Published March 30, 2017
Tobacco Control

Nicotine residue from smoking that clings to surfaces around the house also clings to kids’ hands. That is the main finding of a study that took a fresh look at the potential risks of tobacco smoke exposure.

Researchers at Cincinnati Children’s collected samples from the hands of 25 children who came into the emergency department with respiratory and infectious ailments potentially attributable to secondhand tobacco smoke exposure.

The study found that children can pick up contaminants from tobacco smoke, even in the absence of active smokers.

“It is a great illusion that tobacco smoke just disappears into thin air, and we are just now beginning to understand the long-term, widespread and toxic legacy it leaves behind wherever cigarettes have been smoked,” said first author Melinda Mahabee-Gittens, MD, MS, a physician and researcher in the Division of Emergency Medicine.

“Our study showed that children of smokers visiting the pediatric emergency department carry tobacco smoke residue (also known as thirdhand smoke, THS) on their hands,” she said. “Young children pick up THS left behind on carpets, toys, blankets, furniture and clothes in their homes and elsewhere where others smoked earlier. The toxicant mixture that makes up THS can damage DNA, interfere with cell growth and disrupt the immune system.”

The prevalence of THS pollution and exposure and the processes through which it contributes to disease outcomes are now being studied by research groups in Cincinnati, California and Texas.