DNA damage and cancer linked to third hand smoke.

Third hand smoke is the cigarette smoke that permeates the environment and whose smell lingers on walls and furniture. In 2011, nearly 44 million American adults reported smoking cigarettes, which ranks as the leading cause of preventable death in this country. And 34 million people smoke every day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. A presentation at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society revealed that a specific toxic compound is formed when second hand smoke reacts with indoor air. The toxic compound is a DNA mutagen and could potentially cause cancer.

Researchers from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory demonstrated that there are more than 4,000 compounds in second hand smoke, distributed through the air as soon as a cigarette is smoked. Studies originating from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory demonstrate that these substances react with indoor pollutants such as ozone and nitrous acid, creating brand-new compounds, some of which may be carcinogenic. One compound is called NNA, a tobacco-specific nitrosamine, which binds with DNA to form a molecule capable of causing cancer. The compound also damages and fractures DNA in a similar manner to NNK, another well-studied byproduct of nicotine and a known potent carcinogen.

“The best argument for instituting a ban on smoking indoors is actually third-hand smoke,” said Dr. Bo Hang, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).

Hang pointed out that the largest potential health risk is for babies and toddlers. As they crawl and put their hands or toys in their mouths, they could touch, swallow or inhale compounds from third-hand smoke. Their small size and early developmental stage make them more vulnerable than adults to the effects of environmental hazards. The only way to remove contaminated items is to completely remove affected items such as sofas, carpeting as well as sealing and repainting walls, and sometimes even replacing contaminated wallboard.


American Chemical Society (ACS). “Major ‘third-hand smoke’ compound causes DNA damage and potentially cancer.”

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