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Thirdhand smoke contamination in hospital settings: assessing exposure risk for vulnerable paediatric patients


Background Tobacco has regained the status of the world's number two killer behind heart/vascular disease. Thirdhand smoke (THS) residue and particles from secondhand smoke (SHS) are suspected health hazards (eg, DNA damage) that are likely to contribute to morbidity and mortality, especially in vulnerable children. THS is easily transported and deposited indoors, where it persists and exposes individuals for months, creating potential health consequences in seemingly nicotine-free environments, particularly for vulnerable patients. We collected THS data to estimate infant exposure in the neonatal ICU (NICU) after visits from household smokers. Infant exposure to nicotine, potentially from THS, was assessed via assays of infant urine.

Methods Participants were mothers who smoked and had an infant in the NICU (N=5). Participants provided surface nicotine samples from their fingers, infants’ crib/incubator and hospital-provided furniture. Infant urine was analysed for cotinine, cotinine's major metabolite: trans-3′-hydroxycotinine (3HC) and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL), a metabolite of the nicotine-derived and tobacco-specific carcinogen 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK).

Results Incubators/cribs and other furniture had detectable surface nicotine. Detectable levels of cotinine, 3HC and NNAL were found in the infants’ urine.

Discussion THS appears to be ubiquitous, even in closely guarded healthcare settings. Future research will address potential health consequences and THS-reduction policies. Ultimately, hospital policies and interventions to reduce THS transport and exposure may prove necessary, especially for immunocompromised children.

  • Carcinogens
  • Cotinine
  • Environment
  • Nicotine
  • Priority/special populations

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