Thirdhand Smoke Residue Can Make it Harder for Smokers to Quit

Smokers who live in homes with high levels of thirdhand smoke have a harder time quitting. A new study found that the higher the level of nicotine in house dust, the less likely the smoker’s quit attempts are to be successful.

By Lydia Greiner
July 18, 2019


“Once you are hooked on nicotine from smoking regular cigarettes or vaping e-cigarettes, it is very difficult to quit. In fact, almost all smokers fail to successfully quit the first few times trying. I was no different. It took me 5-6 serious efforts to quit before I finally succeeded for good when I was in my 20s. 

When you stop smoking, the withdrawal symptoms can make you feel irritable, anxious, and depressed. And then there are the triggers and the cravings, the constant reminders and the overwhelming feeling that you need to smoke right now.  For me the triggers were the smell of tobacco smoke, the smell of coffee, socializing with friends, and seeing others lighting a cigarette and taking that first deep inhalation.”  

Dr. Matt’s experience with triggers and cravings sounds familiar to anyone who has tried to quit smoking. He was the lead researchers on a new study, Nicotine in Thirdhand Smoke Residue Predicts Relapse from Smoking Cessation, that suggests some of the triggers and cravings are tied to the chemical residue that lingers in smokers’ homes after they quit.  Also known as thirdhand smoke, this residue includes nicotine and other chemical compounds, and it may play a role in relapse after smoking cessation.  

The research team enrolled 65 adults who participated in some type of smoking cessation program and had set a “quit date”. Prior to their quit date, samples of house dust were collected and analyzed for nicotine content. Participant’s reported abstinence from cigarettes was verified biochemically with a test of exhaled carbon monoxide at one week, one month, three months, and six months after their quit date. 

Results showed that levels of nicotine in house dust collected before the smokers quit predicted their relapse for up to six months after they stopped smoking. The higher the nicotine content in the house dust, the lower the likelihood of a successful quit attempt.      

This study emphasizes the importance of implementing comprehensive 100% indoor smoking bans not only to prevent exposure of nonsmokers but also to benefit smokers who want to quit smoking.  In addition, smokers planning to quit may benefit from vigorous home cleaning efforts to reduce thirdhand smoke pollutants in dust and other places in their homes where thirdhand smoke accumulates, such as rugs, furniture, walls, and clothing. 

Because these research findings are based on an observational study with a relatively small sample of smokers, it is important to repeat this kind of study with larger samples. This research was supported by funds from the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Grants Program Office of the University of California, Grant Number 19CA-0164. 

Click here to read the original research article.

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