Meigs Health Matters… Third-hand smoke: What it is and how to protect your family

By Juli Simpson - Meigs Health Matters



Most of us have probably heard about ‘First-Hand’ and ‘Second-Hand’ smoke, as well as the associated health risks. Some of the health problems related to first and second-hand smoke include asthma, cancers, COPD, worsening allergies & ear infections, yellow teeth, premature wrinkles, heart disease, coughing, dizziness, headaches and more. But what about this thing called ‘Third-Hand’ smoke?

Basically, all tobacco products leave behind some sort of chemical residue. Tobacco products come in many different forms and shapes, such as cigarettes, cigars, and e-cigarettes (vapes). Third-hand smoke refers to the gases and particles that stick to and become embedded in materials and objects, like carpet, walls, furniture, blankets, car upholstery, hair/skin, clothes, and other items.

Unfortunately, third-hand smoke lingers in rooms long after smoking stops and remains on clothing even after leaving a smoky place. Hence the smell, and this also includes the aerosol from vaping products. The vape cloud produced after using e-cigarettes is not just water! It is an aerosol. People can be exposed to third-hand smoke by touching contaminated surfaces (absorption through the skin), by eating objects that have been contaminated by the smoke/vapor, and by breathing in the air surrounding the third-hand contaminated objects.

Kids around people that smoke/vape are at particularly high risk of third-hand exposure because the residue is present in dust throughout places where smoking takes place, no matter how clean a smoker keeps their home or car. The home, clothes, cars, hair, bedding, carpet, and other surfaces can all have significant levels of contamination. Babies and young children have tiny lungs, spend time on floors and other surfaces that can have toxins from smoke, and they tend to put everything (including their hands) into their mouths. Babies’ brains and immune systems are also still immature and developing.

Whether you are a smoker/vaper or a non-smoker, there are steps to take to help minimize a child’s exposure:

*Make sure that all of your child’s indoor spaces are 100% smoke/vape-free. That means no smoking inside the home. It is also best to wash hands and change clothing after smoking/vaping if you will be coming into contact with a child. If you have third-hand smoke on your clothes and then cuddle your baby, your baby can breathe in or absorb the toxins through their skin. This is also important for anybody that helps care for the child, such as childcare workers and family members. If changing clothes isn’t possible, you can wear an oversized shirt of jacket that you can leave outside after you smoke.

*Make sure your child travels in 100% smoke/vape-free vehicles. Cracking a window is not enough. Babies and young children just can’t remove themselves from the car or room if the smoke is bothering them like adults can. If smoking in a car, the residue will definitely settle on the car upholstery and baby’s car seat, not to mention the toxins being breathed in from the air. It is safest to plan the timing of your travel so you will not be smoking/vaping while in the vehicle with your child. Or if needed, to safely pull off the road, make sure the child is not too hot/cold—NEVER leave a child in a car unattended—, and quickly smoke or vape outside the vehicle.

*Before moving in to a home, buying a used car, or bringing any other used items into your home, think about the cleanliness of the home/car/item and how you can reduce any possible toxin residue left behind. This could include wiping down, washing, airing out, and checking or replacing air filters regularly.

If you do smoke or vape, it is never too late to quit! Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW to get started, or the Meigs County Health Department at 740-992-6626.

Protect your children from third-hand smoke by educating yourself and those around you about how kids may be exposed. To learn more, visit


By Juli Simpson

Meigs Health Matters

Juli Simpson, RN, BSN, LSN, is Program Director for the Maternal & Child Health, for the Meigs County Health Department

Juli Simpson, RN, BSN, LSN, is Program Director for the Maternal & Child Health, for the Meigs County Health Department