace, even in states that do not have any bans. Smoking bans in the workplace protect workers from secondhand smoke and the build-up of thirdhand smoke. Smoking bans do not protect against thirdhand smoke that is already there.

 

In California and 27 other states in the United States, employers may not discriminate against employees for legal activities outside the workplace, like smoking. An employer in these states cannot refuse to hire someone because they smoke unless being a nonsmoker is a job requirement. For example, a medical office could choose to hire only nonsmokers to protect their patients from thirdhand smoke. But even in states where employers can refuse to hire smokers, very few employers do. One exception is Alaska Airlines, which has required all employees to be nonsmokers since 1985. More recently, U-Haul announced in February 2020 that they would require all new employees to be nonsmokers and non-users of nicotine products. Nationwide, an increasing number of large hospital systems are adopting this hiring practice, with about 20% of hospitals in the US refusing to hire smokers. The World Health Organization has also adopted this policy.  These hiring policies protect all workers, patients, clients, and customers from thirdhand smoke exposure, and encourage tobacco cessation among people who do smoke.

 

Employees can ask for protection from tobacco smoke exposure. Protections include separating smokers and nonsmokers into different areas and improving ventilation systems. These legal protections were developed to protect against secondhand smoke exposure and may not offer much protection from thirdhand smoke exposure.

 

If you are concerned about thirdhand smoke exposure at work, we encourage you to educate co-workers and supervisors about thirdhand smoke. We also recommend reviewing your state and employer’s policies for secondhand smoke exposure. Protection from thirdhand smoke is essential if you have a precondition that puts you at greater risk, such as asthma, or if you are pregnant. Working with colleagues at your workplace and organizations such as your local American Lung Association, American Cancer Society, and resources like us (contact@thirdhandsmoke.org) can help. In California, your local Tobacco Control Coalition and your local Health Department can also provide you with important resources. Consider citing the ADA Act when proposing changes in workplace accommodations regarding tobacco smoke exposure.

 

Updated: April 2023

 

Sources:

 

National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH). Tobacco Smoking. 2016. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/tobacco/tobaccosmoking.html

 

Patell R, Schmidt H. Should employers be permitted not to hire smokers? A review of US legal provisions. Int J Health PolicyManage. 2017;6(12):701-706U-Haul.

 

U-Haul to Implement Nicotine-Free Hiring Policy for Healthier Workforce. 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.uhaul.com/Articles/About/19926/U-Haul-To-Implement-Nicotine-Free-Hiring-Policy-For-Healthier-Workforce/

Do cigars cause thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. Thirdhand smoke can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

 

Cigar tobacco has similar chemicals as cigarette tobacco but in different proportions. Cigars have more nitrogen compounds, ammonia, and tar than cigarettes. These compounds produce cancer-causing substances called tobacco-specific nitrosamines.

 

Cigars make large quantities of secondhand smoke similar to the secondhand smoke from cigarettes.  Smoke from cigars creates toxic thirdhand smoke. Like cigarettes, cigar smoke residue can become embedded in surfaces, clothes, carpets, furniture, and walls and expose people to harmful chemicals.

 

Updated: April 2023

 

Sources:

 

Baker F, Ainsworth SR, Dye JT, Crammer C, Thun MJ, Hoffmann D, Repace JL, Henningfield JE, Slade J, Pinney J, Shanks T, Burns DM, Connolly GN, Shopland DR. Health risks associated with cigar smoking. JAMA. 2000;284:735-740. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/192974

 

Hoffman D, Hoffmann I. Chemistry and Toxicology. In Cigars: Health Effects and Trends. Monograph 9. National Cancer Institute. Retrieved 01/22/2020 from https://cancercontrol.cancer.gov/brp/tcrb/monographs/9/index.html

If nobody around me smokes, can I still be exposed to thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. Thirdhand smoke can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

 

You can still be exposed to thirdhand smoke if nobody around you smokes. After smoking stops, tobacco smoke residue can remain on surfaces and in dust for years. You can be exposed to thirdhand smoke when your skin comes in contact with a polluted surface. You can also breathe in thirdhand smoke chemicals and particles that off-gas.  You can also get exposed when you put objects polluted with thirdhand smoke in your mouth. Thirdhand smoke sticks to the clothes, skin, and hair of smokers.  When smokers move into a smokefree environment (e.g., workplace, elevator, hospital, airplane), they carry thirdhand smoke residue into that space. Thirdhand smoke can stick to nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke too.

