First we had the hazards of smoking itself. They are real and well-documented, but affect only the smoker, who can sometimes be persuaded to quit after learning about the dangers but sometimes chooses to continue the habit.
Then there were the dangers to the non-smoking public of smoking, the so-called second-hand smoke problem. I wrote about it here, and my position is that although I can’t stand being around cigarette smoke and am in favor of banning it in enclosed public places, I remain unconvinced of the long-term negative health effects for anyone other than people with asthma or other lung diseases.
Now we have third-hand smoke, which is the residue that clings to clothing and curtains and carpets and cars and other surroundings of the smoker. I hate it with a passion—my hair is very porous, and when I’m around smokers I can smell it in my hair until I wash it, and on my clothes likewise. It’s a sour, stale, and generally disgusting odor that clings to apartments, motel rooms, and homes long after the smoker has left the premises. But the evidence for long-term problems due to third-hand smoke is even weaker than that for second-hand smoke (which is already weak enough). In addition, it seems to me that the campaign against third-hand smoke is potentially far more pernicious than the one against second-hand smoke, because the aim of the one against third-hand smoke must be to ban smoking altogether, and/or make the practice legally actionable, and/or scare people half to death about it, even if it’s practiced in the privacy of one’s home or out in the open air.
…[A] mother who doesn’t smoke in front of her kids, smokes outside, then comes inside and holds the baby is exposing that child to thirdhand smoke. The new compounds are difficult to clean up, have a long life of their own, and many may be carcinogenic.
…”Thirdhand smoke is harmful to our genetic material,” Bo Hang, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said at a news conference this week…”And the contamination becomes more toxic with time.”…
“In homes where we know no smoker has lived for 20 years, we’ve still found evidence of these compounds in dust, in wallboard,” says Neal Benowitz, chief of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco. Benowitz leads the California Consortium on Thirdhand Smoke, started in 2010…
Those who move into houses or apartments formerly owned by smokers might be exposed as well. And thirdhand smoke is difficult to eliminate. “So far, we have not found an exposed environment where you cannot measure it any more,” says Georg Matt, chair of the Department of Psychology at San Diego State University in California. “It’s virtually impossible to remove this stuff unless you remove the flooring and drywall.”
Buried in the article, however, is this:
Science hasn’t yet quantified the amount of exposure that poses a health risk, and hasn’t determined with certainty what those health risks might be.
In other words: we know almost nothing.
We’ve come along way, baby, haven’t we? From a time when the very real and very negative health effects of cigarettes on smokers themselves were covered up, to a time when the smallest undocumented/imagined effects on everyone else are hyped to the skies. Once smokers were trying to kill only themselves; in the future we’re supposed to think they’re out to kill us all.