Can We Just Ban Them and Be Done With It?

I tell you these Nanny State types really are grating. Now it isn’t just second hand smoke, but third hand smoke. What is third hand smoke? That smell from people that have just had a cigerette. That is apparently a super duper deadly toxic brew of chemicals that can KILL!!! Run!!!!

Third-hand smoke is what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette, he said, or in a hotel room where people were smoking. “Your nose isn’t lying,” he said. “The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: ’Get away.’”

This reminds me of the scene in The Ice Storm where Elijah Wood is talking about molecules and how when you smell the odor of fecal matter in a bathroom you are really breathing in feces molecules.

Because of molecules we are connected to the outside world from our bodies. Like when you smell things, because when you smell a smell it’s not really a smell, it’s a part of the object that has come off of it, molecules. So when you smell something bad, it’s like in a way you’re eating it. This is why you should not really smell things, in the same way that you don’t eat everything in the world around you because as a smell, it gets inside of you. So the next time you go into the bathroom after someone else has been there, remember what kinds of molecules you are in fact eating.–Mikey Carver (Elijah Wood)

Anyways, back to the article,

Among the substances in third-hand smoke are hydrogen cyanide, used in chemical weapons; butane, which is used in lighter fluid; toluene, found in paint thinners; arsenic; lead; carbon monoxide; and even polonium-210, the highly radioactive carcinogen that was used to murder former Russian spy Alexander V. Litvinenko in 2006. Eleven of the compounds are highly carcinogenic.

I love this. Cyanide is used in chemcial weapons! OMGWTF?!?!?! What you might also find interesting is that cyanide compounds are given off by a plethora of household items when burned. For example, all that tupper ware you have sitting in your kitchen? Basically a pile of chemical weapons. The foam in various furniture cushions? Chemical weapons. Even wool and silk when burned….chemical weapons. And sodium nitroprusside, a cyanide compound that is used in hospitals to reduce the blood pressure of people in hypertensive emergency….chemical weapon. I know, calling plastic food storage containers, foam cushions, a wool sweater, and a drug used in hospital emergencies a chemical weapon is ridiculous. But so is implying the minute amounts of cyanide given off by a person who just had a butt a chemical weapon ridiculous. Also several of these chemicals are found in household products.

Granted, the notion of smoking near an infant or while in the car with your infant–even with the window cracked–is probably not a good idea. The idea behind the danger of toxic substances is that the does makes the poison. A minute dose (i.e. a smoker passing you in the hallway at work) of something like cyanide is very unlikely to have an impact. However, infants are more susceptible to toxins than older children and especially adults. If you are a smoker and you plan on having kids, you should quit. At the very least it will be good for you, and you’ll likely be around longer to enjoy your kids. But if you decide not too, this idea that the smell that lingers on your clothes is a danger? Probably not the case. If you went to your pediatrician after passing a guy who was working with paints and paint thinners most of the day worried and frantic, he’d probably be a bit upset with you.

And one last thing, the article doesn’t correctly describe the study. The study isn’t about determining the dangers of third hand smoke, but about people’s attitudes towards it once they are feed the information about cyanide being a chemical weapon. In short, it is a poll of how people’s attitudes change and one of the basic beliefs of the doctors doing the study is that there is no such thing as a safe level of exposure to cigerette smoke. Even exposure for a millisecond is dangerous.

FILED UNDER: Health, Religion, Science & Technology, ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Michael says:

    As you mentioned, it’s not what chemicals you are exposed to, it’s how much you are exposed to. I’m still in the camp that believe second hand smoke is too much involuntary exposure to harmful chemicals. But third hand? That’s stretching quite a bit.

    However, it we can use it to bar people who don’t bathe as often as they should, or who wear way to much perfume/cologne/hair spray from using public elevators, I might be persuaded to support it.

  2. markm says:

    Ah yes, covered third hand methane too.

  3. Franklin says:

    To be fair, the chemicals in some plastic containers (BPA) and fire-resistant mattresses have now been shown to cause some real measureable health issues, or at least measured accumulation of toxins in the body. So if somebody does an actual scientific survey of the long-term effects of prolonged exposure to third-hand smoke (say you work for 20 years next to a guy who goes out for a smoke break every hour), then fine it might be legitimate.

    On the other hand, if this is just another fear-mongering study and article, your outrage is justified.

  4. caj says:

    Smoking is just nasty and unhealthy period and people who don’t smoke should not have to endure the same smoke filled space that smokers create.
    If they want to “kill” themselves with these nasty things go and do it in their own space away from the public.

  5. Did you know that over 2,000 people were killed by DHMO (dihydrogen monoxide) poisoning in the United States alone last year?

  6. Michael says:

    Did you know that over 2,000 people were killed by DHMO (dihydrogen monoxide) poisoning in the United States alone last year?

    Poisoning or asphyxiation?

  7. teqjack says:

    Sure, the attitudes of people changed when they were told there was horrible stuff from smoking left on clothes that might be chewed by infants.

    Now, do a follow-up study of attitude changing when they are told about the horrible stuff left on clothes that are washed with soap/detergents/bleach (or, worse, dry cleaning residues) by a far larger part of our population.

    Or, come to it, rain. Hydrogen sulfide? Yep. And lots of other stuff.

  8. ken says:

    Smoking, like crapping, is not illegal. But both are actions that are subject to legitimate governmental control on when and where such action can take place. And if the government has no laws prohibiting people from walking around with feces smeared all over themselves it is because it is not commonly done. Smoke, on the other hand, readily clings to smokers who then walk around exposing others to their vile stink. I have no problem outlawing such rude and harmful behavior.

