ask an expert: thirdhand smoke

Lynn Shizumura
Hawaii Department of Health
January 08, 2019

Everyone knows about secondhand smoke. But mention thirdhand smoke and people have lots of questions. What is it? Where is it? What can they do about it? Lila Johnson of the Hawaii Department of Health’s tobacco prevention and education program has answers.

Q: What’s thirdhand smoke?
A: Thirdhand smoke is tobacco residue that can linger in the air and build up on surfaces in your home, car, or anywhere you smoke or have smoked. Cigarettes, cigars, and electronic cigarettes can produce it.

Q: Is it dangerous?
A: Yes, evidence is mounting that thirdhand smoke particles are toxic and can become more dangerous with age. Nicotine in thirdhand smoke forms cancer-causing substances, which can then be inhaled, absorbed, or ingested. Exposure to thirdhand smoke poses health problems, including increasing the risk of respiratory illnesses and potentially causing cancer over time. 

Q: What can I do to prevent thirdhand smoke in my home or car?
A: Smoking outside is better than smoking in your home or car. However, you’ll still have tobacco residue in your skin, hair, and clothes. To stop the spread of tobacco residue, it’s recommended that you change your clothes and wash your hands after smoking anywhere. And of course, the best way to prevent thirdhand smoke in and around your home is to stop smoking in those areas or to quit smoking.

Q: Can I test for thirdhand smoke?
A: There isn’t a test we can recommend. But if you’ve smoked in your home, there’s a good chance there’s tobacco residue on your furniture and other household surfaces. To try to remove it, wash your walls with hot water and detergent, clean out ventilation ducts, and replace furniture and carpeting. You can also call a restoration company for assistance.  

Q: Where can I go for more information?
A: Read more about thirdhand smoke from the National Center for Health Research. For help quitting smoking, call the Hawaii Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW. 

Got a health or well-being question for an expert? Write to us at

Share this article

By commenting, you agree to Island Scene's Terms of Use.