 

Researchers found thirdhand smoke in homes with strict no-smoking rules. Researchers found thirdhand smoke in the homes of nonsmokers where smokers previously lived. Thirdhand smoke can be detected in non-smoking rooms at hotels that allow smoking only on the premises, and inside cars where drivers or passengers have smoked. Thirdhand smoke persists in environments frequented by smokers including cars and movie theatres with smoking bans. Surprisingly, scientists discovered thirdhand smoke in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and other high-risk hospital settings. Smokers or nonsmokers living with smokers that visited the facility left behind thirdhand smoke residue.

 

People’s previous behavior in an enclosed space can leave behind a toxic legacy that can expose others to thirdhand smoke, even if no one around them is smoking.

 

Updated: April 2023

 

Sources:

 

Matt GE, Quintana JP, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, … & Hovell MF. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: Residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2011;20(1):e1-e1. doi: 10.1136/tc.2010.037382 

 

Matt GE, Quintana JP, Hovell MF, Chatfield D, Ma DS, Romero R, & Uribe A. Residual tobacco smoke pollution in used cars for sale: Air, dust, and surfaces. Nicotine Tob Res. 2008; 10(9):1467-1475. doi: 10.1080/14622200802279898 

 

Matt GE, Quintana PJE, Hoh E, Zakarian JM, Dodder NG, Record RA, Hovell MF, Mahabee-Gittens EM, Padilla S, Markman L, Watanabe K, Novotny TE. Persistent tobacco smoke residue in multiunit housing: Legacy of permissive indoor smoking policies and challenges in the implementation of smoking bans. Prev Med Rep. 2020;18:101088. Epub 2020/05/06. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2020.101088. PubMed PMID: 32368436; PMCID: PMC7186560.

Does thirdhand smoke decrease my home’s value?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

 

When people smoke inside their home, the chemicals in tobacco smoke build up over time and leave toxic thirdhand smoke residue on carpets, furniture, walls, doors, and ceilings. This toxic residue lingers long after smoking stops and can remain after previous smokers moved out. A survey of real estate agents suggests that evidence of thirdhand smoke in a home decreases its value. Characteristics like a stale tobacco smell, or stains on walls or fabrics can reduce the selling price of a home by as much as 30%. That means if you live in a neighborhood where most homes sell for about $500,000, a similar home that smells like stale tobacco smoke will sell for around $350,000.

 

There are a few reasons why smoked-in houses often sell for less money. Most people do not like the smell of stale tobacco smoke. Many people immediately experience negative physical symptoms when they smell stale tobacco smoke, such as shortness of breath, headaches, sore throat, or earaches. Finally, it is difficult and expensive to remove the toxic thirdhand smoke residue.

 

Finally, most people want to buy houses that have not been smoked in. With a smaller group of potential buyers willing to buy a home where someone smokes, there is no competition to increase the price. Real estate agents recognize that it is more difficult to sell a home with evidence of thirdhand smoke. It may also be more difficult for the seller to find a real estate agent.

 

In California, the Seller Property Questionnaire (Section M, Question 2, Revised 12/16, 6/18) asked buyers to disclose if any occupant has smoked tobacco on or in the property. However, this process does not exist in many other states. Despite warnings against thirdhand smoke pollution, most buyers and real estate agents are aware of the signs of indoor smoking. They also understand the challenges of cleaning thirdhand smoke inside a home. It is not unusual for a potential buyer to ask the seller’s agent about the smoking history of a home, even if there is no odor of stale tobacco smoke. A reputable professional will not lie. An educated buyer will also ask the home inspector if there is evidence of tobacco use. Lastly, an educated buyer knows that the strong smell of air fresheners, scented candles, or the unexpected use of fans may be an attempt to hide a stale tobacco smell.

