Two recent studies examined Chinese parents’ and young adults’ beliefs about thirdhand smoke, the toxic chemical residue left behind after someone smokes. Thirdhand smoke sticks to indoor surfaces and embeds in materials. People can be exposed by absorbing it through their skin, swallowing it, and breathing it. They can transport it from place-to-place on their clothes and skin and carry it into smokefree environments. Thirdhand smoke is a relatively new discovery, thus gauging individuals’ awareness of it is important to decide how to best teach others about the harms of exposure.
In both studies, researchers used the Beliefs About Third-Hand Smoke (BATHS) scale to measure participants’ thoughts on the harms of thirdhand smoke. The first study measured what parents with children in a primary school in Shanghai believe about thirdhand smoke. The researchers found parents who are younger, have a higher income, have higher education, and do not smoke have stronger beliefs that thirdhand smoke is harmful.
The second study measured the thirdhand smoke beliefs of adolescents and young adults living throughout China. These researchers found that this age group most strongly believed that breathing air in a room the day after someone smoked is harmful. They were, however, skeptical that people can absorb thirdhand smoke through their skin. The researchers of the second study also asked participants if they had been exposed to thirdhand smoke in the past seven days. Almost 48% of the roughly 12,000 young adults said yes. Those who live in urban areas, have a higher family income, or never smoke were less likely to be exposed.
These two studies suggest thirdhand smoke education should focus on people in rural areas, with lower income, and who currently or have previously smoked. Education should also emphasize that thirdhand smoke can be transported and absorbed through the skin. Teaching people who are currently unaware about thirdhand smoke can empower them to take steps to protect themselves and those around them from the toxic chemicals.