Toxic thirdhand smoke still lingers in a casino months after ban

SAN DIEGO — Thirdhand smoke, or the residue left behind from cigarette smoke, rested on surfaces in casinos for months, even after a smoking ban went into affect in Northern California, a study by scientists at San Diego State University found.

Of course, the smoking ban did reduce the amount of tobacco residue left behind on surfaces and walls, but even six months after the smoking ban, toxic remains were still found in enclosed areas. Researchers warn thirdhand smoke could be still be causing health problems in casino employees and frequent visitors.

“Casinos are unusual environments because of the amount of smoking that takes place 24/7 over long periods of time,” said psychologist and lead author Georg Matt in a university release. “Over years of smoking, layers of smoke residue stick to surfaces and penetrate deep into materials. If you work at a casino that allows smoking or are a guest, you already know you inhale secondhand smoke every time you breathe. Because the tobacco smoke residue remains long after a smoking ban, you will continue to get exposed even after the secondhand smoke has disappeared.”

Matt and his colleagues proved that in an earlier study on thirdhand smoke in homes. That research showed that the dangerous residues were still found in residences where indoor smoking had been stopped months earlier. But they weren’t sure if the results would hold true for casinos, which are more spacious than houses and have industrial-strength ventilation system.

For their latest work, the research team studied a particular casino outside the northern Californian town of Redding. The casino opened in 1993 and allowed smoking inside until 2014, when it instituted a ban that lasted 11 months — after which it returned to being a smoke-permissible building. The researchers took samples from eight areas inside the casino and tested the fingers and urine of nonsmoking participants who visited the casino.

“The casino was much more polluted with thirdhand smoke than any nonsmoker home we have examined to date,” Matt said. “That is, nonsmokers are at risk of being exposed to higher concentration of thirdhand smoke in a casino than they would in a thirdhand smoke-polluted home.”

Matt believes the findings should push more casinos to put smoking bans into place sooner than later.

“Tobacco should never be smoked indoors unless you are prepared to pay the price for extensive clean up,” he said. “The sooner you stop smoking indoors, the sooner you will benefit from clean air and the less it will cost to clean up the toxic legacy.”

The study was published on Feb. 8, 2018 in the journal Tobacco Control.

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