Over the years, tobacco and cigarette smoking has been known for its ill effects on health and subsequent cases of mortality. According to reports by the CDC, smoking causes approximately 20% of the total number of deaths in the world every year. In the United States alone, around 44 million people smoke, and 34 million of them smoke everyday. Recent research has shed light on another fatal consequence of smoking. Apart from the people who smoke, inhaling smoke directly (first-hand smoke) and those who inhale it passively (second-hand smoke), third-hand smoke has also been shown to potentially have equally harmful effects, particularly on infants and children.
Third-hand smoke refers to the remnants of second-hand smoke which clings to or diffuses into the surfaces of furniture, clothing, or any such object nearby. Hence, when infants and toddlers tend to put their toys on these affected areas and then put them in their mouth, it may cause serious harm.
The ill-effects of third-hand smoking have been a comparatively recent development since 2009. This particular issue regarding the potential carcinogenic effects was presented by Bo Hang, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas, Texas, according to a recent report by Business Standard).
This study was led by Hugo Destaillas, also at LBNL, and was funded by the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program, which is administered by the University of California.
When smoke coming from cigarettes smoked and stubbed out indoors mixes with indoor pollutants, ozone, and nitrous acid, it produces by-products of nicotine, which have carcinogenic potential. Out of a possible 4,000 compounds which can form carcinogens, one is NNA [ 4(Nitrosomethylamino)-4-(3-pyridyl)-1Butanal ] (this compound has been classified as a group 3 carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which denotes that inadequate evidence is present till now to directly imply its carcinogenicity on humans or animals). This product is a result of nitration of nicotine and there have been studies, which suggests that it is carcinogenic in nature (published in the April 13, 2010 issues of PNAS, volume 107, no. 15).
This compound on being tested in the labs by Hugo Destaillas, NNA was found to stick to test tubes and form a bulky adduct upon coming in contact with DNA, which in due course of time can cause mutations in genes and lead to uncontrolled cell division. This further progresses to tumorous growth and cancers.
Hang also concluded that NNA has similar effects on DNA as exhibited by another known carcinogen, NNK (Nicotine derived Nitrosamine Ketone), which made it possible to conclude about the potential carcinogenic properties and health hazards of NNA. Though, proving this might take a long time.
As of now, since public awareness is low about third-hand smoking, the best way to prevent its ill-effects would be to keep indoors smoke free by either removing, washing or vacuuming the affected items like clothes, curtains, furniture, toys and every little thing that gets within a child’s grip easily.