'Third-hand smoke' may harm children

Dec. 29, 2008 at 5:17 PM
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BOSTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Even if an adult smokes inside a home only when a child is absent, the tobacco smoke contamination lingers, U.S. researchers said.

Lead study author Dr. Jonathan Winickoff said that particulate matter from tobacco smoke has been proven toxic and that according to the National Toxicology Program, these 250 poisonous gases, chemicals, and metals include hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, butane, ammonia, toluene -- found in paint thinners, arsenic, lead, chromium, cadmium, and polonium-210 -- a highly radioactive carcinogen. Eleven of the compounds are classified as Group 1 carcinogens, the most dangerous, Winickoff said.

"When you smoke -- anyplace -- toxic particulate matter from tobacco smoke gets into your hair and clothing," Winickoff said in a statement. "When you come into contact with your baby, even if you're not smoking at the time, the baby comes in contact with those toxins. And if you breastfeed, the toxins will transfer to your baby in your breast milk."

However, Winickoff noted that a smoker nursing a baby is still preferable to bottle-feeding.

Small children are especially susceptible to third-hand smoke exposure because they can inhale near, crawl and play on, or touch and mouth contaminated surfaces, Winickoff said.

The findings are published in the journal Pediatrics.

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