Friday, 30 July 2010

Thirdhand Smoke Heats Up

The first post of this new blog focuses on thirdhand smoke. It's a sad state of affairs that this ridiculous notion is still getting attention, but on the plus side the attention is largely disproving the claim that it poses a health threat - though that isn't stopping the anti-smoking HQ (California) devoting vast sums to "research" into thirdhand smoke. The Request for Proposals (RFP) to "undertake studies on Thirdhand Smoke and Cigarette Butt Waste, under a new initiative" is receiving approximately $3.75 million. Are these people unaware there is a recession and wasting public money should be curbed? Anyway, back to the study in hand.

This is possibly the first study that actually measures thirdhand smoke and compares it to secondhand smoke, which, frankly, is quite disappointing as it means the claims leveled against THS up to this point have been done with no basis. Then again, we already knew that. As Michael Siegel noted, the study, published in Tobacco Control, found that the concentrations of particulate matter in thirdhand smoke were 100 times lower than in secondhand smoke, measured in the same room.

The methodology was as follows:
"A smoking device burned 10 cigarettes in 30 minutes in a non-ventilated furnished room that was then kept closed. On the next day, for particle resuspension, we mobilised the dust on furniture, clothes and surfaces by wiping and shaking and created even more turbulence with a ventilator. An impactor (ELPI) measured the particle sizes (between 0.28 μm and 10 μm) and concentration in the air, 60 cm above the floor: on the first day before and after the cigarettes were smoked (secondhand smoke) then 4 hours later, 24 hours later, before and after resuspension manoeuvres (thirdhand smoke)."

The researchers found that:
"after cigarette smoking: the airborne particles ... concentration was divided by 100 in the first 4 hours and again by 100 in the following 24 hours. After resuspension, the concentration was multiplied by 100, going back to that observed 4 hours after smoking."

The study concludes: 

"These quantitative data support the hypothesis of a resuspension from the cigarette smoke surface contamination. However, this airborne contamination through resuspension remains much lower (100 times) than that of secondhand smoke. The rest of the aerosol mass initially produced by cigarettes could be firmly attached either to surfaces, leading to ingestion hazards and dermal transfer or to household dust and be inhaled with it."

The first part of the conclusion clearly states to any rational person that the THS story should be put to bed. However, being tobacco control, such an admission could never be made and so they must resort to saying that "ingestion hazards" and inhalation risks exist. In theory, this may be true. In reality, this is true: thirdhand smoke exists, and there exists the possibility that some degree may be ingested, but the quantity would be so small as to be barely measureable. We already know that 90% of secondhand smoke is ordinary air and water, and that the risks of SHS are so negligible as to be more or less non-existant - only individuals with an almost unprecedented level of sensitivity are posed any harm, and such people are also threatened by day-to-day pollution, dust particles etc. So having established this, why should any person worry about particulate matter that measures in at 100 times lower than the essentially harmless secondhand smoke?

This study effectively demolishes the claims by Dr Winickoff and ASH etc, who roundly spew the garbage that a smoker with a lingering odour of tobacco poses a health threat to healthy co-workers, friends and family. Moreover, it certainly provides reason to abolish the absurd, but increasingly popular, trend of not hiring smokers solely because they smoke under the pretence that thirdhand smoke puts others at risk.


  1. Nicely written. Way to put a spotlight on the ridiculousness of so many studies!

  2. Yes, I read about this 'study' over at Siegel's place. I too am dismayed that they are still trying to give credence to this absurdity. Makes your blood boil.

    Great blog BTW :)

  3. Well done Rich! I hadn't seen that study before, but I think the most noteworthy finding is that EVEN IN A SEALED ROOM 99% of ETS is gone in four hours! And this is a substance that James Repace et al claim cannot be removed even by hurricane winds!

    And your point here: "why should any person worry about particulate matter that measures in at 100 times lower than the essentially harmless secondhand smoke?"

    Is especially appropriate. Remember, according to the EPA figures (which are, if anything, greatly exaggerated due to their methodology) it takes 40,000 person-years of daylong exposure to secondhand smoke to produce a single lung cancer. So even if we accept their claims it would then take four MILLION person-years of thirdhand smoke exposure with VIBRATORS to produce that lung cancer!

    Yep. Definitely something that deserves four million dollars worth of research grants, eh?

    - Michael

  4. Indeed, well done Rich. Oi. I live in California. It can be quite unbearable at times...believe me. I am truly convinced that many anti-smokers have literally gone off the deep end.