Thirdhand Smoke Contains Potent Carcinogens, Harms DNA [STUDY]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 24, 2013 4:10 PM EDT

cigarette smoke
Thirdhand smoke can stick so surfaces for months or even years, a new study finds. The compounds found in thirdhand smoke are among the most potent carcinogens, the researchers say. (Photo: pixabay.com: realworkhard)

Thirdhand smoke, the chemicals that cling to surfaces long after a cigarette is done burning, is capable or damaging human cells, a new study finds.

"This is the very first study to find that thirdhand smoke is mutagenic," said Lara Gundel, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National laboratory and a co-author of the study, published in Mutagenesis. "Tobacco-specific nitrosamines, some of the chemical compounds in thirdhand smoke, are among the most potent carcinogens there are. They stay on surfaces, and when those surfaces are clothing or carpets, the danger to children is especially serious."

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The researchers said that while the harmful effects of firsthand and secondhand cigarette smoke are well-established, the danger of thirdhand smoke has been overlooked. Now, however, that may change.

The study found that not only can thirdhand smoke harm cells, but that the harm it causes can get worse over time.

"The findings of this study demonstrate for the first time that exposure to [thirdhand smoke] is genotoxic in human cell lines," the study's abstract states. Genotoxic substances can lead to cancer and other diseases.  

In the study, the researchers made smoking chambers and put paper strips inside. They left the strips in the smoking chamber for 20 minutes, exposing the paper to five cigarettes' worth of smoke. In another chamber, the researchers exposed paper strips to cigarette smoke for 258 hours, plus 35 hours of ventilated air, over the course of 196 days.

The other chamber exposed the paper strips to cigarette smoke for a total of 258 hours as well as ventilated air for 35 hours, spread out over 196 days.

The scientists found that toxic substances of thirdhand smoke found in great quantities in the paper strips that were exposed to smoke for the 196 days.  

The researchers also took compounds from the paper strips and exposed them to human cells. This thirdhand smoke, they found, caused DNA damage and DNA strand breaks.

"The cumulative effect of third-hand smoke is quite significant," Gundel said. "The findings suggest the materials could be getting more toxic with time."

Thirdhand smoke stays on surfaces for a very long time, even after cleaning. Though you may think you have cleaned a surface of thirdhand smoke, Gundel said, the damaging compounds may still be lurking.

"Even when you paint the walls, it covers the smell for a short time, but then the compounds work their way through the painting," Gundel said.

"We can take up markers from former smoking [for] months, and sometimes even years after the smoker has left," the researchers said.

A study published last month showed that people who stay in hotels where smoking is allowed are exposed to nicotine and other thirdhand smoke substances, even if they stay in the nonsmoking rooms of the hotel.

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