Smoking is a dangerous habit that leads to many diseases and even deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking, while tobacco use causes more than 7 million deaths per year worldwide.
A grim situation
Now, a new study is revealing an even more alarming fact about smoking, and that is that smokers' bodies and clothes also contaminate non-smoking areas and therefore affect non-smokers. The research published in Science Advances is painting a grim light of an already grim situation.
"The contamination of indoor nonsmoking environments with third-hand smoke (THS) is an important, poorly understood public health concern," wrote the authors in their study.
The researchers used online and offline high-resolution mass spectrometry to observe the off-gassing from smokers in a nonsmoking movie theater. The study took place at the Cinestar Cinema Complex in Mainz, Germany in collaboration with the Max Planck-Institute for Chemistry.
A movie theater was chosen as the experiments' location because it is a large well-ventilated area that has been smoke-free for many years thanks to Germany's non-smoking regulations. The researchers also made sure that moviegoers were only in the presence of smoke before entering the theater.
"Audience members could only be exposed to tobacco smoke before entering the large theater building, either as smokers or in the presence of smokers. This exposure to direct or secondhand tobacco smoke could occur before arrival from an indoor or outdoor location up until just outside the theater building," wrote the authors in their study.
The researchers found that certain moviegoers (the smokers) created prominent emissions of third-hand smoking tracers and other tobacco-related volatile organic compounds. These smokers also left residual contamination.
The researchers further calculated that the volatile organic compounds exposed moviegoers to the equivalent of 1 to 10 cigarettes of secondhand smoke, including multiple hazardous air pollutants. They also added that this exposure would be far worse in small confined and poorly ventilated areas as opposed to the large space the experiments were conducted in.
Could it be time we reconsider our approach to third-hand smoke?