Everybody knows that smoking is incredibly perilous to your health. Having a smoker in the family can also have very negative health effects for the surrounding people, as second-hand smoke or passive smoke can cause health issues that are almost just as severe.
While most people realize the extent of the dangers that passive or second-hand smoking brings, other people can be contaminated by someone’s smoke – even when they’re not smoking.
While the danger of third-hand smoke isn’t commonly known, it’s most definitely real.
Third-hand cigarette smoke can be found everywhere where someone has smoked. You probably recognize the smell of a smoker’s house, as the displeasing scent of the nicotine and toxic chemicals manages to make its way into your clothes and on your skin.
“Thirdhand smoke clings to clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces long after smoking has stopped. The residue from thirdhand smoke builds up on surfaces over time,” M.D. J Taylor Hays wrote on MayoClinic.
Plenty of studies have shown that third-hand smoke can have disastrous long-term effects on health. The potential harm cannot be ignored. One study with mice exposed to third-hand smoke has shown that the mice suffered from significantly increased stress levels, molecular damage, and inflammatory diseases. Some of them even became hyperinsulinemic.
In short – the health effects are dramatic. Of course, this specific study was conducted on mice, but you don’t have to be a researcher or scientist to realize that these dangers obviously apply to us humans as well. There are still ongoing studies about the effects on humans, but all of them agree that it’s just plain dangerous and should be avoided.
“People are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing in the off-gassing from these surfaces,” Hays added. “This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix including cancer-causing compounds, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers — especially children.”
After learning about third-hand smoke, one future mom made a decision to protect her soon-to-be-born baby.
The woman, who remained anonymous, won’t be allowing her mother-in-law – who is a heavy smoker – to touch the baby unless she showers and changes her clothes first. If she does this, the risk of third-hand smoke is mostly eliminated.
The soon-to-be mom wrote a letter to the advice column of Slate’s Care and Feeling magazine, as she asked what the best approach would be to tell her mother-in-law about her and her husband’s decision. After all, the decision not to let her hold the baby may come off as drastic to some, and she didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
“I am expecting my first baby soon,” she wrote. “When the baby is born, my in-laws will be coming for a visit. My mother-in-law is a heavy smoker. I’m not worried about her smoking in front of my child, but after researching thirdhand smoke, I am very concerned about her holding the baby after she has had a cigarette. My husband and I have decided that after she smokes, she needs to shower and change her clothes before she can pick up the baby.”
As for the magazine’s advice and response to the letter, the first reaction of the columnist was simply that the mom was overreacting. Third-hand smoke is a concept that not everyone knows about and there definitely needs to be more awareness about its dangers.
However, after realizing the danger – he reassured the woman that she was completely in her right to ask that of her mother-in-law. After all, health goes above everything, even though he understands that the soon-to-be mom doesn’t want her mother-in-law to feel offended or left out.
Being concerned as a parent is a completely normal thing and smoke should be avoided in all situations.
Whether it’s first-hand, passive or lingering third-hand smoke, all of them are no good. The risk for children is even greater, not only because they’re still growing and have weaker immune systems, but also because they have a tendency to put their (often unwashed) hands in their mouths. When they’re cuddling with someone who has third-hand smoke on their clothes, they’re also heavily contaminated.
One study reveals that no less than 22 percent of all infants and children in the United States are exposed to second-hand (and thus, third-hand) smoke. Even third-hand smoke by itself – such as an infant/child coming into contact with a smoker who is visiting, for example – is a huge risk and can cause permanent damage.
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Researchers and doctors hope to increase awareness about third-hand smoke.
Not letting smokers near your newborn baby until they shower and change clothes may sound drastic to some – but it can literally be a lifesaver.
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