Third Hand Smoke and SIDS

third hand smoke

Students often ask me how third hand smoke affects babies and its relationship with a greater risk of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome.

Third hand smoke is tobacco smoke residue that remains on clothes, hair, skin, carpet, upholstery etc. after the cigarette has been extinguished.  These toxins build up over time when exposed to the same room or surfaces.  The person smoking is contaminated by the residue left on their hands, hair and clothing making it dangerous for newborns just by touching it or for older babies who often put things in their mouth.  Babies will ingest, inhale and touch surfaces that have been exposed to third hand smoke especially  when they nestle on the shoulder of someone who is a smoker or around someone that smokes in the same room.  E-cigarettes are just as harmful and should not be ignored as they are just as dangerous to a young baby.

There are over 250 poisonous toxins found in cigarette smoke. All these toxins travel through the air settling on all types of surfaces. Lead, cyanide and the oxygen blocker carbon monoxide to name a few besides nicotine itself. Cyanide interferes with the release of oxygen to the tissues and other toxins can affect the air passages and breathing of young children.  A baby’s developing brain is very susceptible to these toxins and the brain controls the baby’s breathing.  Studies show tobacco toxins are one of the leading causes of SIDS due to respiratory suppression.  Respiratory viruses are often found in babies that die of SIDS and infants with respiratory infections that live around smokers are at a greater risk of SIDS.  Exposure to third-hand smoke may also increase their risk of allergies and asthma. Tobacco toxins have also been associated with depressing the automatic regulation of heart rates in infants.

The best things you can do to protect your baby from third hand smoke is to allow no smoking in your home or car.  Do not visit places where smokers are living.  If you have a friend or relative that wants to hold your baby, make sure they have not been smoking and have clean clothes on and clean hair and skin. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics removing all cigarette smoke from the home can reduces SIDS by up to 80%.  A good fact sheet for your resources is

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