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'Thirdhand smoke' leaves long-lasting toxins

April 21, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
If you're a smoker, new information that may make you want to quit for good. For the first time, researchers are learning more about a toxin that sticks around long after a smoker has left the room.

He quit smoking cigarettes, but Eddie Chien's wife Ashley still smokes sometimes, even in the house.

"She tries not to but when the urge comes then she will," said Chien.

With a young child at home, Chien is well aware of the health risks of smoking, but he's shocked about another danger that's hidden. Scientists call it "thirdhand smoke."

"From what I hear so far, thirdhand smoke could be just as devastating to you as secondhand smoke," said Chien.

"Thirdhand smoke is the smoke residue which is left after the smoking has been stopped, or after the cigarette has extinguished," said Dr. Virender Rehan, Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute.

In the first study to provide biological proof of this health danger, Dr. Rehan and his colleagues took a close look at secondhand smoke residue.

"I think it's dangerous to everybody," said Rehan.

They found if a pregnant woman is around it can predispose an unborn child to asthma and other respiratory ailments.

"Newer chemicals are formed which get emitted in an environment, and that we inhale, and actually those chemicals we can touch, these can enter our body through skin contact, or these could be ingested," said Rehan.

According to Dr. Rehan, the residue from smoke settles on carpets and upholstery and mixes with other chemicals that make it even more hazardous. What's even more scary is that no matter how much you try to clean it, the health concerns don't go away.

"It has been shown when people have tried to clean, it doesn't go away," said Rehan. Even six months later.

Dr. Rehan believes people should be aware of this when they stay in hotel rooms or travel to countries where smoking is pervasive.

Eddie Chien says all this new information is enough to try to convince his wife to try to kick the habit for good.

"We're going to help her. We're going to try to," said Chien.

The study was published in the American Journal of Physiology. Dr. Rehan says this is the first study to show exposure to thirdhand smoke is as damaging, and in some cases, more damaging than secondhand or firsthand smoke.