 

If someone in your household smokes and you are concerned about your home’s value, the first thing to do is to ask them to stop smoking indoors. That will stop the build-up of thirdhand smoke. The next step is to clean all walls, ceilings, carpeting, fabric, and windows. Additional steps include cleaning the heating and air conditioning duct system to attempt to remove thirdhand smoke from surfaces. Depending on how much thirdhand smoke has accumulated, cleaning may be insufficient, and a full remediation may be required. Remediation includes drastic (and often expensive) measures, such as removal and replacement of sheet rock, flooring, and the heating and air conditioning system.

 

Tobacco smoke residue can significantly decrease your home’s value. To avoid bad news when you sell your home, don’t allow tobacco use or vaping on or in your property. If thirdhand smoke has already accumulated, consult a remediation expert to make necessary repairs and improvements, and disclose the information to your real estate agenda and buyer.

 

Updated: April 2023

 

Sources:

 

Klassen, AC, Lee, N, Lopez, JP, Bernardin, C, Coffman, R, & Tefferi, M (2020). Realtors as Partners in Tobacco Control: Results from a Pennsylvania Survey. Tobacco Regulatory Science6(6), 392-404.

 

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Zakarian JM, Fortmann AL, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Uribe AM, Hovell MF. When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control. 2011;20(1):e1. doi: 10.1136/tc.2010.037382. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21037269

 

Pfizer Canada. Quit to List Survey of Real Estate Agents and Brokers. 2013. Leger Marketing. Probasco, Jim. Six Things to Consider When Buying a House from Smokers. August 1, 2019. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/020617/6-things-consider-when-buying-house-smokers.asp

 

Probasco, Jim. Six Things to Consider When Buying a House from Smokers. August 1, 2019. https://www.investopedia.com/articles/investing/020617/6-things-consider-when-buying-house-smokers.asp

 

This Old House. Understanding Thirdhand Smoke. Home Safety Videos. Retrieved from: https://www.thisoldhouse.com/home-safety/21249597/understanding-thirdhand-smoke

 

Up in smoke: Smoking in the home can lower resale value by tens of thousands. April 16, 2013. https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/up-in-smoke-smoking-in-the-home-can-lower-resale-value-by-tens-of-thousands-512275021.html 

Does smoking a pipe create thirdhand smoke?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

 

Many people think that smoking a pipe is safer than smoking regular cigarettes, but pipe tobacco is also harmful to our health. Pipe smokers have an increased risk of cancers of the head, neck, liver, and lung. 

 

The smoke from smoldering tobacco in the bowl of a pipe and the smoke exhaled by the pipe smoker contain many of the same toxic chemicals as cigarette smoke, including nicotine. Pipes produce secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke causes cancer in humans and is especially dangerous to pregnant women and young children. 


Just like secondhand smoke from cigarettes, secondhand smoke from a pipe results in toxic thirdhand smoke residue that sticks to surfaces, clothes, carpets, furniture, and walls. Over time, thirdhand smoke residue from pipe smoke builds up and becomes embedded in indoor environments.

 

Updated:  May 2023

 

Sources:

 

Jacob P 3rd, Benowitz NL, Destaillats H, Gundel L, Hang B, Martins-Green M, Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Samet JM, Schick SF, Talbot P, Aquilina NJ, Hovell MF, Mao JH, Whitehead TP. Thirdhand Smoke: New Evidence, Challenges, and Future Directions. Chem Res Toxicol. 2017;30(1), 270-294.

 

Yeh, K., Li, L., Wania, F., & Abbatt, J. P. (2022). Thirdhand smoke from tobacco, e-cigarettes, cannabis, methamphetamine and cocaine: Partitioning, reactive fate, and human exposure in indoor environments. Environment International, 160, 107063. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2021.107063.

