Professor Simon Chapman and third hand smoke

As the debate on second hand smoke rages on the anti tobacco lobby have moved onto third hand smoke (THS). Whereby the residue of chemicals exhaled onto surfaces and the smoker’s clothes constitutes a health hazard. Here is an article published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in January 2011 where he concludes “The omission of this information in such reports risks harming the credibility of tobacco control.”

“Many constituents of third hand smoke can be found in all homes and cars, regardless of smoking

  • Simon Chapman, Professor of Public Health

University of Sydney

Matt et al’s demonstration that nicotine can be detected in house dust, on surfaces and on fingers in homes formerly occupied by smokers[1] is used as a springboard to promote concern about third hand smoke(THS)[2]. Given the rudimentary nature of most domestic cleaning and the common experience of the distinctive smell of stale tobacco smoke, few will find it surprising that traces of nicotine can be found in smokers’ homes long after they have vacated them.

While Schick notes several times that the health consequences of this level of exposure are unknown, the title of her editorial says that THS is “here to stay”[2], presumably an intended pun suggesting that concerns about the health implications of THS are now established. Schick notes that nicotine “and all the other things that go along with it” can pollute houses. But the soup of gases, fine and ultra-fine particles in tobacco smoke that include irritants, toxins and carcinogens has much in common with smoke emitted as pyrolisis products from the combustion of other organic matter: when you breath wood smoke[3], cooking smoke[4] or petroleum smoke[5], you are exposed to many of the very same irritants and carcinogens that are also in tobacco smoke.

So why did Matt et al consider only nicotine? There is not a house anywhere that is not finely carpeted with many of the very same pyrolysis compounds “that go along with” nicotine but which originate from everyday activities like heating, cooking, candles, electrical appliances, and leaving windows and doors open to allow household exposure to motor transport fumes. Had they done so, equally “alarming” information about all our houses would have emerged to give their findings some important perspective.

The evidence base that has supported indoor smoking restrictions is concentrated around fine particle (PM2.5) concentrations emitted in unhealthy abundance by smoking[6] and on the evidence of harm from particularly chronic exposure to those particles and what they contain. While nicotine is often used as a marker for secondhand smoke exposure and not benign[7], nicotine is far from being the chief health concern.

Ott and Seigmann[8] and Wallace and Ott[9] provide data on fine and ultra-fine particle emissions from different sources: “Controlled experiments with 10 cigarettes averaged 0.15 ng mm-2 … ambient wood smoke averaged 0.29 ng mm-2 or about twice those of cigarettes and cigars … In-vehicle exposures measured on 43 and 50 min drives on a California arterial highway gave PC/DC ratios of 0.42 and 0.58 ng mm-2 … Interstate highways had PC/DC ratios of approximately 0.5 ng mm-2 with ratios above 1 ng mm-2 when driving behind diesel trucks. These PC/DC ratios were higher than the ”signature” value of the cigarette (0.11-0.19 ngmm-2)measured in a large Indian gaming casino with smoking.” [8]

Tobacco smoke also contains ultra-fine particles. Other sources of ultra-fine particles (UFPs) include “laser printers, fax machines, photocopiers, the peeling of citrus fruits, cooking, penetration of contaminated outdoor air, chimney cracks and vacuum cleaners.”[8] Wallace and Ott’s data on concentrations of UFPs in restaurants and cars found “cooking on gas or electric stoves and electric toaster ovens was a major source of UFP, with peak personal exposures often exceeding 100,000 particles/cm3 …. Other common sources of high UFP exposures [in restaurants] were cigarettes, a vented gas clothes dryer, an air popcorn popper, candles, an electric mixer, a toaster, a hair dryer, a curling iron, and a steam iron.”[9]

It is important that research documents residuals from tobacco smoke. But it is equally important that consumers and policy makers are not led to believe that the chemical compounds thus located are somehow unique to tobacco smoke. Unless in the extremely unlikely event that residents burn copious quantities of solanaceous vegetables (aubergine, tomato) which contain small amounts of nicotine, tobacco is going to be the only source of nicotine in homes. But it will not by any means be the only source of many of the ingredients of “third hand smoke” that the unwitting or the fumophobic may believe are attributable only to smoking. The omission of this information in such reports risks harming the credibility of tobacco control.


1. Matt, G.E., et al., When smokers move out and non-smokers move in: residential thirdhand smoke pollution and exposure. Tob Control, 2011. 20(1): p. e1.

