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The nose knows: thirdhand smoke alarm.

EVERYONE knows you inhale "secondhand smoke" in a room where someone else is smoking. But what do you inhale in a room where someone smoked the day before? If your answer was "virtually nothing," you are sadly misinformed about the hazards of "thirdhand smoke." Or so say the authors of an article in the January issue of Pediatrics, who were troubled to find that only 65 percent of nonsmokers and 43 percent of smokers "agreed that thirdhand smoke harms children." Then again, the researchers, led by pediatrician Jonathan Winickoff, only just coined the term, so it may take a while to catch on.

The levels of toxins and carcinogens absorbed through secondhand smoke are so much lower than the doses smokers receive that attempts to measure their effects push the limits of epidemiology. The levels in thirdhand smoke are lower still, so perhaps it's not surprising that Winickoff and his colleagues do not bother to show that such tiny traces pose a significant hazard to children (or anyone else). They simply assert, as an article of faith, that "there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke."


Instead of the toxicological principle that the dose makes the poison, Winickoffurges a smell test, which tells us to fear a fellow elevator rider who has recently smoked a cigarette. "Your nose isn't lying," he told The New York Times. "The stuff is so toxic that your brain is telling you: 'Get away.'"

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Title Annotation:Citings
Author:Sullum, Jacob
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
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