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Smoking & tobacco

Quitting smoking

Third-hand smoke

For a long time we've talked about second-hand smoke, the smoke that drifts into the air as someone lights up. Most people understand that second-hand smoke is full of toxic chemicals. Most people know these chemicals you make you sick, or even kill you. Now we're learning more about third-hand smoke- the smoke that gets trapped in hair, skin, fabric, carpet, furniture, and toys.

Third-hand smoke has the same toxic chemicals as second-hand smoke. People should be protected from third-hand smoke.

What is third-hand smoke?

Third-hand smoke is a new name for an old problem – the toxic chemicals in smoke that stick around even after the smoker has put out the cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Third-hand smoke gets trapped in hair, skin, fabric, carpet, furniture, and toys. It builds up over time. Each time someone smokes, more smoke gets trapped in the fabric, furniture, walls, and other things around them. The chemicals from the trapped smoke pollute the air and get into people's lungs and bodies.

If you are in a room or car where people usually smoke, even if they aren't smoking right then, you are exposed to third-hand smoke. This means you are exposed to toxic chemicals like lead and arsenic.

Third-hand smoke also gets into household dust, which babies swallow when they put their hands in their mouths.1 Babies take in more third-hand smoke chemicals because they breathe more quickly and because they spend more time on the floor. Babies can take in 20 times more third-hand smoke than adults.2

Learn how to protect yourself from second-hand and third-hand smoke


1. Matt GE, Quintana PJ, Hovell MF, Bernert JT, Song S, Novianti N, Juarez T, Floro J, Gehrman C, Garcia M, Larson S. Households contaminated by environmental tobacco smoke: sources of infant exposures. Tob Control. 2004 Mar;13(1):29-37. See also Winickoff JP et al. (Beliefs about the health effects of "thirdhand" smoke and home smoking bans. Pediatrics, 2009: 123(1):e74 -9.

2. ibid. (see above)