Just as it took years to establish the cancer-causing effects of first-hand smoke that is inhaled as a person breathes in directly from the cigarette, making the connection between third-hand smoke or NNA and cancer could take a long time, Hang said. But early research into its nature, exposure and health effects is compelling enough that a research consortium dedicated to investigating third-hand smoke was formed in California in 2010. That consortium helped fund Hang's work on NNA-induced DNA damage, which he said could eventually be used as biomarkers to identify people who have been exposed to third-hand smoke.
The biggest potential health risk is for babies and toddlers, he noted. As they crawl and put their hands or toys in their mouths, they could touch, swallow or inhale compounds from third-hand smoke. Their small size and early developmental stage make them more vulnerable than adults to the effects of environmental hazards.
Although many public places prohibit smoking, Hang noted that people can still smoke in most rental apartments and private residences and smoking remains a huge public health issue. In 2011, nearly 44 million American adults reported smoking cigarettes, which ranks as the leading cause of preventable death in this country. And 34 million people smoke every day, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
So far, the best way to get rid of third-hand smoke is by removing affected items, such as sofas and carpeting, as well as sealing and repainting walls, and sometimes even replacing contaminated wallboard, he explained. Replacing furniture can be pricey, but Hang said vacuuming and washing clothes, curtains and bedding can also help.
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