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Trisha Torrey

Third Hand Smoke - A Great Reason to Quit

By November 19, 2009

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Today is the Great American Smokeout, and if you are a smoker, that's probably nothing new to you.

Among my friends and acquaintances, few of them smoke anymore, but those who do, wish they didn't. Some have tried to quit a dozen times or more. Their hearts are willing, but their addiction owns too much of their lives.

One interview I did this week for my radio show was about smoking as a public health challenge. Part of the discussion centered on third-hand smoke, a new concept to many smokers.

First hand smoke is the smoke one inhales directly from a cigarette (or pipe or cigar or....)

Second hand smoke is the smoke one inhales when someone else is smoking. For example, when you walk past a group of smokers outside a building. It's still smoke, full of all the toxins and substances that create lung cancer, exacerbate asthma or create other lung and breathing problems. Experts tell us that 10 - 15% of lung cancer is caused by second-hand smoke.

The perils of exposure to third hand smoke are just now being understood. Early in 2009, the term "third hand smoke" was coined to point out that spending time near a smoker, or in a room where someone has been smoking, creates health problems, too. For example, a mother or father smokes, then picks up the baby. The baby's health is negatively affected by the toxins left behind on the parents' clothing or in their hair. Even if the smoker goes outdoors to smoke, away from the child, those chemicals remain to affect the baby.

If someone has smoked in a room you spend time in, you will be affected by the toxins that remain in the drapes, the carpet, the furniture -- even things like books or newspapers or pocketbooks or toys -- anything that is exposed to the smoke but doesn't get washed before we come near it. Even worse, because there is less room, is the third-hand exposure in a car -- the upholstery, the carpet on the floor, the fabric ceiling. For those of us who do not smoke, the minute we smell smoke on someone else -- a family member or a co-worker -- we have been exposed to third hand smoke.

I'm not going to suggest to smokers that they quit for their own well-being. That's up to them and they've heard it from every nag in their lives. But a smart patient understands that sometimes we must make choices not just for ourselves, but for the people around us, too. We must protect our herd.

Second AND third hand smoke seem like a great reasons to quit.

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Photo Udo Kroener - Fotolia.com

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