2. Schick, S., Thirdhand smoke: here to stay. Tob Control, 2011. 20(1): p. 1-3.

3. Naeher, L.P., et al., Woodsmoke health effects: a review. Inhal Toxicol, 2007. 19(1): p. 67-106.

4. Lijinsky, W., The formation and occurrence of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons associated with food. Mutat Res, 1991. 259(3-4): p. 251-61.

5. Mehlman, M.A., Dangerous properties of petroleum-refining products: carcinogenicity of motor fuels (gasoline). Teratog Carcinog Mutagen, 1990. 10(5): p. 399-408.

6. Hyland, A., et al., A 32-country comparison of tobacco smoke derived particle levels in indoor public places. Tobacco Control, 2008. 17(3): p. 159-65.

7. Sleiman, M., et al., Formation of carcinogens indoors by surface- mediated reactions of nicotine with nitrous acid, leading to potential thirdhand smoke hazards. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 2010. 107(15): p. 6576- 81.

8. Ott, W. and M. Siegmann, Using multiple continuous fine particle monitors to characterize tobacco, incense, candle, cooking, wood burning, and vehicular sources in indoor, outdoor, and in-transit settings. Atmospheric Environment, 2006. 40: p. 821-843.

9. Wallace, L. and W. Ott, Personal exposure to ultrafine particles. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology 0, 2011. 21: p. 20-30.

Conflict of Interest:

None declared”

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27 Responses to Professor Simon Chapman and third hand smoke

  1. Pat Nurse says:

    Simon Chapman is a smokerphobic liar who should be arrested for hate crime

  2. daveatherton says:

    Patsy to be fair to Prof Chapman he is nipping the 3rd hand smoke myth in the bud here.

    • and pile on the 23 times retraction and weve got a year where TC is backtracking fast!

      They must realise by now,they have no credibility!

    • Pat Nurse says:

      It feels like the first step in implanting this fear into the public’s mind. It won’t go away. They are not bothered about whether it is is true – only that it can stand up to enough scrutiny and not damage Tobacco Control’s reputation. I believe they are just working harder to make it true. Chapman’s concern for smokers and health is so real he refers to them as “clowns.” And I note how he conveniently refers to smokerphobics as fumophobes to divert attention that this part of his war on smokers. Sorry Dave, but I’ll believe Mr Chapman’s “honesty” when he admits how the scam of SHS was given such prominence and used as the basis to deny smokers rights. If non smokers have rights then so do smokers. Once Mr Chapman recognises this fact, then maybe what he says will have some relevance to smokers. Until then, it’s just more propaganda.

  3. Rose says:

    I was very pleased to see him mention this.

    “Unless in the extremely unlikely event that residents burn copious quantities of solanaceous vegetables (aubergine, tomato) which contain small amounts of nicotine, tobacco is going to be the only source of nicotine in homes.”

    A small slightly sideways step but in the right direction. I’m sure that most anti-tobacco activists still believe that tobacco is some alien species entirely unrelated to any other plant on earth.

    That’s why the “no safe level” bothers me so, if they keep using it both to mislead the public and each other, eventually they may have to ban some of our staple foods just to save face.

    Here’s an unscary and far more understandable explanation of the lack of any official safe level.

    Solanine – potatoes etc

    “The Committee considered that, despite the long history of human consumption of plants containing glycoalkaloids, the available epidemiological and experimental data from human and laboratory animal studies did not permit the determination of a safe level of intake.
    The Committee recognized that the development of empirical data to support such a level would require considerable effort.”

    Now wasn’t that much better? I can’t see anyone panicking about the plant chemistry of potatoes from that measured statement.

    • junican says:

      Perhaps this is the reason that the Surgeon General of the USA feels justified in claiming that there is no safe level of SHS, although it requires a queer kind of logic.

      All the committee was saying was that it would be very difficult and very expensive to determine a safe level. It did not say that there isn’t one. So the SG says that there is no safe level because no one has tried to find out what it might be!

      But such stretching of logic is a common phenomenon in Tobacco Control, is it not?

      • Iro Cyr says:

        ”All the committee was saying was that it would be very difficult and very expensive to determine a safe level. It did not say that there isn’t one.”

        Would you have a documented link to this? It would be precious to me right now. Thanks.

      • junican says:

        No I don’t, but Rose might have. I’ll email her and draw her attention to your request.Maybe she’ll post it here.

      • junican says:

        Rose has replied to my email. The ‘Evaluation’ appears right at the end of the link to which she refers (,

        The point that I was making was that it would be very easy to make a statement like “There is no safe level… (of anything at all)” if you have a mental reservation that what you really mean is no safe level has been stated rather than the implication that no exposure at all is safe!

