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Third-Hand Smoke Damages DNA And May Cause Cancer

Last updated Sept. 22, 2015

Third-hand smoke is exposure to toxic compounds made from tobacco smoke that are found on surfaces, where an individual had been previously smoking.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 34 million Americans smoke every day. One does not need to inhale directly from the cigarette for being at risk from the cancerous effects.

Third-hand smoke is exposure to toxic compounds made from tobacco smoke that are found on surfaces, where an individual had been previously smoking. A study published in the journal Mutagenesis and presented at the 247th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society provides evidence that third-hand smoke damages DNA.

As many as 4,000 pollutants from smoke have been identified in carpets, walls, furniture, dust, clothing, hair, and skin of smokers. Individuals can be exposed to these pollutants by inhaling, touching, or ingesting them. Some of the residue from tobacco smoke can also produce additional toxicants, undergoing a chemical transformation when it interacts with compounds in the atmosphere.

4-(Methylnitrosamino) -4-(3-pyridyl) -butanal, or NNA, is a secondary compound that is found to attach itself to DNA to create cancerous chemicals. NNA and 4-(methylnitrosamino) -1-(3-pyridyl) -1-butanone), or NNK, can break down DNA leading to uncontrolled cell growth and forming tumors.

Bo Hang, PhD, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, believes it can take years before the connections between third-hand smoke, NNA, and cancer are definite, but it is a compelling start.

Hang believes that babies and toddlers are especially at risk from third-hand smoke. They are still developing and are more likely to touch, swallow or inhale toxic smoke compounds as they crawl and put their hands or toys in their mouths.

Written by Stephen Umunna

References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 20, 2014
Last updated: Sept. 22, 2015

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