How can I make sure that I stay in a smokefree hotel room?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. Thirdhand smoke can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

 

Whether traveling for business or pleasure, some research and a few simple steps will maximize your chances of finding smokefree accommodations in hotels, short-term rentals, bed & breakfast, or Airbnb’s.

 

The Internet is a great source for information, but you will learn more about a hotel’s smokefree status from a telephone conversation with the staff at the hotel where you will be staying.

 

When you call the hotel, ask if smoking  or vaping is allowed anywhere on the property. The best answer to this question is: “No, we are a 100% smokefree property inside and out.” Great! Go ahead, make your reservation.

 

More likely the answer will be, “Yes, we allow smoking in some places.” Then you need to do more research to find out exactly where smoking is allowed. Because smoke can travel easily through windows, air ducts, hallways, and other indoor environments, it is likely that tobacco smoke residue could contaminate all rooms in a hotel with designated smoking rooms or that allows smoking on the property.

 

If smoking is allowed in some areas, follow-up questions
should include:

  • Is smoking allowed in any of the rooms?  
  • What is the penalty for violating the non-smoking policy? 
  • Are there signs posted in each room about the non-smoking policy, including the penalty for violating?

If smoking is not allowed in any room, there are posted signs, and a hefty penalty for violators, you should feel comfortable making a reservation. However, you still need to find out exactly where smoking is allowed on the property. The best answer to this question is “Smoking is prohibited within 50 feet of any entrance or outdoor common area such as a pool.” Great! Go ahead, make your reservation. If your conversation with the desk clerk at the hotel reveals that smoking is allowed on the property, either in some rooms, outdoor common areas such as a pool, or within 50 feet of an entrance, you should keep looking for another smokefree hotel. 

 

Updated: June 2023

 

Sources:

 

DeCarlo PF, Avery AM, Waring MS. Thirdhand smoke uptake to aerosol particles in the indoor environment. Sci Adv. 2018;9: 4(5): eaap8368. DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aap8368.

 

Kennedy, H. R., Egan, C., & Welding, K., (2020). Assessing potential public health concerns in Airbnb venues in four Canadian cities. Journal of Environmental Health, 83(3), 8-12.

 

McDaniel PA, Malone RE. You Want Your Guests to Be Happy in This Business: Hoteliers’ Decisions to Adopt Voluntary Smoke-Free Guest-Room Policies. Am J Health Promot. 2018 Nov;32(8):1740-1746. doi: 10.1177/0890117118763742.

 

Quintana PJ, Fortmann AL, Zakarian JM, Galaviz VE, Chatfield DA, Hoh E, Hovell MF, Winston C. Thirdhand smoke and exposure in California hotels: non-smoking rooms fail to protect non-smoking hotel guests from tobacco smoke exposure. Tob Control. 2014;23(3):264-72. Epub 2013/05/15. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2012-050824.

 

Weigel EA, Matt GE. When Hotel Guests Complain About Tobacco, Electronic Cigarettes, and Cannabis: Lessons for Implementing Smoking Bans. Tobacco Use Insights. 2022;15. doi:10.1177/1179173X221124900

 

Zakarian JM, Quintana PJE, Winston CH, Matt GE. Hotel smoking policies and their implementation: a survey of California hotel managers. Tob Induced Diseases. 2017 Oct 30;15:40. doi: 10.1186/s12971-017-0147-6.

Why focus on exposure to thirdhand tobacco smoke and not exposure to auto exhaust or industrial pollution?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. It can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove. People can be exposed to thirdhand smoke by touching contaminated surfaces (absorption through the skin), by eating contaminated objects or dust, and by breathing in air and re-suspended thirdhand smoke particles.

There are many pollutants that can contaminate our environments. Presently, vehicle emissions and industrial air pollutants receive much-needed attention from policy makers and the public. But there remains a lot of important work to be done to protect environments from other forms of pollution, such as pollutants from tobacco smoke. A focus on tobacco smoke exposure draws attention to a source of pollution that is the result of preventable activities that can be easily changed or eliminated. For example, it is much more reasonable to ask someone not to smoke around others than to ask someone not to drive a vehicle around others.