  9. Floyd says:

    It looks like we’re just one step closer to the point when reasonable people stage a long overdue backlash!

  10. Clovis says:

    Shorter caj: Smokers=teh Ick.

    I would like to see a spectroscopic analysis of what goes into those Airwick cones that start rubbery and end leathery.

    No way those things are from this planet; they’ve got to be poisoning us somehow.

  11. MarkedMan says:

    Don’t disagree with your overall tone but have to take exception when you start listing common household items, point out that they are like chemical weapons when burnt, but then come to the conclusion that this means we should all just chill out. If there are any trained firemen out there, I’d like to hear what they say, but I know that common plastics found in say, airplanes, release fumes when burned that can literally wreck your lungs in a few breaths. It’s no joke, and it’s one of the reasons most people don’t make it to the escape doors during (fortunately rare) airplane fires on the ground.

  12. Steve Plunk says:

    Steve V. asks why not just ban them? Because there’s revenue in them thar smokes. Government can’t just ban something that provides a revenue stream.

    We also have to remember if we start banning things there will be no end. First cigs, then alcohol, fatty foods, sugar, extreme sports, the list goes on and on.

  13. Steve Verdon says:

    Don’t disagree with your overall tone but have to take exception when you start listing common household items, point out that they are like chemical weapons when burnt, but then come to the conclusion that this means we should all just chill out.

    It isn’t that they aren’t dangerous, it is that people aren’t running around like chickens with their heads cut-off over home fires.

    Here is another example. There are now advocates to basically end even running on playgrounds. Why? Kids playing on play grounds can fall and get hurt and some even die. How many? Well when I was reading about the issue, 17 kids died. I looked for data on school shooting deaths and that the average number of children shot and killed at school was something like 2x that number or about 34 (per year).

    Now…do parents get all excited and panic sending their kids to school dressed in a kevlar suit? No. So why get bothered about kids playing on playgrounds?

    What is completely missing from these kinds of scary story pieces of Bravo Sierra is any form of relative risks. Your baby is probably more likley to die from a cobra strike than third hand smoke. But what the Hell lets phone some people, scare them then write up the results and get it published.

  14. Steve Verdon says:

    Steve V. asks why not just ban them? Because there’s revenue in them thar smokes. Government can’t just ban something that provides a revenue stream.

    I know I was being somewhat sarcastic in my title.

    We also have to remember if we start banning things there will be no end. First cigs, then alcohol, fatty foods, sugar, extreme sports, the list goes on and on.

    Never liked the idea of bungee jumping, sky diving or skiing anyways. Get rid of them, I’m cool with it.

    Just kidding on that last one.

    Oh, and here is a link to the post the war between Nanny State Nincompoops in regards to fat kids and the inherent dangers of school playgrounds, with school shooting tossed in for shits and giggles.

    Here is the problem, a complete and total inability of people to understand relative risks, probabilities, and uncertainty, and a completely stupid desire to be safe from everything.

  15. Michael says:

    Steve V. asks why not just ban them? Because there’s revenue in them thar smokes.

    Oh, banning cigarettes. I thought he wanted to ban the whiners.

  16. Drew says:

    Although there are reasonable limits to exposure to certain chemicals, the current hysteria is laughable.

    We have an organ called the liver, people. A main function of this organ is to break down into eliminatable chemicals all the various insults to our bodies we encounter – naturally and otherwise. This organ is amazingly efficient and resilient. These chemical insults include byproducts of foods we eat, bacteria from infection, the bug you swallowed on your bike ride………and man made stuff, like 3rd hand smoke.

    Yes, smoking Camels is indeed over the top. But 3rd hand smoke? Get a grip. This is silly.

  17. MatthewG says:

    It also doesn’t address the main problem with smokers and “third-hand smoke” which is that they smell like a homeless man’s morning crap. Say what you want about the studies on health benefits, but there’s no denying that smokers stink, that everything around them stinks, and that you will stink for the rest of the day if you stand next to someone having a cigarette. And then they’ll act like you’re the one that’s crazy for not wanting to enjoy the smell of burning dog hair while you are in a restaurant.

  18. Barbara says:

    Tupperware is one word.

  19. Katy says:

    I don’t believe at all that adults are significantly harmed by ‘third-hand smoke’, but I do think there’s a very real danger to babies. they have less ability to process these things, less mass, etc. Not to mention that although you and I do not snuggle up to the smoker next to us and sink our noses into their general stinky odor, babies get picked up by their smoker relatives or parents and often sit for long periods with their faces right next to the smoker’s clothes – clothes which no doubt have all kinds of noxious chemicals deposited on them, judging from the smell of my clothes when I come home from a party.

    I think we do no favors to anyone when we oversell risks and danger and don’t focus on the truly vulnerable.

  20. Benjo says:

    As it turns out, this article was completely fabricated, out of the ashes of an article about a completely different, and actually legitimate, problem: third-hand fart. My colleague Edward J. Albenstein wrote the original article and submitted it to the Times just before the new year. I detailed the whole chain of events, including excerpts from both articles, here.

  21. Chris says:

    I’m no proponent of nanny states or the long arm of the law imposing smoking bans. However your argument of comparing household items — which are also carcinogenic — to cigarettes is a little offmark. Cigarettes are meant to be burned (and are), while the household items are not (and don’t, unless in a very rare house fire). Not the best analogy there. Sorry.

  22. corprip says:

    Good to see the faith in the free market to regulate itself still endures.