Snuffing ‘third-hand’ smoke; Stratford Health Department sparks national campaign

The Stratford Health Department has created a public awareness campaign that warns of the dangers of smoking in cars and “third-hand smoke.”

Third-hand smoke refers to the poisonous chemicals that remain in upholstery, clothing, even the interior walls of a house long after a cigarette has been put out.

Third-hand smoke gets into everything — hair, skin, clothing, carpet, car seats, blankets, walls, furniture, toys, and dust, according to the campaign. You can’t see it, but you can smell it. These dangerous chemicals include arsenic, nicotine and lead; all can be inhaled, absorbed through the skin, or swallowed.

The initiative for local, regional and national awareness, which launched here Jan. 1, considers that everyone is at risk, especially children, because they crawl on, touch and breathe near contaminated surfaces, then put their hands in their mouths.

The Health Department has a local child health assessment survey indicating that almost 20% of parents of newborns to 8-year-olds allow smoking in their home. In some neighborhoods the percentage is higher, according to Assistant Health Director Greta Roberts Broneill, who is administering the program.

“This is a really important issue that hasn’t been talked about,” Broneill said. “We’re interested in protecting kids.”

Organizers said children exposed to third-hand smoke may get sick more often, experiencing wheezing, coughing, ear infections, bronchitis, or pneumonia. Children with asthma may have more severe or more frequent attacks. Some research also shows that third-hand smoke contains cancer-causing substances.

“Driving around in a car where someone has been smoking is the equivalent of strapping yourself and your passengers into a toxic mobile ashtray,” Broneill said. “While many people have never heard the term ‘third-hand smoke,’ everyone knows what it is. We’ve all gotten into a car or stayed in a home or hotel room that still smells like smoke because of the last person who was there. That’s third-hand smoke.”


Stratford is first

Stratford is the first community in the country to launch a public awareness campaign about third-hand smoke. With the local health assessment research about smoking in hand, Health Department staff applied for and received a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. In that application process, Stratford suggested to EPA that it would use some of the grant money for a new awareness campaign about third-hand smoke.

Print materials are now being distributed through the town’s partners around the state, including doctors’ offices and health centers, and the materials will also be displayed locally. A website,, offers information in English and Spanish about third-hand smoke, smoking cessation resources and more, and it is gaining national exposure for the campaign.


Steps to take

The campaign encourages smokers to quit smoking and live smoke-free, because there is no safe level of tobacco smoke.

Some will continue to expose children to smoke and the chemicals it leaves behind. Broneill would like those people to take several steps: Smoke outside of the house and car, cover up with a jacket and hat to wear outside when smoking, leave that smoky jacket and hat outside, wash hands and face after smoking, and do not allow a child in places where people smoke.

Broneill explained that airing out rooms, opening windows in a house or car, smoking in a car or home when a child is not around, smoking in only one room of a house, and using fans or an air conditioner do not eliminate or reduce third-hand smoke.

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