Researchers found that thirdhand smoke is a greater risk for children than adults, even in non-smoking homes
Even with all of the hand-washing encouragement in the world, kids’ hands get dirty, and fast. A new study conducted by researchers at San Diego State University (SDSU) and the University of Cincinnati found that one of the many culprits that stick to kids’ hands is thirdhand smoke (THS), or the “residue that lingers on surfaces and in dust in environments where tobacco was used.” People are exposed to THS by touching the surfaces of these environments and breathing in the off-gassing (aka chemical breakdown) of THS on said surfaces. Yeah. Gross.
To conduct the study, researchers swabbed the hands of 504 children ages 11 and under. Researchers cross-screened children who were seeking emergency services at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center along with the children of hospital employees for the study. Roughly 97% of the participants had “some level of nicotine present on their hands.”
And this wasn’t limited to children who lived in smoking households, either; 95% of kids living in non-smoking homes still tested positive for traces of tobacco on their hands.
The study suggests that the dangers of thirdhand smoke are even more prevalent than previously thought
Secondhand smoke is a term most people are aware of, but scientists have been trying to educate the general public about the dangers of THS, which sticks in every room, and not just the ones where people are actively smoking or vaping. THS lingers in every room that houses a smoker or vapor, period.
“This study filled an important gap. We have done a lot of research about thirdhand smoke in private homes, cars, hotels, and casinos, but we haven’t had access to clinical populations,” said Georg Matt, a psychology professor at SDSU and director of the Thirdhand Smoke Resource Center, in a press release.
The study wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. The researchers reported that coordinated, education-based efforts to reduce tobacco exposure among kids within vulnerable populations have been effective; parents who reported actively trying to keep their children safe from tobacco exposure “reduced the magnitude of exposure of by a mean of 86%.”
Nicotine levels found on the participants’ hands varied, depending on household income and race. Kids from lower-income households were more likely to have tobacco residue on their hands than their wealthier counterparts.
“The association between income and hand nicotine among protected and unprotected children, independent of other variables, points to a troubling potential role of income-related disparities, such as housing type and quality, in THS exposure,” the authors of the study note.
As for how to keep kids safe from THS, the researchers suggested “implementation of smoking bans, exposure screening, and THS remediation in homes between changes in occupants.”