In addition, some of the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals in thirdhand smoke can only be found in tobacco smoke. This means that thirdhand smoke adds a unique mixture of harmful substances to the ones already created by pollution from cars and factories. To prevent exposure to these additional pollutants, individuals should never allow smoking indoors or near a doorway or window.

Eliminating exposure to toxic pollutants is important for protecting human health. This means addressing many forms of air pollution, including tobacco smoke residue.

Updated: July 2023

Sources:

Jacob P 3rd, Benowitz NL, Destaillats H, Gundel L, Hang B, Martins-Green M, Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Samet JM, Schick SF, Talbot P, Aquilina NJ, Hovell MF, Mao JH, Whitehead TP. Thirdhand Smoke: New Evidence, Challenges, and Future Directions. Chem Res Toxicol. 2017 Jan 17;30(1):270-294. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00343.

Whitehead TP, Havel C, Metayer C, Benowitz NL, and Jacob 3rd P. Tobacco alkaloids and tobacco-specific nitrosamines in dust from homes of smokeless tobacco users, active smokers and nontobacco users. Chem Res Toxicol. 2015;28(5):1007-14.

Schick SF, Farraro KF, Perrino C, Sleiman M, van de Vossenberg G, Trinh MP, Hammond SK, Jenkins BM, Balmes J. Thirdhand cigarette smoke in an experimental chamber: evidence of surface deposition of nicotine, nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and de novo formation of NNK. Tob Control. 2014;23(2):152-9.

If I want to avoid thirdhand smoke in my vehicle, what questions should I ask before buying a used car?

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue from tobacco smoke. It is also called “tobacco smoke residue” or “stale tobacco smoke.” The chemicals in thirdhand smoke are toxic to humans, especially children. Thirdhand smoke can linger for years in dust and on household surfaces. It can also become embedded in carpets, furniture, clothes, and building materials. It is difficult and expensive to remove.

 

When people smoke in a car, thirdhand smoke residue builds up just the way it does in any indoor environment. However, a car is a much smaller space. When someone smokes in a car, the concentration of tobacco smoke chemicals can become much higher than in an office or apartment. This is true even if the car’s ventilation system is on or the windows are open.  A car’s interior contains more materials and surfaces, such as floor carpeting, seat fabrics, upholstery, and ceiling liners, that can absorb toxic tobacco residue. Once absorbed, these chemicals can be re-emitted into the air and settle in dust in the car. Even if a car’s interior is cleaned often, the tobacco residue will remain in reservoirs embedded in the fabrics and upholstery. In addition, even if someone smokes only outside of the car, they can transfer thirdhand smoke into the car on their hands, skin, hair, and clothes.

 

Before you “sign on the dotted line,” take these steps to help you determine whether or not a prior owner allowed smoking inside the vehicle:

 

1. Ask about prior smoking in the vehicle


Actively engage the seller in a discussion about prior smoking in the vehicle. If you are speaking with the owner, you can ask two simple questions:  

  1. Did you smoke in this car?  
  2. Did you let others smoke in this car?

Similarly, if you are speaking with a dealer you should ask:  

  1. Did you ask the previous owner about smoking?  
  2. If not, can you find out if the previous owner ever smoked or allowed smoking in the car? 
  3. When you prepared the car for sale, did you notice any smell or other signs of tobacco use? 

Although asking is essential, it’s important to recognize that owners are not required to disclose previous smoking, and a dealer may know very little about the previous owners’ smoking history.

