Third-Hand Smoke Affects Your Baby

by Teresa J. Mitchell

cute baby crawlingExposure to someone else's smoky home, clothing, or body subjects your baby to third-hand smoke. You don't have to be a smoker for your child to experience the risks. After a cigarette is puffed, it leaves more behind that just a stench. Researchers have found that the residue from tobacco clings to furniture, clothes, walls, rugs and floors.

Dr. Richard Graffis, executive vice president and chief medical officer at Indiana University Health, describes it as "the smoke you don't see, but that your nose tells you is there." It lingers for months and mixes with other pollutants to form carcinogens that are especially dangerous to children. The "third-hand smoke" expression is new but the concern about toxins smoke leaves behind has been around for several years.

Keep reading about the dangers of third-hand smoke and browse through our suggestions to minimize you and your family's exposure to these dangerous chemicals. Have a tip? Share it in our comments!

A Quick Look at the Facts

Babies who are around smokers have higher levels of nicotine in their blood.

Smoking Status Nicotine Levels
Non-smoking parents baseline
Parents only smoke outdoors 6 times baseline
Parents smoke around baby almost 50 times baseline

• The nicotine in tobacco smoke reacts with nitrous acid -- a common component of indoor air, especially if you have gas appliances -- to form hazardous carcinogens.
• Residue from tobacco smoke lingers in rooms long after smoking stops and remains on our clothes after we leave a smoky place.
• Nicotine levels are six times lower among infants living in homes with strict no-smoking policies.
• Cigarette smoke contains 250 poisonous toxins including: hydrogen cyanide, butane, toluen, heavy metals, ammonia, carbon monoxide, chromium, and radioactive, polonium‐210. Eleven of the compounds cause cancer.  

Getting Smoke Third-hand

How does the smoke residue move from surfaces to your baby? From mom's exposure during pregnancy, baby's "tasting is knowing" behavior, and an active toddler's curiosity, we've listed the ways your little one scoops up third-hand smoke.

As a growing bump: Pregnant women touch surfaces coated with smoke residue and absorb these particles through their skin or inhale them. Once in the bloodstream, the chemicals pass through the placenta to the baby. A study by researchers at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute found prenatal exposure to third-hand tobacco smoke components disrupts lung development and function in your baby-in-the-womb more than exposure in childhood. "This disruption can lead to asthma and other respiratory ailments that can last a lifetime," Virender Rehan, MD, corresponding author of the study stated.

Babies and toddlers: Babies interact closely with their environment -- crawling on the floor, putting objects in their mouths and chewing on their fingers. Babies and children breath and ingest twice as much contaminated dust as adults, making them especially vulnerable to the effects of third-hand smoke.

Your baby might also come into contact with smoke residues in the car. Even if parents never light up in their car, residues on smoker's clothing and hair settles on the dashboard, seats and car seats.

Your Nursing Baby: If you're around someone smoking or if you smoke, particles can accumulate on your clothes and skin. When you snuggle, hug or nurse, your baby comes into contact with the toxins. Your milk also might contain third-hand smoke residues.

Minimizing Your Baby's Exposure

If you or your spouse smoke, designate a jacket and hat as smoking clothes. Wear them while smoking, remove them before entering the house and hang them outside. Before picking up your baby, wash your hand and face. Ideally, it's time to think about quitting. Is spending all that money on cigarettes worth it?

Family and friends:Loved ones who smoke are still loved ones. They want to snuggle with the baby! Explain your concern for their health as well as your baby's. Try and see if you can get them to wash up. Wrap your baby in a blanket or cloth in a long sleeved, footed sleeper to prevent skin to skin contact if still concerned.

Call it quits. Provide your extended family with information about quitting smoking. Babies offer reason for change in a household or family. Maybe your precious bundle will give someone you love the motivation to stop smoking!

About the study: LA BioMed. "Study Finds Thirdhand Smoke Poses Danger To Unborn Babies' Lungs." Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 19 Apr. 2011. Web.
1 Nov. 2011.

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