2011-04-11 SJ: “POKIN AROUND: Lingering toxins: The coming debate over third-hand smoke”

This story elicited quite a few responses, two of the first three being from smoking proponents, Tony Palazzolo and Bill Hannegan. Sandwiched between them was a reader starting off with a tongue-in-cheek comment but ending by reporting significant third-hand smoke problems because of a smoking office colleague.

I can attest to third-hand smoke being an occasional problem in the office where I once worked after smoking was no longer allowed but smoking breaks were permitted. I thought someone was smoking in the adjoining cubicle on one occasion only to discover, after discreetly looking over the partition, that it was a pipe smoker who’d just returned from a smoking break.

Here are the three reader comments followed by the article by Steve Pokin of the Suburban Journal.

Tony Palazzolo said on: April 12, 2011, 2:54 pm
Steve (Pokin)
You should look at the “study” that your writing about. It wasn’t a study in the strictest sense. It was actually a phone poll that they did after they coined the term. I can see why it confused people (that was the point) because they released the results like it was a medical study.
Of course that shouldn’t matter if you believe the latest Surgeon Generals Report that one whiff of tobacco smoke can kill a healthy young person. Or how officials gave credit to the smoking ban for lowering the St Louis City 2010 asthma ranking (the ban didn’t start till 2011).

Payin’ Attention said on: April 12, 2011, 4:35 pm
You’re in big trouble now Mr. Pokin….Councilman Jim Pepper does not believe in “second hand smoke” & the problems that it causes…He will not be happy when he hears of your “third hand smoke” column. And, here is another avenue for Bill Hannegan to enter his thoughts over and over and over…I don’t know anything about him but does he sell filtration systems? Third hand smoke does exist and I smell it everyday as a result of a work associate who enters my office from time to time. He is a great guy and unfortunately he is killing himself with two packs a day. He “oozes smoke” and none of us want him in our office. I finally told him how it is a problem for all of us but I’m the only one to have the nerve to tell him. His response, “when I’m dead and gone from this nicotine you won’t have the problem anymore”…How crazy, he knows it is killing him and he jokes about it. And he really doesn’t care if it offends anyone else or causes them to feel nauseous because of him. Duh?

Bill Hannegan said on: April 13, 2011, 2:20 am
Payin Attention, I do believe the best air filtration systems remove SHS toxins from bar air, and so I have promoted them as a solution to a contentious local issue, but I have never made a cent selling them. The thing to remember about 3rd hand smoke is the first principle of toxicology: The dose makes the poison. The exposure to concerning stuff from 3rd hand smoke isn’t enough to threaten anyone’s health.


Steve Pokin, Suburban Journals

POKIN AROUND: Lingering toxins: The coming debate over third-hand smoke

By Steve Pokin > spokin@yourjournal.com | Posted: Monday, April 11, 2011 4:56 pm | Comments (33 as of April 20, 2011, 11:10 am)

