Policy-relevant differences between secondhand and thirdhand smoke: strengthening protections from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke pollutants

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Journal Article

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Starting in the 1970s, individuals, businesses and the public have increasingly benefited from policies prohibiting smoking indoors, saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars in healthcare expenditures. Smokefree policies to protect against secondhand smoke exposure, however, do not fully protect the public from the persistent and toxic chemical residues from tobacco smoke (also known as thirdhand smoke) that linger in indoor environments for years after smoking stops. Nor do these policies address the economic costs that individuals, businesses and the public bear in their attempts to remediate this toxic residue. We discuss policy-relevant differences between secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke exposure: persistent pollutant reservoirs, pollutant transport, routes of exposure, the time gap between initial cause and effect, and remediation and disposal. We examine four policy considerations to better protect the public from involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke pollutants from all sources. We call for (a) redefining smokefree as free of tobacco smoke pollutants from secondhand and thirdhand smoke; (b) eliminating exemptions to comprehensive smoking bans; (c) identifying indoor environments with significant thirdhand smoke reservoirs; and (d) remediating thirdhand smoke. We use the case of California as an example of how secondhand smoke-protective laws may be strengthened to encompass thirdhand smoke protections. The health risks and economic costs of thirdhand smoke require that smokefree policies, environmental protections, real estate and rental disclosure policies, tenant protections, and consumer protection laws be strengthened to ensure that the public is fully protected from and informed about the risks of thirdhand smoke exposure.


Tobacco Control

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