Third hand smoke studies news: Infant exposure to tobacco residue still possible in smoke-free hospital

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Newborn babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units may still be exposed to tobacco residue from visiting parents and relatives who are smokers, according to a study published on Dec. 3 on the British Medical Journal on Tobacco Control.

Tobacco smoking is considered to be one of the leading causes of preventable death. Exposure to residue and particles that are brought in by secondhand smokers are suspected health hazards and is most likely to contribute injury and death, most particularly to defenseless children. 

Third hand smoke or nicotine residue and particles may be carried in simply through the skin and clothing of visiting individuals and are deposited indoors. The residue and particles are accumulated and linger for months, causing potential health hazards to those who are being exposed  especially to fragile patients.

The aim of the research is to find out whether or not tobacco residue would be detected in the neonatal ICU (NICU) of certified smoke free hospital. Newborns’ exposure to nicotine was also measured by examining urine samples.

Five participating mothers who admitted to be smokers and have infant babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit provided samples for the research.

Researchers measured and collected samples from the hand surface of the mothers who have babies admitted on the intensive care unit of one hospital. The study showed the presence of surface nicotine in the fingers of each participating mother who admitted to be smokers and were visiting their babies daily.

Cribs, incubators and other hospital furniture inside the NICU were also tested. The result came out positive of nicotine residue and particles on the cots, incubators and hospital furniture.

When the babies’ urine samples were tested, the result came out with detectable level of nicotine metabolites. One baby who was still being breast fed came out to have the highest level of nicotine metabolites.

The research study showed that residue and particles from secondhand smokers appear to be present even in a smoke-free hospital.

The researchers concluded: “THS (Third Hand Smoker or nicotine residue and particles) appears to be ubiquitous, even in closely guarded healthcare settings. Future research will address potential health consequences and third hand smoker reduction policies. Ultimately, hospital policies and interventions to reduce THS transport and exposure may prove necessary, especially for immunocompromised children.”

The authors of the published research study are: Thomas F Northrup from the Department of Family and Community Medicine, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School, Houston, Texas, USA; Amir M Khan from the Department of Pediatrics, UTHealth Medical School, Medical Director Level III NICU, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, Houston, Texas, USA; Peyton Jacob III from the Departments of Medicine and Psychiatry, University of California San Francisco, Division of Clinical Pharmacology, San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center, San Francisco, California, USA; Neal L Benowitz from the Departments of Medicine and Bioengineering & Therapeutic Sciences, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA; Eunha Hoh from Division of Environmental Health, Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA; Melbourne F Hovell from Center for Behavioral Epidemiology and Community Health, Graduate School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA; Georg E Matt from the Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA; and Angela L Stotts from the Department of Family and Community Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UTHealth Medical School, Houston, Texas, USA.