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.
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 2023
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.