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House with lungs that is filled with smoke. Dark clouds are coming out from the chimney.

COPD and Thirdhand Smoke

You've heard of firsthand smoke. You know about secondhand smoke. But do you know about thirdhand smoke?

Let's talk about what it is and why it matters to those with COPD.

What is thirdhand smoke?

Ever walked into an empty room only to be greeted by the unmistakable smell of cigarette smoke? That lingering scent is more than just a fleeting presence – it's a consequence of the widespread impact of smoking.

When someone smokes, tiny particles from the smoke settle on soft surfaces like upholstered furniture, bedding, and curtains, while also forming dust on hard surfaces such as tables and chairs.

It doesn't end there. These particles can cling to carpeting, curtains, and even clothing. Over time, they leave behind a persistent residue.1-4

What I am describing here is what experts refer to as thirdhand smoke.

So, now you enter the room. You create a flow of air that allows remnants of smoke to become airborne. Without realizing it, these remnants end up in the air and can easily be inhaled by you. This happens even though the original smoker may have long left the scene.1-4

In addition to being airborne, these particles can infiltrate your body through alternative pathways. Mere contact with surfaces can permit their entry. There's also the potential for ingestion by consuming particles that settle in your food. Moreover, thirdhand smoke can persist in homes and cars for months and even years after the smoker has stopped smoking.4,5

When someone smokes, particles from the smoke can adhere not only to the surrounding environment but also to the smoker's hair and clothing. This occurs due to the fine nature of these particles. As a result, even after smoking has ceased, traces of these particles may linger on surfaces and fabrics. It's important to be aware of these residual effects for a comprehensive understanding of the impact of smoking on the environment.1

Even when people choose to smoke outdoors and refrain from smoking indoors, traces of smoke particles can still find their way inside, though to a lesser extent than direct indoor smoking. It's worth noting that scientific studies have detected substances from cigarette smoke in the urine of children even when their parents smoked outdoors. These findings highlight the widespread nature of smoke particles and their potential to travel and impact indoor environments.1,4

Why is thirdhand smoke harmful?

Lighting up a cigarette results in the formation of more than 7,000 different chemicals, including some unexpected and harmful substances like ammonia, arsenic, carbon monoxide, lead, and tar. Alarmingly, up to 69 of these chemicals have been linked to cancer. It's this chemical cocktail that not only poses a cancer risk but also inflicts damage leading to lung diseases like COPD.5

These same chemicals persist in thirdhand smoke. Non-smokers entering the homes of smokers may unknowingly inhale or ingest these particles, exposing themselves to potential risks of harm similar to those who actively smoke. Although the level of exposure is lower than for active smokers, there remains a potential risk for harm to the non-smoker.1-4

How to get rid of thirdhand smoke

Eliminating thirdhand smoke presents challenges beyond surface washing. Experts recommend a comprehensive approach involving thoroughly cleansing walls, ceilings, and hard surfaces with detergent and hot water. After this cleaning, it's crucial to apply at least 3 coats of paint to walls and ceilings to prevent contaminants from seeping through.6

Carpets, upholstered furniture, curtains, and blinds are best replaced rather than cleaned due to the difficulty of fully removing thirdhand smoke from these absorbent materials. This strategy aims to ensure a more effective removal of residual smoke particles and odors from indoor environments.6

COPD and thirdhand smoke

Those of us living with COPD may be vulnerable to the effects of smoke, and this includes thirdhand smoke. As we've uncovered, these lingering particles can pose additional risks, such as contributing to COPD flare-ups. Creating smoke-free environments becomes not just a preference but a crucial step in our ongoing efforts to keep our lungs happy.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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