That's what a lot of people were asking at the 2009 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair in Reno a few months ago. Two 16 year olds in San Antonio, Texas, worked together to try and find out. Keystone High's Sehar Anjum Salman and Jada Nicole Dalley showed that third hand smoke—all the toxic chemicals left behind on furniture, car upholstery or clothing after the cigarette smoke floats away—produces as many mutations in newborn fruit flies as second hand smoke—when someone blows their cigarette smoke near you and you breathe it in.
These photos taken by Jada and Sehar show some of the fruit flies they used for their study. Different genetic mutations can affect the color and shape of the flies' eyes, the color of their bodies, the shape of their wings, the number of bristles they have, and many other features. Compare the normal fruit fly (left) with the mutant fruit fly (right) - do you see a difference? (Hint: the mutant fruit fly is probably going to have some trouble flying).
Sehar and Jada won a First Place NIDA Addiction Science Award at the Super Bowl of science fairs for cleverly showing the dangers of third hand smoke—something scientists don't know a lot about. It makes you think twice about hanging out with smokers, even if they're not lighting up! For more information on Sehar and Jada's project, see NIDA's Web site.
You probably know that smoking is NOT cool—and that it’s really dangerous, too. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and kills nearly a half a million people each year. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke have been linked to serious long-term side effects, including cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and even death. People who smoke may become infertile, and pregnant women who smoke are more at risk for stillbirths, having babies with low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it will require prominent cigarette health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. Check out the new warning labels here: http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/Labeling/CigaretteWarningLabels/default.htm.
But cigarette smoking doesn’t just affect the smoker—“secondhand” smoke also affects families and friends and many thousands of others. Secondhand smoke is exactly what it sounds like: nonsmokers inhale the smoke that “firsthand” smokers exhale from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that each year, secondhand smoke causes as many as 3,400 lung cancer-related deaths in the United States.
So, if you want a longer, healthier life, better to indulge in activities like sports, yoga, running, and spending time with friends and family.
Many of us don’t realize how much secondhand smoke we inhale each day. We tend to forget about the person smoking outside a restaurant or sitting on a park bench. People’s smoking in the apartment next door affects us as well.
While these encounters with secondhand smoke seem harmless, they can mean a lot to your health.
- Secondhand smoke contains many of the same chemicals as inhaled smoke.
- According to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, effects of secondhand smoke kill 42,000 Americans each year, including nearly 900 infants.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer in a healthy nonsmoker.
- Another recent study found that people exposed to secondhand smoke have higher rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
To figure out your level of secondhand smoke exposure, doctors can measure the amount of cotinine in your blood, saliva, or urine. Cotinine is the chemical created by the body when nicotine is metabolized. Measuring cotinine levels is more accurate than relying on people to remember how much exposure they have to smoking.
How can you avoid secondhand smoke?
- Politely ask people not to smoke around you.
- Don’t allow smoking in your home or car.
- Encourage people to use designated smoking areas that are far away from building entrances and crowded areas.
- Encourage friends and family members who want to quit smoking.
Are you worried about being exposed to more smoke than you thought? What can you do to reduce your exposure?