We can only suppose you’re a time traveler from 1936 dispatched to warn us all about the impending Nazi danger in Europe (don’t worry: we won) if you don’t know by now that smoking is harmful to you.
However, we are still learning how harmful it is to your health. Thirdhand smoke, or all those pollutants and chemicals that are expelled from cigarette smoke and settle indefinitely on surfaces like our walls, carpets, curtains, clothes, furniture, and so much more that surround us every day, has been linked to harmful effects, according to a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Riverside.
According to Shane Sakamaki-Ching, a doctor of the cell, molecular, and developmental biology and the paper’s first author, exposure to THS (third-hand smoke) on human skin starts the mechanisms of inflammatory skin disease. Acute cutaneous exposure to THS alarmingly mirrors the negative effects of cigarette smoking.
Ten healthy non-smokers participated in the study, which was the first to examine human skin exposure to thirdhand smoke. They wore clothing that was either impregnated with filtered air or thirdhand smoke particles. Participants in the study had to walk or run on a treadmill for at least 15 minutes every hour for the duration of the three-hour experiment. By perspiring, this increased the amount of third-hand smoke that could be absorbed through the skin.
All participants’ blood and urine samples were taken on a regular basis, and they were tested for protein alterations and indicators of oxidative stress – clues that the third-hand smoke may have damaged cells or tissues.
According to Sakamaki-Ching, who is currently a research scientist at Kite Pharma in California, acute THS exposure elevated urine biomarkers of oxidative damage to DNA, lipids, and proteins, and these indicators persisted high after the exposure stopped. The same rise in these indicators is seen in cigarette smokers.
The study found that third-hand smoke increases certain biomarkers linked to skin conditions like contact dermatitis and psoriasis, which makes sense given that your skin is the organ most likely to come into contact with THS and therefore likely receives the most exposure to the dangerous pollutants contained within it.
The “oxidative injury” mentioned in the paper, which “may lead to other ailments, such as cancer, heart disease, and atherosclerosis,” is even more concerning than that, according to Sakamaki-Ching.
All of which pose a significant potential issue when you consider how pervasive and unpredictably third-hand smoking may be. According to study co-author and UC Riverside professor of cell biology Prue Talbot, “there is a general paucity of knowledge about human health reactions to THS exposure.”
She noted that purchasing a used car that was previously owned by a smoker could be harmful to your health. You expose your skin to THS if you enter a casino that permits smoking. In a hotel room that had previously been occupied by a smoker, the same rules apply.
And that was after only three hours of research; nevertheless, the scientists intend to conduct additional studies on larger groups that were exposed for longer periods of time. You need not worry, however, e-cigarette users, as the team’s upcoming investigation will examine the residues that these less lethal death sticks leave behind.
According to Sakamaki-Ching, “This [research] underlines the notion that dermal exposure to THS could result in the molecular beginning of inflammation-induced skin disorders.”
“Our findings can aid doctors in identifying patients who have been exposed to THS and in the development of regulatory strategies for cleaning up indoor settings contaminated with THS.”