A new study provides the most comprehensive real-world demonstration of how volatile organic compounds (VOCs) spread from smokers’ clothes and bodies to the entire indoor environment,media New Atlas reported. The study focused on secondhand smoke, which tracked the peak of tobacco-related volatile organic compounds in a smoke-free theater over a four-day period, but the health risks of such exposure remain unclear.
Decades of research have rigorously explored the health effects of direct and second-hand exposure on smoking. Over the past 15 years, scientists have discovered a new form of exposure to cigarette-related toxins, namely secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is a toxin that can be released from a smoker’s body or clothing.
Increasingly sophisticated environmental monitoring methods have enabled scientists to detect smoking-related VOCs in more detail than ever before. The new study, conducted in collaboration with Yale University and the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, is the first real-time environmental study to show how levels of these volatile organic compounds rise and fall in indoor non-smoking environments.
The study documented four days of real-time air measurements in well-ventilated German cinemas. High-resolution mass spectrometers were installed in ventilation ducts at one cinema to track the rise and fall of 35 specific VOCs previously associated with second-hand tobacco smoke.
Throughout the study, the researchers found tobacco-related VOC peaks, including 2,5-dimethyl furans, 2-methyl furans, and acetylene, that matched the arrival and departure times of the audience. While the time spikes in volatile organic compounds in these environments can be interpreted as related to the general population entering and leaving indoor spaces and bringing toxins into clothing from the outside, studies have shown significant differences in the amount of volatile organic compounds, depending on the content of the film and the timing of the screening.
In midnight and R-rated film screenings, the peak of tobacco-related VOCs increased significantly, while lower volumes were detected at similar audience sizes in early G-rated film screenings. So while the study did not specify how many people smoked at any given time, the researchers believe the data point suggests that the observed rise in VOC may be related to secondhand smoke.
“Our setup is excellent enough to sample from the exhaust pipe immediately after the air leaves the cinema, so we can measure the average chemical composition of the air in the theater without disturbing the occupants. Drew Gentner, author of the new study, said. “We didn’t expect residual tobacco smoke to release chemicals from people to be a major source of reactive chemicals in the room. “
The study has shown comprehensively that volatile organic compounds such as benzene, acrylonal, formaldehyde and nicotine can be released from the smoker’s clothes and body into the indoor environment. However, the study found no health risks associated with detected levels of volatile organic compounds.
Experts unrelated to the new study say the study need not worry. John Britton, director of the British Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Research, was not surprised by the study’s findings, noting that the detected levels of volatile organic compounds were so low that they were less likely to pose significant health risks.
Britton told the Guardian: “This study confirms that anyone with a sense of smell has solved the problem: smokers carry and release tobacco smoke into the atmosphere even when they don’t smoke. In fact, other people are exposed to very low levels of exposure in this situation, and any health risks are equally likely. The researchers claim that the number of volatile organic compounds detected in this study is not insignificant. In fact, the published journal entries clearly indicate in the summary that the VOC emissions detected are equivalent to several second-hand cigarettes.
“Emissions of these volatile organic compounds exposed residents to the equivalent of one to 10 second-hand cigarettes,” the researchers wrote in the journal. These emissions and air concentrations peak when the viewer arrives and decrease over time, but not completely even when the viewer leaves. The chemicals do not remain completely in the air, but rather are absorbed on to surfaces and furniture, the researchers said, as is the pollution caused by second-hand smoke in places where smoking is used.
The new study is published in the journal Science Advances.