The hidden dangers of third-hand smoke

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On a Friday a few weeks ago, my husband and I were lucky enough to wrangle a babysitter to watch my kids. Slightly giddy at the prospect of a very rare night out on the town, we scurried off to pull those slightly dusty fancy clothes out of our closet. We called another couple and set up a double dinner date at a trendy Bangkok tapas bar we’d been meaning to try for ages.

The evening was long, late and lovely, a welcome reprieve from our normally housebound weeknights. But as we came home I couldn’t help but notice how much we reeked of cigarettes. Our hair, clothes and bags smelled like we’d rolled around in a giant ashtray.

I should preface this by saying that my husband and I do not smoke. However, plenty of people in the outdoor terrace of our restaurant had and after three hours enough of their exhaust fumes had wafted onto our clothes that we might as well have. Normally, I wouldn’t really care, but it suddenly dawned on me to wonder if all that tobacco residue was enough to harm our children. If the smell was so strong that it lingered for days, what if some of the chemicals associated with it lingered on as well?

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So I did what any slightly paranoid mother of two would do: I went looking for answers. Although at first I thought I might be overreacting, a little research revealed that I was right to worry. And what I found out about “third-hand smoke” is disturbing enough that any parent should know it. Here’s why you need to keep this out of your home and away from your kids:

  • According to the 2006 US surgeon general’s report states that there is no “safe” level of smoke exposure. This means that even the tiniest whiff of all those chemicals can do damage, especially to an infant or toddler’s developing body. The fact that it’s not as concentrated in third-hand smoke doesn’t mean that it can’t be dangerous.

  • Cigarette smoke contains 250 varieties of toxins. That’s a lot of poison for anyone to encounter. Among some of the top offenders are lead, which has been shown to cause mental damage, arsenic, the main component in rat poison, and cyanide, an ingredient in chemical weapons.

  • You could be a source of the toxins. According to Scientific American, “Smokers themselves are also contaminated… smokers actually emit toxins [from clothing and hair].” In other words, even if you’re not lighting up around your children, you could still be passing poison on to them.

Turning on a fan or opening a window won’t solve the problem. Plenty of smokers try these two strategies out of consideration for the safety of others. While their concern is commendable, it isn’t effective. Toxins from smoke will still sink into fabric, furniture and human skin.
Photo Credit: russteaches via Compfight cc

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Expecting Expats is the online resource for parents in and around Thailand.

We provide lifestyle and medical content to our visitors, with new content posted daily. Our lifestyle contributors are themselves expat moms who share their experiences and lessons learned through blog articles. We also provide medical content from our partner doctors at Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand. Articles of interest span from before pregnancy through the toddler years and cover medical, behavioral and cognitive issues.

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