Household Dust, Surfaces Trap Cigarette Smoke

Hidden Sources of Secondhand Smoke May Put Children at Risk

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 23, 2004 -- Smokers who attempt to reduce the risks that cigarette smoke poses to their children by smoking in a different room, when others aren't home, or outdoors may not be fully protecting their family.

A new study shows household dust and surfaces can trap cigarette smoke and its toxic byproducts and serve as major sources of secondhand smoke exposure for infants and children.

Researchers say that over several weeks, household dust and surfaces can expose infants to levels of contaminants from secondhand smoke that are equivalent to several hours of exposure to active adult smoking.

The study shows smoking outside the home and away from the infant can reduce this exposure but doesn't completely protect the home from contamination or protect infants from secondhand smoke exposure.

Cigarette Smoke Lurks in Household Dust, Surfaces

In the study, researchers collected dust and surface wipe samples from the living rooms and children's bedrooms of 49 homes where a child between the ages of 2 months and 12 months lived. Urine samples were collected from the infant to measure byproducts of nicotine. Air nicotine monitors were placed in the living rooms of the homes and in the infants' bedrooms. Smokers lived in 34 of the homes, and the other half were occupied by nonsmokers.

In 17 of the homes where a smoker resided, the smoker attempted to protect the child by smoking outdoors, and the others made no such attempts.

The study showed levels of secondhand smoke contaminant and exposure in infants in homes where smokers attempted to protect their children by smoking outside were up to seven times higher than as those found in nonsmoking homes.

Smoking outside the home did offer some, if not full protection, though. Levels of tobacco contaminants and infant exposure were eight times higher in homes where smokers smoked regularly indoors than in those where smokers went outside.

Researchers say children and infants are particularly vulnerable to the tobacco contaminants found in dust and on household surfaces because they spend more time indoors and are close to the contaminated surfaces.

They say the toxic components of cigarette smoke rapidly disperse into the air and undergo chemical changes that allow them to be absorbed into the walls, floors, furniture, clothes, toys, and other household surfaces.

Researchers say the findings show that parents cannot easily control exposure to secondhand smoke through indoor smoking bans because the smoke components can remain in the home even if the smoking took place days, weeks, and months earlier.

"Smokers will find it difficult -- if not impossible -- to protect their children from [environmental smoke exposure] and its toxic components," write researcher G.E. Matt, PhD, of San Diego State University, and colleagues.