STRATFORD, CT - The Town of Stratford Health Department has launched a groundbreaking public awareness campaign that raises awareness about the dangers of smoking in cars and "third hand smoke." Third hand smoke refers to the poisonous chemicals that remain long after a cigarette has been put out. The initiative, which launched January 1, 2013, encourages residents to quit smoking and live smoke-free. A consumer-friendly website, SmokeStinks.org, offers information in English and Spanish about third hand smoke, facts, smoking cessation resources, and much more. Stratford is the first community in the country to launch a public awareness campaign about third hand smoke.
"We are happy to learn about the recent proposal to ban smoking in cars carrying young children because driving around in a car where someone has been smoking is the equivalent of strapping yourself and your passengers in to a toxic mobile ashtray," stated Greta Roberts, Assistant Director of Health. "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."
What is Third Hand Smoke and Why is it Bad?
Still considered a relatively new term, third hand smoke refers to the dangerous chemicals that stick around long after a cigarette has been put out. These chemicals include arsenic, nicotine, lead, and formaldehyde, just to name a few. Unlike second handsmoke, a person does not have to be actively smoking for someone to be exposed.
Third hand smoke gets into everything - hair, skin, clothing, carpet, car seats, blankets, walls, furniture, toys, and dust. It's invisible - you can't see it, but you can smell it. These dangerous chemicals can be breathed in, absorbed through the skin, or swallowed.
Children exposed to third hand smoke may get sick more often with wheezing, coughing, ear infections, bronchitis or pneumonia. In addition, children with asthma may have asthma attacks that are more severe or more frequent. Some research also shows that third hand smoke contains cancer-causing substances.
Roberts explained, "How do you know if you've been exposed to third hand smoke? Easy: If it still stinks, it's still there."
Who is at Risk?
Everyone is at risk, but children are especially at risk because they crawl on, touch, and breathe near surfaces that have been exposed to smoke. They swallow these poisons when they put their hands in their mouths after playing with a toy or crawling on a floor that is contaminated.
"Many smokers think they are protecting their families by not smoking when they are present, often saying, 'I don't smoke when the kids are in the car.' We now know that the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke linger and can cause serious harm," Roberts continued. "We aim to encourage residents to take advantage of the fresh start a new year represents and quit smoking."
What can someone do about it?
There is no safe level of tobacco smoke. The best way to protect you and your family is to live smoke-free. Research shows what works and doesn't work to reduce exposure if someone is not prepared to quit smoking.
What doesn't work:
Airing out rooms
Opening windows in your home or car
Smoking in you car or home when your child is not around
Smoking in only one room of your house
Using fans or an air conditioner
What does work:
Smoking outside of your home and car
Covering up with a jacket and hat to wear outside when smoking
Leaving that smoky jacket and hat outside
Washing your hands and face after smoking
Not allowing your child in places where people smoke
"Our message to folks who aren't ready to quit but who want to protect their families: Go out. Cover up. Wash up. Then it's okay to pick up your child."
The campaign is generously funded through an EPA Healthy Communities grant. Stratford's campaign is considered a pilot program. All of the educational materials will be available online for other municipalities around the country to access and use in their communities.
To learn more about third hand smoke, get help quitting, and view the campaign resources, visit SmokeStinks.org.