      • Iro Cyr says:

        Thanks for your effort Junican. It doesn’t spell it out as clearly as I would have liked it to. I know exactly what you’re saying, except that with some people like the one I am dealing with, you have to be very precise and specific (potatoes won’t do it) because they think that the tobacco plant comes from a far away planet and has totally different qualities. In the next week I will be posting something up in the CAGE blog to this effect and you’ll know what this is all about.
        Thanks again.

    • Tom says:

      To understand the concept of “no safe level,” consider Haber’s Rule:

      • junican says:

        Thanks for that, Tom.
        I can understand that exposure to irritants is the same whether it be at high concentration for a short period of low concentration for extended periods. But I would have thought that ‘a safe level’ is one that the human body can cope easily with. If that were not the case, then having a x-ray taken would gradually kill us, wouldn’t it?

      • Tom says:

        junican, not necessarily “kill us,” rather, “negatively affect normal life process.” For example, a burst of xrays may harm some cells, causing them to become malignant. But a healthy immune system disposes of such cells (hopefully) But higher/longer doses overwhelm the body’s defenses. People having depressed immune systems or those with pre-existing illness may not be able to cope at all. On average, there can be no known level of toxin which can be considered “safe” for everyone.

  4. John H Baker says:

    Dave, ever since the SHS theory was muted all those years ago I recoil in horror at the mere suggestion that it is a killer to non smokers, let alone injurious to them. Since then I’ve read all those ‘scientific’ crap studies till my head hurts, I understand non of it! But I thank you Dave, a man who can decipher their rubbish. Thanks to you, rose and VGIF and many others I can rest assured that this anti smoking bilge is being challenged.

    And a Happy New Year from me, TBY.

  5. mikef317 says:

    William M. Briggs (an honest statistician!) has several excellent blog posts about fine particulate matter (dust) as it relates to alleged deaths caused by air pollution.

  6. Rose says:


    The statement was taken from here.

    SOLANINE AND CHACONINE (WHO Food Additives series 30)

    First draft prepared by
    Dr T. Kuiper-Goodman and Dr P.S. Nawrot
    Bureau of Chemical Safety
    Health and Welfare Canada
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

    “The common potato, Solanum tuberosum, contains toxic steroidal glycoalkaloids derived biosynthetically from cholesterol(Sharma & Salunkhe, 1989).
    In older literature (before 1954) these have been referred to only as ‘solanine’ or as total glycoalkaloids (TGA). The potato glycoalkaloids have not been evaluated previously by the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee.”

    It goes on to give the human and animal studies with the LD 50’s for rats and mice etc.

    Historical reports like this one.

    “Fifty-six German soldiers suffered typical ‘solanine’ poisoning after eating 1 to 1.5 kg cooked peeled potatoes containing 24 mg TGA/100 g (whole uncooked tubers contained 38 mg TGA/100 g).
    In a few cases jaundice and partial paralysis were also observed. If one assumes a body weight of 70 kg, the intake of ‘solanine’ was 3.4 to 5.1 mg/kg bw (Pfuhl, 1899).”

    Table 3. Summary of published reports of solanine poisoning in humans.

    All sorts of interesting and pertinent things.

    Then at the bottom, they simply and quite reasonably explain why no safe level has been calculated.

    Crumbs, if I wanted an explanation of official safe levels the last place I’d look at is anything to do with tobacco.

    Determination of the Nicotine Content of Various Edible Nightshades (Solanaceae) and Their Products and Estimation of the Associated Dietary Nicotine Intake

    “This investigation was initiated as a result of proposals in the literature that dietary nicotine intake could contribute to the level of nicotine metabolites in biological fluids such as salivary cotinine concentration. Nicotine concentration was determined in several frequently consumed vegetables from the nightshade family (Solanaceae) (i.e., tomatoes, potatoes, aubergines, and peppers), as well as in some of their processed products. The edible Solanaceae fruit analyzed in this investigation were found to contain relatively consistent amounts of nicotine in the range of 2−7 μg/kg for fresh fruits.”

    But even so, at the moment the potato is nice and close and non controversial, and no one as far as I know has yet invested millions in potato replacement patches.

    “Potatoes belong to the Nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes about 150 species that bear tubers. Most members of this family produce alkaloids in the roots:

    Potato – solanine, chaconine, etc
    Tobacco – nicotine
    Deadly nightshade – scopolamine
    Tomato – tomatine
    Jimsom Weed
    Most of these species are graft compatible, so one could develop a nicotine-free tobacco plant by grafting a tobacco scion onto potato rootstock.

