Avoid Harmful Health Effects of Secondhand and Thirdhand Smoke

As people are spending more time at home, many who live in apartments are reporting increased exposure to toxic second- and thirdhand smoke, especially if their neighbors smoke or if smoking bans are not enforced. Amanda Pitts, Director of the Tobacco Education Program in Colusa County Public Health Division, offers helpful tips to avoid exposure.

June 24, 2020

By: Amanda Pitts

Throughout several of the last few months, residents across California have been required to stay inside their homes. To cope with the stress of this pandemic, many Californians are smoking and vaping. Secondhand smoke exposure is on the rise due to these factors. If you are living in a home that is part of attached units, such as an apartment, you could be exposed to secondhand smoke without realizing it. Secondhand smoke can drift from unit to unit through windows, air vents, cracks in the walls and even outlets. 

The California Air Resources Board identified secondhand smoke as a “Toxic Air Contaminant” in 2006. This means that secondhand smoke was formally identified as an airborne toxic substance that can cause or contribute to death or serious illness. Since 2006, numerous studies have demonstrated the negative health effects caused by secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke can lead to ear infections, asthma attacks, and respiratory infections in children. It can also lead to heart disease, lung cancer, and strokes in adult non-smokers. There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure and even brief exposure can be harmful.

Thirdhand smoke, which refers to the residue left behind when someone smokes, can also have negative impacts on health. Thirdhand smoke sticks to surfaces such as walls, furniture, and floors as well as to people’s hair, skin, and clothing. The toxic residue from thirdhand smoke builds up over time and can remain there for years. Children are especially at risk for thirdhand smoke exposure, which can take place when they put their hands and mouths on contaminated surfaces.

Now it is more important than ever to keep your lungs healthy. Those around us that are most vulnerable, such as elderly, children, and pets, can be more at risk to the harmful health effects of secondhand- and thirdhand smoke exposure. If secondhand smoke is drifting into your home and affecting your loved ones, it can be frustrating to figure out how to begin addressing this issue. Here are some tips on what you can do to start working towards a smokefree home:

Discuss the issue with your neighbors who smoke. Let them know how it affects you and your family and ask if they would be willing to smoke away from your home.

If you are in an apartment complex, speak with your property manager about your concerns and see if they currently have or would consider adopting a smokefree policy.

Keep a journal of secondhand smoke incidents to help you keep track when you discuss the problem. 

Reach out to your local tobacco education program. The Tobacco Education Program at your local health department can discuss the issues you are facing and provide you with possible next steps to address the issue. 

You can protect yourself and your family by making your home smokefree. For more information on how to work toward a smokefree home, contact the Tobacco Education Program in your county. For a listing of programs in California: https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CCDPHP/DCDIC/CTCB/Pages/CaliforniaTobaccoControlBranch.aspx

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Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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