PhotoAlthough giving up on smoking is a crucial first step towards improving a person’s health, a new study shows that health hazards from the habit persist long after the last pack has been thrown out.

Researchers from San Diego State University have found that the smokers’ homes remain polluted by thirdhand smoke (THS) for at least six months after they have quit. THS is made up of minute tobacco particles that penetrate various surfaces in the home – like carpets, upholstery, pillows, blankets, clothes, wallpaper, and ceiling tiles.

“We tend to see smoke in the air and then it’s out of sight out of mind. But it leaves compounds in indoor environments that can do harm to our bodies, especially children, and sometimes we cannot see or smell it,” said lead author George E. Matt.

Pollutants stick around

The researchers came to their conclusions after conducting a six-month study on tobacco smoke pollutants found in the homes of 90 former smokers. They measured home surfaces, dust, and the fingers of the former smokers for THS pollutants at five different intervals to see if levels went down over time.

The data showed that levels of nicotine had a significant short-term reduction on household surfaces and on participants’ fingers, but levels found in dust did not change much over the six-month period. Urine tests also revealed that urinary cotinine levels, which measure exposure to tobacco, were still detectable at the study's conclusion. 

This suggests that residents were still being exposed to tobacco pollution long after they quit, which could have long-term negative impacts on their health.

The researchers say that further study will be needed to fully understand the consequences of continued THS exposure. More work will also need to be done to figure out how to remove THS from the home so that it doesn’t become a health issue.

The full study has been published in the journal Tobacco Control.

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