  7. Rose says:

    Glycoalkaloid Enzymes in the Nightshade Family

    “When potatoes were first introduced to the Europeans, they were recognized as belonging to the nightshade family along with eggplants, tomatoes, peppers, and tobacco, and were considered poisonous. In fact, potatoes do contain poison in the form of glycoalkaloid enzymes which are always present within 3 mm (1/8 in.) of the surface of the potato, with the highest concentrations in the eyes or sprouts. Solanine is the most prevalent toxin in potatoes, and to a lesser degree solanine is also present in tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, especially when the vegetables are green or not yet ripe.

    Other glycoalkaloid toxins found in the nightshade family include tomatine from tomatoes, and nicotine from tobacco . These natural poisons protect the plant from insects and other enemies.”

    “The Committee considered that, despite the long history of human consumption of plants containing glycoalkaloids, the available epidemiological and experimental data from human and laboratory animal studies did not permit the determination of a safe level of intake.
    The Committee recognized that the development of empirical data to support such a level would require considerable effort.
    Nevertheless, it felt that the large body of experience with the consumption of potatoes, frequently on a daily basis, indicated that normal glycoalkaloid levels (20-100 mg/kg) found in properly grown and handled tubers were not of concern. To support the continued safe use of potato tubers, those developing new cultivars, and others growing, harvesting, storing, processing, and consuming potatoes, should be aware of the possibility of inadvertently increasing the content of glfycoalkaloids to potentially toxic levels.”

    Does that make better sense?

  8. Pat Nurse says:

    Also don’t forget that Mr Chapman is aiming to make us criminals within the next decade. Nothing he says can be believed or trusted It’s not about health but hatred of consumers who like a product he personally dislikes and love of an industry that has made him personally wealthy. I certainly don’t trust his so called “honesty” as much as you do Dave 😦 It’s just another tactic.

  9. mikef317 says:

    Iro / Rose:

    Quick and dirty. I’m almost certain that both of you are aware of this, but….

    In the U.S., at a national level, OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) can legally regulate chemicals that people are exposed to at work. Despite being sued multiple times by “anti tobacco advocates,” OSHA has refused to declare secondhand smoke a health hazard.

    The Surgeon General can issue report after report after report ranting about tobacco, but the SG has no regulatory authority. Ditto for the Environmental Protection Agency. Excellent propaganda – dutifully reported by the media – but the reports are “opinion” as opposed to laws that could be challenged in court. U.S. laws “protecting” workers are at a state or city level (citing SG/EPA propaganda), not national laws.

    Rather than “no safe level” (how do you demonstrate that?) OSHA sets PELs (Permissible Exposure Levels). Given exposure to a chemical at 1x, 2x, 3x, etc., if at 10x people show adverse symptoms, OSHA will set a PEL at 8x, 7x, maybe even 5x (I’m not an expert at this), meaning that you can be exposed to a chemical 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year (sans holidays), and not suffer any discernible effects. This is in direct opposition to the “no safe level” theory.

    Consider the statement, “There is no safe level of nuclear radiation.” Really? Without a daily (minimum) amount, you will die. The sun is an immense hydrogen bomb that has been exploding for five billion years. The sun warms the earth. Without radiation, earth’s temperature would be 460 degrees below zero. Nothing (?) could live. Earth would be eternally dark and frozen. (On the bright side, however, the entire planet would be smoke free.)

    If there is (must be) a Permissible Exposure Level for nuclear radiation, can there be a “no safe level” of exposure to tobacco smoke?

    I’m being quick and dirty, but consider. What biological warfare weapons have been developed by the U.S. and the USSR, and God only know who else? Could be that there is no safe level. But this certainly doesn’t apply to tobacco smoke.

    • Iro Cyr says:

      Rose, Junican and Mike
      I finally did use the potato example and the OSHA thing before even reading this. Read it all here. Thanks to everyone for your help.

    • Osha has whats called PEL’S and limits for an 8 hour period of exposure to chemicals in indoor environments…[epa is in charge of outdoor air]some smoke free groups have tried to use 30 minute air samples using epa monitoring to create a air borne healthscare.

      The actual standard to use is OSHA’S

      The EPA standard is to be used for OUTSIDE ambient air quality and it is the average over a period of 3 years.

      The proper standard to compare to is the OSHA standard for indoor air quality for respirable particulate (not otherwise specified) for nuisance dusts and smoke. That standard is 5000 ug/m3 on a time-weighted average (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) and is intended to be protective of health over an average working life of 30 years!

      This is where second hand smoke really becomes a joke,remember its nearly 90% water vapor and air… lets get to the facts of toxicology and dose makes the poison:

      According to independent Public and Health Policy Research group, Littlewood & Fennel of Austin, Tx, on the subject of secondhand smoke……..