On Friday morning the bug guy came to my house. My wife had called because a few days earlier our 20-year-old son awoke in dramatic fashion with a spider on his face.
         We’ve used the same exterminator over the years and all our “bug guys” have been prompt and courteous. This one was so polite he apologized for smelling like cigarette smoke.
         “I’ve just come from a home where I think even the dogs lit up,” he said.
His comment made me think about third-hand smoke.
         Forget about second-hand smoke, which is the smoke you actually see, whether floating off a cigarette or exhaled in puffs. That debate is passe. That train has left the station, in my view, taking a lung or two with it.
         Second-hand smoke is a proven health problem. The arguments pro and con — Should we or shouldn’t we ban smoking in public places? — have become old and predictable.
         If O’Fallon Councilman Jim Pepper wants to put his finger in the dike and try to overturn parts of Proposition S, an O’Fallon public smoking ban passed April 5 with a resounding 72.5 percent of the vote, more power to him.
         It’s admirable for him to advocate for business owners who argue, “It’s my place and I should be able to run it the way I want.”
         But is the public served when individual owners determine if patrons and employees should breathe air filled with a little arsenic, lead, cyanide and carbon monoxide?
         I think smoking in indoor public places someday will be banned across the nation.
         The battle on the horizon is third-hand smoke. That’s the residue that lingers long after the cigarette is out. It’s what you smell in the hair or on the clothes of someone who’s spent the last few hours on a bar stool in a smoky tavern.
         With third-hand smoke, it’s not the lit cigarette that delivers the toxins. It’s the smoker himself. Or the smoker’s car. Or apartment.
         Ever stepped into an elevator and smelled smoke? Hugged a relative and smelled smoke? Ever sat next to a co-worker who takes outdoor smoking breaks and then smelled his or her smoke?
         That’s third-hand smoke. That’s what our bug guy involuntarily brought into my house.
         I wonder, will there come a time when a bug guy, cable guy or plumber has a say as to whether he or she will work for hours in a home reeking of cigarette smoke?
         Dr. Jonathan Winickoff is an assistant professor, department of pediatrics, at Harvard Medical School. He authored a 2009 study on third-hand smoke. In fact, his research team coined the very phrase.
         “Smokers themselves are also contaminated … smokers actually emit toxins,” he says in a Jan. 6, 2009, story for Scientific American.
         There currently is no proven link between exposure to third-hand smoke and cancer or other diseases. But researchers are looking.
         Medical research already indicates that residue from cigarette smoke, including nicotine, can linger for days, even months on clothes, carpets and on walls.
         A San Diego State researcher tested apartments after smokers moved out and non-smoking families moved in. He reportedly found residue from cigarette smoke up to a year after the smoker had moved out. He found nicotine even after the apartments had been cleaned and painted.
         Coleen Breen, property manager at Time Centre apartments in St. Charles, told me that extra steps are taken to clean apartments where smokers have lived. A thermal fogger and an ozone generator remove nagging odors, often from cigarettes, occasionally from other sources, such as curry, used in cooking, she says.
         Cigarette smoke yellows the walls and ceilings where smokers have lived. At times, walls are not only freshly painted but they must be sealed, as well, to kill the persistent odor of cigarette smoke, she says.
         Smokers are not required to pay a higher security deposit, she says, but they are charged the extra cost to remove odors.
         Those studying third-hand smoke say infants and young children are most at risk, in part because they weigh less than adults and, as a result, ingested toxins cause greater harm.
         In addition, infants and young children spend more time on carpets, where residue lingers in dust particles, and are more likely to put unknown objects — that could have traces of nicotine on them — into their mouths.
         A smokers’ rights group called smokingLobby asks if the day will come when smokers will be discriminated against in employment and housing.
         Will the day come when a sensor that flags cigarette residue keeps smokers from boarding a city bus?
         I would not be surprised if already young parents are thinking long and hard about letting grandma and grandpa baby-sit — even when they’ve promised not to smoke around the baby.
         Today, the question is whether the baby sitter’s home, through years of smoking, is toxic.
         Or even sadder, has the baby sitter become toxic?

Steve Pokin is a columnist for the Suburban Journals. He can be reached at spokin@yourjournal.com or by phone at 636-946-6111, ext. 239. His column is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/PokinAround.

3 responses to “2011-04-11 SJ: “POKIN AROUND: Lingering toxins: The coming debate over third-hand smoke”

  1. The whole issue of third hand smoke is based on manufacture science as pointed out by Dr Michael Siegel.

    Using this rational a person would have to go through decontamination before entering their home just from the contaminants from outside.

    Marshall P Keith

  2. Mogasp, sorry, I missed this post when it first went up so I’m replying belatedly. While the argument wouldn’t quite fit within a thousand characters, I’d like to refer your readers to my analysis of the promotion of baseless fears about thirdhand smoke in my commentary at Global Health Law:


    And while I don’t have the reference immediately handy, I recently extended the argument to an article writer promoting bans on college campuses who was worried about the third hand smoke left on campus benches where students might sit and be contaminated. A reasonable analysis showed that a student would have to lick an entire bench sparkly clean in the smokers’ sections for roughly 3 QUADRILLION years to be affected.

    I’ve heard of perpetual grad students… but that’s pushing it a bit.

    – MJM

    mogasp comment: It’s amazing what you can do with a sliderule these days.

  3. Heh…except sliderules don’t work too well with quadrillions. :>

    My analysis was quite serious. Did you see anything specific that was wrong with it?

    – MJM

    mogasp response: I assumed you were serious. I just don’t have time to check your calculations, even with a modern electronic calculator.

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