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New cig peril: Third-hand smoke coats puffers in poison

Deadly 'electronic gaspers' fingered, too

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US federal boffins in Berkeley, California say they have discovered yet another deadly hazard associated with smoking. They also raise warnings regarding the perils associated with electronic cigarettes.

The dangers of actually smoking a cigarette, and those from breathing a smoker's "second hand" smoke were well-known: but now we learn of that insidious killer "third hand smoke".

"The burning of tobacco releases nicotine in the form of a vapor that adsorbs strongly onto indoor surfaces, such as walls, floors, carpeting, drapes and furniture. Nicotine can persist on those materials for days, weeks and even months. Our study shows that when this residual nicotine reacts with ambient nitrous acid it forms carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines or TSNAs," says Hugo Destaillats of the Indoor Environment Department at Berkeley Lab. "TSNAs are among the most broadly acting and potent carcinogens present in unburned tobacco and tobacco smoke."

Basically it isn't enough to banish smokers to an outdoor area, there to suck and gasp on their burning sooty treats. As they do so, their clothes and skin will become coated with deadly nicotine, which will then react with nitrous acid floating inside a building - usually generated by "unvented gas appliances" or diesel engines, apparently - to form a slick of poisonous slime which they will drip everywhere in the style of giant, evil snails.

"Smoking outside is better than smoking indoors but nicotine residues will stick to a smoker's skin and clothing," says Lara Gundel of the Berkeley Lab. "Those residues follow a smoker back inside and get spread everywhere. The biggest risk is to young children. Dermal uptake of the nicotine through a child's skin is likely to occur when the smoker returns and if nitrous acid is in the air, which it usually is, then TSNAs will be formed."

And don't think you're getting away with the use of a so-called "electronic cigarette". These battery powered in-mouth devices vapourise a nicotine solution into a mist, allowing a hopeless drug-slave to get his or her fix without generating any first or second-hand smoke. But the nicotine fog, according to the Berkeley researchers, will still generate third-hand smoko-slime, and kill children by the score.

It seems that only "100 percent smoke free environments in public places" - presumably meaning not even outdoor smoking - can be acceptably healthy. In the case of buildings where "substantial smoking" has occurred in the past, the Berkeley profs recommend that the carpets, walls, furniture and ceilings be replaced.

There's more on the new discoveries here. ®

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