For decades, scientists have been warning of the dangers of second-hand smoke. In recent years, various smoking bans have also helped non-smokers avoid passive inhalation of harmful cigarette chemicals. But a new study has found that these restrictions may not be enough: compounds in tobacco smoke can penetrate well-ventilated, non-smoking rooms and even cinemas by attaching compounds to people’s clothes, skin and hair.
Georg Matt, a psychologist at San Diego State University who wasn’t involved in the study, said the findings are interesting. He spent 20 years studying the third-hand smoke left on the surface of a surface in tobacco smoke. He and his colleagues have been wondering why smoking-free indoor areas are often contaminated with cigarette chemicals. For example, one study found that third-hand smoke remained in empty rooms two months after smokers moved out, while another found that after smoking bans, three-handed cigarettes stayed in casinos for six months.
But most of the research focuses on recently smoked indoor spaces. Drew Gentner, an environmental engineer at Yale University and lead author of the study, said the new study focused on a cinema in Mainz, Germany, which has a 15-year-old strict smoking ban, enough to remove pre-smoking pollutants. To determine the air quality inside the theater, Gentner and others placed a mass spectrometer on a ventilation duct in the theater, a machine that measures chemicals. The device monitors the air as the audience moves in and out of the theater and watches the movie.
Researchers found a sharp rise in the levels of 35 tobacco-related chemicals, including toxic compounds such as benzene and formaldehyde, when audiences entered the theater in four days, the researchers reported in Science Advances. Since the theatre strictly prohibits smoking, the only way pollutants can enter is to stick to the clothes and bodies of the smoking audience.
When movie shows such as “Biochemical Crisis” were shown in cinemas, the amount of smoke in the third hand was 200 percent higher than when you watched the family movie “Wendy”. The researchers say this is because intense films attract older audiences who are more likely to be exposed to cigarette smoke in the near future. In a typical action movie, Gentner says, the audience smokes passively the equivalent of one to 10 cigarettes.
Matt says the findings suggest that smokers or people who have been in contact with cigarettes carry these compounds and deposit them as they slowly spread. Peter DeCarlo, an air pollution expert at The University of Hanjos Perkins who was not involved in the study, explains that the process is called “degassing”, which is why smokers smell cigarettes. “You can’t smell the chemicals attached to your clothes, but you’re smelling those falling.” He said.
All of this suggests that harmful pollutants in tobacco smoke may put non-smokers at risk, though it is not known how much they pose, the researchers said. (The harmful effects of second-hand smoke have been identified.) They expect exposure to three-handed smoke in confined and poorly ventilated spaces, such as subway cars and small rooms at home, to be a bigger problem.
DeCarlo hopes the research will raise awareness of tobacco toxins that may exist in smoke-free buildings. At the same time, Matt says it may be unrealistic to expect smokers or people around them to shower and wash before going to public places, “the only solution … is to be the only one. it’s about reducing smoking rates.”