October 19, 2023
Thirdhand Smoke Resource Center
Over half of Americans who don’t smoke are exposed to tobacco, but only one-third are aware of it, according to a recent University of Florida study.
The Florida researchers reviewed data from the 2013-2020 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. They found that 51% of nonsmoking people had cotinine in their blood, which signals nicotine exposure. Of this group, only one-third thought they had been exposed – the other two-thirds did not.
These data suggest that 56 million Americans are exposed to tobacco smoke and don’t know it.
One reason for this large knowledge gap could be that Americans aren’t aware of thirdhand smoke, the chemical residue from tobacco smoke that sticks on and embeds in surfaces. Thirdhand smoke can be hidden and odorless. People can ingest it, absorb it through their skin, and inhale it when it is released into the air off of surfaces. People exposed to it can transport it on their skin, hair, and clothes to smokefree places. Furniture and household objects can carry it, too.
People might assume they are safe from tobacco smoke exposure if they aren’t around anyone smoking, i.e., secondhand smoke. Since thirdhand smoke is sticky and can be transported, however, people could be exposed to tobacco smoke chemicals in places where anyone smoked in the past or people visited after smoking.
Additional research suggests that compared to the number of Americans who consider secondhand smoke dangerous, fewer Americans don’t consider thirdhand smoke bad for their health. Some don’t know about it at all.
This may explain why millions of Americans are unaware of their exposure. Tobacco exposure and its resulting health symptoms disproportionally affect low-income families. Weak property disclosure laws do not include smoking history and make it difficult for families to buy or rent smokefree homes. Smoking bans often have loopholes, allowing many Americans to be exposed to second- and thirdhand smoke. As the Florida study suggests, increasing public knowledge about tobacco exposure is vital to address these issues. To best improve awareness, though, thirdhand smoke must be included.
Click here to read the research study.
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