Are there any reliable reviews which quantify the risk associated with third hand smoke exposure? (For example in terms of second hand smoke exposure risk) The scientific literature I've read so far is ambiguous. Some epidemiologists say it's just a minor risk but on the other hand animal models suggest organ and DNA damage with exposure to third hand smoke.

Thirdhand smoke is residual nicotine and other chemicals left on indoor surfaces by tobacco smoke. People are exposed to these chemicals by touching contaminated surfaces or breathing in the off-gassing from these surfaces. What is thirdhand smoke, and why is it a concern? - Mayoclinic

  • 2
    – Narusan
    Apr 13, 2018 at 7:18
  • @CuriousIndeed, can you add in your question, what is third hand smoking?
    – Jan
    May 17, 2018 at 6:15

1 Answer 1


The following are studies which indicate cancer risks from third hand tobacco smoke which to me seems non-ambiguous.

Sleiman, M., Logue, J. M., Luo, W., Pankow, J. F., Gundel, L. A., & Destaillats, H. (2014). Inhalable constituents of thirdhand tobacco smoke: chemical characterization and health impact considerationsEnvironmental science & technology, 48(22), 13093-13101. DOI: 10.1021/es5036333

Tobacco smoke residues lingering in the indoor environment, also termed thirdhand smoke (THS), can be a source of long-term exposure to harmful pollutants. THS composition is affected by chemical transformations and by air–surface partitioning over time scales of minutes to months. This study identified and quantified airborne THS pollutants available for respiratory exposure, identified potential environmental tracers, and estimated health impacts to nonsmokers. In a ventilated 18m3 laboratory chamber, six cigarettes were machine-smoked, and levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) and 58 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were monitored during an aging period of 18h. Results were compared with field measurements taken in a smoker’s home 8h after the last cigarette had been smoked. Initial chamber levels of individual VOCs in freshly emitted secondhand smoke (SHS) were in the range of 1–300 μg m–3. The commonly used SHS tracers 3-ethenylpyridine (3-EP) and nicotine were no longer present in the gas phase after 2 h, likely due mostly to sorption to surfaces. By contrast, other VOCs persisted in the gas phase for at least 18 h, particularly furans, carbonyls, and nitriles. The concentration ratio of acetonitrile to 3-EP increased substantially with aging. This ratio may provide a useful metric for differentiating freshly emitted (SHS) from aged smoke (THS). Among the 29 VOCs detected in the smoker’s home at moderate to high concentrations, 18 compounds were also detected in simultaneously sampled outdoor air, but acetonitrile, 2-methyl furan, and 2,5-dimethyl furan appeared to be specific to cigarette smoke. The levels of acrolein, methacrolein, and acrylonitrile exceeded concentrations considered harmful by the State of California. An initial exposure and impact assessment was conducted for a subset of pollutants by computing disability-adjusted life years lost, using available toxicological and epidemiological information. Exposure to PM2.5 contributed to more than 90% of the predicted harm. Acrolein, furan, acrylonitrile, and 1,3-butadiene were considered to be the most harmful VOCs. Depending on which criteria are used to establish the separation between SHS and THS, 5–60% of the predicted health damage could be attributed to THS exposure. Benefits and limitations of this approach are discussed.

Ramírez, N., Özel, M. Z., Lewis, A. C., Marcé, R. M., Borrull, F., & Hamilton, J. F. (2014). Exposure to nitrosamines in thirdhand tobacco smoke increases cancer risk in non-smokersEnvironment international, 71, 139-147. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2014.06.012

In this study, we estimate for the first time the potential cancer risk by age group through non-dietary ingestion and dermal exposure to carcinogen N-nitrosamines and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) measured in house dust samples. Using a highly sensitive and selective analytical approach we have determined the presence of nicotine, eight N-nitrosamines and five tobacco-specific nitrosamines in forty-six settled dust samples from homes occupied by both smokers and non-smokers. Using observations of house dust composition, we have estimated the cancer risk by applying the most recent official toxicological information. Calculated cancer risks through exposure to the observed levels of TSNAs at an early life stage (1 to 6 years old) exceeded the upper-bound risk recommended by the USEPA in 77% of smokers' and 64% of non-smokers' homes. The maximum risk from exposure to all nitrosamines measured in a smoker occupied home was one excess cancer case per one thousand population exposed.

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    Non-ambiguous? I think this could benefit a bit from contextualisation and explanation. Ex: How do "observed levels of TSNAs" end up so high in non-smoker's homes? May 17, 2018 at 8:35

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