Thirdhand Smoke Is Changing Your DNA

Thirdhand Smoke Is Changing Your DNA

The scientific community has long known that thirdhand smoke damages DNA. What this means is that the person affected can potentially pass on their risk factors to their children, thus initiating a dangerous cycle that will reverberate through generations to come.

What is Thirdhand Smoke?

Most of us know about secondhand smoke, but thirdhand smoke is a different thing altogether. All in all, it’s far more insidious because it lingers on surfaces, in fabric, and crevasses indefinitely, unknowingly affecting people who inhabit spaces previously used by smokers.

When people smoke cigarettes, nicotine vapes, cigars, or any tobacco product, the residue settles on surfaces and embeds itself into porous materials. It binds to dust particles in vehicles and penetrates areas that can’t be cleaned, such as air vents, only to be blown into your face every time you turn on the interior fan.

If that all sounds horrible (especially if you’re a non-smoker), it is. But what’s most concerning are the long-term effects of thirdhand smoke. The fact that what might be considered “casual” contact with tobacco smoke can change human physiology at a cellular level should be enough to raise the alarm.

Thirdhand Smoke and Cancer

Cancer is rampant in today’s society, and we need to do everything we can to prevent exposure to compounds that could trigger cancer cell growth.

But the truth is, even the most health-conscious among us might be putting themselves in danger unwittingly through exposure to thirdhand smoke. You might feel that because you don’t smoke and you purposely avoid people that do, that you’re in the clear. But if you live in a home or purchase a used vehicle previously owned by a smoker, no matter how well it’s been cleaned, the residue remains.

If you are immune-compromised, have respiratory issues, or have cancer in your family, you are at even greater risk.

Thirdhand Smoke Carries the Same Risks as Smoking

Ongoing studies support the idea that thirdhand smoke presents a significant health hazard. It’s especially concerning because the phenomenon is widely underreported and unrecognized by the public.

Some of the first studies on thirdhand smoke (THS) toxicity date back to as early as the 1980s. Interestingly, they were conducted by the tobacco industry itself, finding that what we now know as thirdhand smoke is up to four times more toxic and up to six times more tumor-inducing than mainstream smoke. These studies also showed that the residue became even more toxic over time.

As smoke particles settle on surfaces, they react with the environment and turn into toxic aldehydes and tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), resulting in a significant environmental risk factor. The gasses formed by this reaction are then circulated back into the air we breathe. You’re likely familiar with the term “off-gassing,” which describes toxic residue coming off of products made from or packaged in harmful plastics — it’s the same principle, although there is no visible source.

THS is often impossible to detect, especially if the distinct odor of tobacco smoke is not present. We may clean, disinfect, and scrub surfaces clean, but THS residue is near impossible to remove from carpet, fabric, upholstery, and cracks in the walls and floors that can’t be reached with cleaning tools.

DNA Mutation from THS

Over the years, we have come to learn that prolonged exposure to TSNAs and THS in general causes “significant” tissue damage and could be just as harmful to the lungs and organs as smoking itself for non-smokers, and especially children.

Mainstream (direct) smoke contains more than 60 different carcinogens, many of which are also mutagens, compounds capable of causing cell mutation. Prolonged or chronic exposure increases the risk as the concentration of toxic factors grows over time.

Genotoxicity is responsible for many smoking-related cancers. We still have much to learn about the mechanisms of THS and how it affects the human genome. But we can easily conclude that since the toxic compounds responsible for gene mutation are a known bi-product of thirdhand smoke, THS should be treated with as much concern as mainstream or secondhand smoke.

Most studies concluded that chronic THS exposure was more harmful than acute (short-term) exposure, although acute exposure yielded remarkable results. Nasal cells were collected from non-smoking study participants before and after exposure to THS for three hours. After RNA sequencing and analysis, scientists noted “significant changes in gene expression” within the THS exposed group that were not present in the clean air control group.

Based on these insights, we should expect the medical community to respond with recommendations, but in the meantime, it’s up to us to protect our health and wellbeing. Knowsmoke develops easy-to-use, non-invasive handheld devices that can instantly detect thirdhand smoke in used vehicles, so you do not have to put yourself or your loved ones at risk.

Purchase your Knowsmoke Test Kit today and stop relying on used car dealers and sellers to tell you the truth about your next car’s smoking history.

Back to Blogs