How My Grandfather’s Cigar Damaged His Possessions

This account is from Lydia Greiner.

I don’t remember ever seeing my grandfather, a retired coal miner, without a cigar in his hand. Outside, he carried it around unlit. But inside, when he was sitting in his recliner next to an overflowing ashtray, it was always lit. I loved my grandpa, and I loved the smell of his cigar.

When he passed away, his possessions were shared among the children and grandchildren—overstuffed chairs, knitted afghans, rugs. Many of us have had the experience of inheriting cherished possessions, focusing on the memories they bring. But we don’t often think about what else they bring.

Objects that have spent time in the home of someone who smokes are contaminated with thirdhand smoke pollution. Even when there is nothing you can see or smell, items can still be covered with toxic tobacco smoke residue.

Thirdhand smoke residue is sticky, and it stays around for years. It’s also aggressive—it doesn’t simply stay on the object, but it mixes with the air and forms even more toxic substances. Thirdhand smoke can stick to large items in your home, such as furniture, rugs, and window curtains. But it can also stick to other smaller items, such as toys, books, stuffed animals, throw pillows, and television remotes.  When we use the objects, we get exposed to the toxic residue and help spread the thirdhand smoke inside our home because it gets on our skin, hair, and clothing.

Obviously, not allowing smoking inside your home is the best way to keep thirdhand smoke from contaminating your possessions. Keep in mind, though, that people who smoke outside your home can still bring smoke residue inside on their clothes, skin, and hair—residue that can transfer into your home.

It can be very difficult to figure out if used clothing, toys, or household items have been in the home of someone who smoked, but we can ask. If we don’t known that used items are free of thirdhand smoke and really need them, it is important to thoroughly wash and clean them before use.  And we can consider where an item will be used and by whom—babies and young children are much more vulnerable to thirdhand smoke than healthy grownups.

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