Third-Hand Smoke

at 12:35 AM

A young father came in to the hospital with his 13-day-old daughter. When I asked whether anyone in the home smoked cigarettes, he said openly that he did. He was quick to add that he always smoked outside, and he always changed his jacket before coming in to hold his baby.

"My daughter is my world", he said.

When I told him that the best thing he could do for his daughter would be to quit smoking, he seemed surprised. I explained that as he smokes, particles from the cigarette smoke settle in his hair, on his face, on his hands, and can then be transferred to his infant daughter as he holds and rocks her. As I turned to leave the room, he said, "Thanks for telling me about the smoke. I didn't know that."

As a pediatrician, I find most parents know about the risks of second-hand smoke, which has been definitively linked to health problems including asthma, pneumonia and even ADHD. Many though, don't know about third-hand smoke -- the residue left on surfaces after a cigarette is extinguished. This third-hand smoke is absorbed into walls and carpets. Then, for months and even years, it is reemitted and reacts with the air to form carcinogenic compounds. Although the health effects of third-hand smoke are still under investigation, we know that they are real. Hugging someone who has been smoking can trigger an asthma attack, and a study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory showed that third-hand smoke damages DNA.

The only way to protect children against the risks of second and third-hand smoke is to make sure no one who lives with them smokes cigarettes. We need to support families in keeping the air around their children smoke-free. And that way, we can all breathe a little easier.

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With a perspective, I'm Jyothi Marbin.

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Jyothi Marbin is a pediatrician at Children's Hospital and Research Center Oakland.

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