 

2. Inspect the vehicle


Get inside, close the doors and windows, and conduct your own inspection: 

  1. First, smell. The odor of stale tobacco smoke means thirdhand smoke has accumulated in the vehicle.
  2.  Be cautious if you smell air fresheners or perfumed upholstery cleaners. It is not uncommon for a seller to use “air fresheners” or fragrances to disguise unpleasant odors.  If you smell fragrances in a used car, ask why the seller felt it was necessary to use them.  
  3. Look for stains, another sign of tobacco smoking in the car. Check along the edges of car panels or the ceiling liner for discoloration. 
  4. Check the seat covers and flooring for signs of small burns that could indicate accidentally dropped cigarettes or fallen ashes.

3. Be cautious of a great deal


If the price is “too good to be true,” it just might be. The resale value is lower for cars that have been smoked in. An owner or dealer might offer a low price in order to move the vehicle quickly. 

 

Updated: September 2023

 

Sources:

 

Continente X, Henderson E, Lopez-Gonzalez L. et al. Exposure to secondhand and thirdhand smoke in private vehicles: Measurements in air and dust samples. Environmental Research 2023; 235. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2023.116681

 

Fortmann AL, Romero RA, Sklar M, et al. Residual tobacco smoke in used cars: futile efforts and persistent pollutants. Nicotine Tob Res 2010;12(10):1029-36. doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntq144 [published Online First: 2010/09/02] 

 

Matt GE, Fortmann AL, Quintana PJ, et al. Towards smoke-free rental cars: an evaluation of voluntary smoking restrictions in California. Tob Control 2013;22(3):201-7. doi: 10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2011-050231 

 

Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Hovell MF, et al. Residual tobacco smoke pollution in used cars for sale: air, dust, and surfaces. Nicotine Tob Res 2008;10(9):1467-75. doi: 10.1080/14622200802279898

 

Matt GE, Romero R, Ma DS, et al. Tobacco use and asking prices of used cars: prevalence, costs, and new opportunities for changing smoking behavior. Tob Induc Dis 2008;4:2. doi: 10.1186/1617-9625-4-2 

 

Jacob P 3rd, Benowitz NL, Destaillats H, Gundel L, Hang B, Martins-Green M, Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Samet JM, Schick SF, Talbot P, Aquilina NJ, Hovell MF, Mao JH, Whitehead TP. Thirdhand Smoke: New Evidence, Challenges, and Future Directions. Chem Res Toxicol. 2017 Jan 17;30(1):270-294. doi: 10.1021/acs.chemrestox.6b00343. Epub 2016 Dec 21. PMID: 28001376; PMCID: PMC5501723.

 

Pitten, L., Brüggmann, D., Dröge, J. et al. TAPaC—tobacco-associated particulate matter emissions inside a car cabin: establishment of a new measuring platform. J Occup Med Toxicol 17, 17 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12995-022-00359-x

Thirdhand Smoke Research Consortium

In response to the mounting evidence, the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program formed and funded the California Consortium on Thirdhand Smoke and Human Health Effects in 2011.

The consortium is a multi-institutional and interdisciplinary effort, involving research groups from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, San Diego State University, University of California Riverside, University of California San Francisco, and University of Southern California.

Thirdhand Smoke Research Collection

The Collection of Thirdhand Smoke Research is a searchable database of peer-reviewed literature that continues to expand as new research is published.

Current Projects

Learn about the Thirdhand Smoke Research Consortium’s current projects.

Thirdhand Smoke Researchers

Learn about the researchers in the Thirdhand Smoke Research Consortium.

Past Projects

Learn about previously funded Thirdhand Smoke Research Consortium projects.

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About Us

In the face of increasing evidence about the toxic nature of thirdhand smoke and its impact on human health, the Thirdhand Smoke Research Consortium was established by California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TRDRP).

The Consortium brings together researchers from a variety of scientific disciplines and institutions throughout California to advance our understanding of the relationships among thirdhand smoke exposure and human health.

In 2011 the first seven Consortium projects were funded by TRDRP. As the body of research has grown, the need to disseminate information to stakeholder groups and California’s diverse communities has intensified. In 2018, the Resource Center was one of the Consortium projects selected for funding by TRDRP, with the express purpose of educating the public about thirdhand smoke exposure and health.

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