Science, policy and the rise of 'thirdhand smoke' as a public health issue

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'Thirdhand smoke’, the designated term for the cigarette smoke toxicants that linger on room and car surfaces long after the smoke itself dissipates, is a concept that has gained increasing prominence in tobacco control policy and research over the past six years. In this paper, I track the emergence of thirdhand smoke as a social and scientific concept, conducting a critical analysis of newspaper reports and references to the term in the academic and policy literature. Demonstrating that claims about the health effects of thirdhand smoke occurred in the absence of evidence of harm, I examine the broader sociopolitical conditions that enabled the concept to become meaningful (and useful). I show that some of the concept’s legitimacy came from its presentation as a natural extension of secondhand smoke, and its framing as a particular threat to babies and children. However, I argue that the experiential, embodied dimension of thirdhand smoke itself was crucial to its success.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)154-170
Issue number2
Early online date11 Feb 2014
Publication statusPublished - 17 Feb 2014


  • risk
  • secondhand smoke
  • Thirdhand smoke
  • passive smoking
  • public health
  • tobacco control
  • media

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