The researchers tested what occurred when residual nicotine from tobacco smoke came into contact with nitrous acid (HONO), a compound typically found in indoor environments.
Besides high-tech lab testing, they also examined the surface of a stainless-steel glove compartment (and its cellulose-based substructure) in a light-duty pickup truck routinely used by a heavy smoker. During the three days of testing, 34 cigarettes were smoked inside the truck.
The researchers found that nicotine and HONO did interact, giving rise to the development of compounds known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines. These compounds, they said, are designated carcinogens that have been shown to cause mutations in animals.
They also found that more than half of the nitrosamines that had formed in the study's testing environments endured for more than two hours after all cigarette smoke had dispersed.
Destaillats stressed that beyond proving that such compounds form in reaction to third-hand smoke, the research team could not say what health impact the compounds might or might not have on people exposed to them.
"We did not measure that. That is beyond our study," Destaillats said. "Of course, I would certainly hope that other scientists and public health toxicologists would take a look at this process and consider these new pollutants that have been overlooked before."
Thomas J. Glynn, director of cancer science and trends for the American Cancer Society, described inquiry into the potential hazards of third-hand smoke as the "next logical step in the exploration of what cigarette smoke does to you."
"We've known for at least 50 years, if not more, that first-hand smoke can make you sick and can kill you," he said, noting that each year cigarettes kill more than 400,000 Americans and 5 million people w
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