Does the person beside you smell like smoke? The nasty odour that clings to smokers’ clothes when they get in the subway now has a name: Third-hand smoke.

And this invisible stuff is bad for our health.

Third-hand smoke is essentially the residue left on surfaces after the cigarette is extinguished. It lurks on sofas, clothes, carpeting, food, hair and even skin. It can make people wheeze or make their throats scratchy. And it has a stronger effect on children than adults.

“Understanding that third-hand smoke harms infants and children may help insure completely smoke-free homes and cars,” Dr. Jonathan Winickoff from the Center for Child and Adolescent Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston told Metro. “They’re getting a higher dose when in contact with surfaces that are coated with these toxic layers.”

Dr. Winickoff and colleagues recently conducted a study that showed 65 per cent of non-smokers but only 43 per cent of smokers believe third-hand smoke harms children. Results of the study were published online in the journal Pediatrics on Dec. 29, 2008. Media outlets around the world picked up the new expression used in the study: “third-hand smoke.”

The risks of first-hand and second-hand smoke are well-established. Smoking accounts for about 85 per cent of new cases of lung cancer. There are 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, and 50 of them are carcinogenic.

While the health dangers of third-hand smoke haven’t been studied in detail, second-hand smoke exposure increases your chances of developing lung cancer by 25 per cent and heart disease by 10 per cent.

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