WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Feb. 8, 2010 -- Taking a breath inside a smoker’s home or car could increase
your risk of cancer, even if there is not a lit cigarette in sight.
Tobacco smoke residue lurking in carpets, upholstered furniture, and on
other everyday surfaces can react with common chemicals in indoor air to form
cancer-causing substances, according to a new study in the Proceedings of
the National Academy of Sciences.
Tobacco smoke residue on everyday surfaces has recently been dubbed
“thirdhand” smoke. Researchers say their findings further demonstrate that
exposure to thirdhand smoke is a potential long-term health hazard. It is
especially concerning for infants and toddlers, who tend to have more frequent
contact with the contaminated surfaces when crawling and playing.
For the study, Hugo Destaillats and colleagues looked at how nicotine
behaved when exposed to a common indoor air pollutant called nitrous acid
(HONO) found inside a smoker’s automobile. Nicotine is released into the air
during smoking and persists for weeks to months on indoor surfaces. HONO is
found in higher levels indoors than outdoors.
The nicotine reacted with the indoor air pollutant to form carcinogenic
compounds called tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). Researchers found
“substantial levels” of TSNAs on surfaces inside the smoker’s truck that was
used in the study. More than half of the cancer-causing compounds remained
more than two hours after the cigarette smoke had cleared.
Researchers say the most likely human exposure to TSNA is by touching a
surface that has been contaminated with tobacco smoke, such as clothing,
furniture, even skin or hair. The study authors warn that infants and young
children are at danger of receiving higher exposures than adults.
SOURCES:News release, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.Sleiman, M. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,
manuscript received ahead of print.
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