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Thirdhand smoke can breed inside dwellings for decades, says research

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For millions of smokers wondering if switching to vaping is the best way to quit, new research suggests that homes, cars, offices, and other dwellings might be filled with potentially toxic thirdhand smoke residue. Not to be confused with secondhand smoke, the thirdhand variety can easily become trapped inside furniture, upholstery, carpeting, curtains, pillows, bedding, and other soft textiles for up to twenty-five years or longer. Some scientists even believe that outdoor smoking can also lead to infiltration by thirdhand smoke particles thanks to the buildings’ HVAC systems, in certain cases.

The Drexel University study on thirdhand smoke

The discovery appears to have occurred quite unexpectedly by a team of scientists from Drexel University. During a research project involving the study of outside pollutants traveling indoors, they began noticing some rather strange chemical combinations within the indoor experimental space. While monitoring the air quality of a classroom that had been designated as smoke-free for over two decades, the scientists discovered certain chemical compounds that could only be attributed to the thirdhand smoke of combustible tobacco products.

What the researchers determined is that just down the hall about 20 meters was a small, outdoor balcony where employees would often sneak off to smoke cigarettes. Adjacent to the balcony was an air vent that led directly to the building’s HVAC system. The scientists surmise that the secondhand smoke from the balcony traveled by way of the indoor duct work to lodge itself inside the furnishings throughout the entire structure where the chemical residue would live and breed for several years.

“Aerosol composition measurements made in an indoor classroom indicate the uptake of thirdhand smoke (THS) species to indoor particles, a novel exposure route for THS to humans indoors. Chemical speciation of the organic aerosol fraction using mass spectrometric data and factor analysis identified a reduced nitrogen component, predominantly found in the indoor environment, contributing 29% of the indoor submicron aerosol mass.”

They also discovered a smaller office space almost directly next door to the non-smoking classroom where indoor smoking had one been allowed, which theoretically only made the thirdhand smoking situation even worse. In fact, approximately 29 percent of the total air mass of the non-smoking classroom was infected with the harmful toxins associated with thirdhand smoke. For smokers considering a switch to vaping, the Drexel study entitled Thirdhand smoke uptake to aerosol particles in the indoor environment is published in the online journal Science Advances.  

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