      They did the figures for what it takes to meet all of OSHA’S minimum PEL’S on shs/ets…….Did it ever set the debate on fire.

      They concluded that:

      All this is in a small sealed room 9×20 and must occur in ONE HOUR.

      For Benzo[a]pyrene, 222,000 cigarettes

      “For Acetone, 118,000 cigarettes

      “Toluene would require 50,000 packs of simultaneously smoldering cigarettes.

      Acetaldehyde or Hydrazine, more than 14,000 smokers would need to light up.

      “For Hydroquinone, “only” 1250 cigarettes

      For arsenic 2 million 500,000 smokers at one time

      The same number of cigarettes required for the other so called chemicals in shs/ets will have the same outcomes.

      So,OSHA finally makes a statement on shs/ets :

      Field studies of environmental tobacco smoke indicate that under normal conditions, the components in tobacco smoke are diluted below existing Permissible Exposure Levels (PELS.) as referenced in the Air Contaminant Standard (29 CFR 1910.1000)…It would be very rare to find a workplace with so much smoking that any individual PEL would be exceeded.” -Letter From Greg Watchman, Acting Sec’y, OSHA

    • Oh but mike it does work for tobacco smoke and OSHA took comments on it for nearly a decade and was even sued by ASH and john banzhaft was so scared he dropped the lawsuit as OSHA was going to make a weak rule and that would have ended the entire smokefree movement in one move!

  10. Here is where it gets interesting,it seems John Banzhaf, founder and president of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) decided to sue OSHA to make a rule on shs/ets not that OSHA didnt want to play ball with him,its just that the scientific facts didnt back up a rule to start with.
    By the way ASH dropped their lawsuit because OSHA was going to make a rule and that rule would have been weak and been the law of the land,meaning no smoking bans would ever have been enacted anywhere,simply because an open window or a ventilation system would have covered the rule.

  11. Iro its important to understand that EPA got a foot in the door in the late 80s with the indoor radon act,it was upon that law that the EPA did a shs study in 1992-3 trying to get jurisdiction over indoor air where smoking was concerned. Thats why they were taken to court because that study was going to be used as a tool to justify indoor smoking bans thru EPA. But big tobacco sued and won knowing what they were up to and when it was tossed as junk science the apeals court knoceked it down on jurisdiction rules. They said that it was just a study done for informationa purposes only,yet everyone knew it was meant as a rgeulatory basis. In fact the study can never be used for regulatory rules or judge osteens decision becomes binding again. Big tobacco had no need to appeal the appeals court decision after that. In fact the EPA didnt challenge one claim in the judges indictment against their junk science!

  12. Heres something I ran across the other day and compliments this statement;

    Consider the statement, “There is no safe level of nuclear radiation.” Really? Without a daily (minimum) amount, you will die. The sun is an immense hydrogen bomb that has been exploding for five billion years. The sun warms the earth. Without radiation, earth’s temperature would be 460 degrees below zero. Nothing (?) could live. Earth would be eternally dark and frozen. (On the bright side, however, the entire planet would be smoke free.)

    The U.S. national annual background dose for humans is approximately 360 mrem. A mrem, or millirem, is a standard measure of radiation dose. Examples of radiation doses from common medical procedures are:

    Chest x-ray (14 x 17 inch area) – 15 mrem

    Dental x-ray (3 inch diameter area) – 300 mrem

    Spinal x-ray (14 x 17 inch area) – 300 mrem

    Thyroid uptake study – 28,000 mrem to the thyroid

    Thyroid oblation – 18,000,000 mrem to the thyroid

    Average Annual Total
    361 mrem/year

    Tobacco (If You Smoke, Add ~ 280 mrem)

    Not quite 1 dental xray for a whole years smoking ehh!

  13. Amused says:

    “As the debate on second hand smoke rages on”
    What debate would that be? The one that took place 20 years ago, when the tobacco industry tried to deny the harm of its products on non-users? Or the one still taking place today, where a small band of tobacco-industry-brainwashed nutters continues to do so? Amazing how some people have such a hard time understanding that their drug fix is not a good enough reason to put anyone else in harm’s way.

    Then again if secondhand smoke danger is a myth, I guess any day now all those smoking bans will be overturned in the courts.

  14. Joe says:

    Okay I get it that there is a paranoid group of people that totally believe 3rd hand smoke is bad for their children. But I wish they would at least take the facts for what they are. Not one study states that after washing up and changing your shirt isn’t good enough. I’m not allowed to touch or hold my grandson because Mom can still smell cigarettes on me. I see him maybe 2x a year because they live in another state. He’s 10 months old and will never know how much I love him. Now that’s sad.

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