Health Department

What is Third-hand Smoke?

What is Third-hand Smoke?

by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director

February 20, 2012

Secondhand smoke comes from both the smoke that smoker’s exhale (called mainstream smoke) and the smoke floating from the end of the cigarette, cigar, or pipe (called side stream smoke).

Secondhand smoke contains thousands of chemicals at high concentrations, including arsenic and ammonia to hydrogen cyanide, many of which have been proven to be toxic or to cause cancer (called carcinogens). Secondhand smoke significantly increases a person's risk for respiratory infections (like bronchitis and pneumonia), and can increase chances of getting a cough, sore throat, sniffling, sneezing, cancer, and heart disease. Secondhand smoke is a risk factor for the development of asthma and can trigger attacks in those who already have it.

So, secondhand smoke doesn't just impact a person in the future. It can cause problems right now, like affecting someone's sports performance or ability to be physically active. Chances are you know someone who smokes. Whether you smoke or you're regularly around someone who does, it's never healthy to breathe in tobacco smoke. Even occasional or short-term exposure can take a toll on the body.

Now you know about secondhand smoke, but did you know that there is such a thing called third-hand smoke?

Third-hand smoke is generally considered to be a residue (what is left on items and surfaces) by tobacco smoke. The mix of residue and other air pollutants is third-hand smoke and it can contain cancer-causing substances, posing a potential health hazard to nonsmokers who are exposed to it, especially children.

Studies show that third-hand smoke clings to hair, skin, clothes, furniture, drapes, walls, bedding, carpets, dust, vehicles and other surfaces, long after smoking has stopped. Infants, children and nonsmoking adults may be at risk of tobacco-related health problems when they inhale, ingest or touch substances containing third-hand smoke.

Third-hand smoke residue builds up on surfaces over time and resists normal cleaning. Third-hand smoke can't be eliminated by airing out rooms, opening windows, using fans or air conditioners, or confining smoking to only certain areas of a home. It can remain long after smoking has stopped.

The only way to protect nonsmokers from third-hand smoke is to create a smoke-free environment, whether that's your private home, vehicle, or in public places, such as hotels, restaurants and parks.

*information from and