Thirdhand Smoke Is Real—Here’s How It Can Damage Your Brain and Liver

A new study that proves that third-hand smoke is a thing, and it could be hurting your friends and your family.

smokingPanya Anakotmankong/ShutterstockEven in this age of nicotine awareness, you may not realize all the good things that happen to your body when you stop smoking. While many people haven’t heard how smoking can ruin their looks and put them at risk for diabetes, most have heard that secondhand smoke puts non-smokers at risk, as well. So here’s something completely new: Thirdhand smoke is potentially deadly as well, according to an alarming new study out of the University of California, Riverside. Long after you’ve put out a cigarette, its toxins linger on your carpeting, furniture, bedding, clothing, skin, and hair, and can cause serious harm to the health of those who spend time in that environment.

(Check out the best air purifiers for smoke.)

Smoke accumulates on surfaces, reacts with the air, and changes into carcinogenic chemicals, the study authors explain. These toxins can remain on surfaces for years, and not only do they have no detectable odor, they’re resistant to even the strongest cleaning agents. So the researchers, Yuxin Chen, PhD, Manuela Martins-Green, PhD, and graduate student Neema Adhami decided to test whether the compounds could be pose health problems. For six months, they exposed mice to the carcinogens, and the results were alarming. Within one month of exposure to thirdhand smoke (THS), the resesarchers began detecting harmful effects on the mice that continued to increase for the duration of the study. The mice suffered:

  • cell damage to the liver
  • cell damage to the brain
  • increased cortisol levels (the stress hormone, which is associated with weight gain, among other things)
  • weakened immune system
  • increased insulin resistance.

These last three are all associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Although the studies were done on mice in circumstances that slightly exaggerate typical real-world exposure, the researchers believe that this dynamic shows a significant potential consequence of long-term exposure to thirdhand smoke. The researchers point out that almost nothing is known about the effects of THS exposure over time, so the study “can serve to educate the public on the dangers of THS, and the biomarkers we identified can be used in the clinic, once verified in exposed humans,” the researchers said.

If you or someone you know is still trying to break a nicotine habit, try sharing the 23 best ways to stop smoking. Today.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers health, fitness, yoga, and lifestyle, among other topics. An author of crime fiction, Lauren's book The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.