New publication on tobacco waste in children

The results of a study conducted by the University of San Diego and the University of Cincinnati in the United States on the presence of nicotine residues in the hands of boys and girls were published on February 7. The article, published in the journal JAMA Network Open (1), shows that both children living in exposed and non-smoking environments have nicotine residues on their hands.

The so-called “thirdhand smoke” or “tobacco dust” is the chemical residue that adheres to surfaces as a result of smoking tobacco; be it furniture, walls, clothes, etc. People are exposed to second-hand smoke by touching contaminated surfaces if they have not been properly cleaned.

The study, conducted in 2020 and 2021, looked at nicotine levels in the hands of 504 children under the age of 12 through a cotton swab by the fingers of the child’s dominant hand. These results were compared with information reported by families about exposure to tobacco at home (smoking cohabiting members, smoking areas, etc.).

The results of the analysis showed that of the children classified as “exposed to tobacco”, 97.9% had nicotine residues on their hands. Surprisingly, of the children classified as “protected from tobacco exposure”, 95.2% also showed nicotine residues; that is, there were no major differences between the two groups. The review of socio-demographic data also showed an association between the economic level and the presence of nicotine (plus family income, less nicotine).

The health risks of contact with second-hand smoke substances are still poorly defined, but there are already some studies linking their exposure to resistance to insulin, lung or liver disease. In children, it is also associated with brain development.

Studies like this point to the fact that tobacco protection measures for children, traditionally focused on keeping smokers away from children or increasing ventilation in spaces, may also need to include exposure to thirdhand smoke.


The text has been written by Neus Rosell, project manager of BiSC.