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Tob Use Insights. 2019 Jan 16;12:1179173X18823493. doi: 10.1177/1179173X18823493. eCollection 2019.

Nicotine on Children's Hands: Limited Protection of Smoking Bans and Initial Clinical Findings.

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Division of Emergency Medicine, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH, USA.
School of Human Services, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA.
School of Public Health, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA.
Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, CA, USA.



Thirdhand smoke (THS) pollutants, such as nicotine, accumulate on the hands of children who live in homes with smokers and are exposed to secondhand smoke. Our objective was to examine whether levels of hand nicotine in exposed children are associated with demographics, environmental factors, and clinical findings.


Participants were caregivers who smoke and children (mean age (SD) = 2.6 (3.7) years) who were part of an ongoing 2-group, randomized controlled trial of an emergency department-based tobacco cessation intervention (N = 104). The primary outcome measure was nicotine on the child's hand. Caregivers reported demographics and smoking patterns; children's medical records were abstracted for chief complaint, medical history, and diagnoses.


All children had detectable hand nicotine (geometric mean [GeoM] = 86.2 ng/wipe; range = 3.5-2, 190.4 ng/wipe). Children in the age group of 2 to 4 years old (GeoM = 185.6 ng/wipe) had higher levels than the children in the age groups of 0 to 1 (GeoM = 68.9 ng/wipe, P < .001), 5 to 9 (GeoM = 77.9 ng/wipe, P = .04), and 10 to 15 years old (GeoM = 74.2 ng/wipe, P = .048). Children whose caregivers smoked 6 to 14 (GeoM = 97.2 ng/wipe, P = .047) and 15 to 40 cigarettes/day (GeoM = 124.0 ng/wipe, P = .01) had higher levels than children whose caregivers smoked 1 to 5 cigarettes/day (GeoM = 59.7 ng/wipe). Children with 6 to 14 cigarettes/day (GeoM = 163.11 ng/wipe, P = .007) and 15 to 40 cigarettes/day (GeoM = 186.1, P = .003) smoked inside the home by all smokers had significantly higher levels than homes with 0 cigarettes (GeoM = 81.3 ng/wipe). Similar differences in hand nicotine levels were found for smoking frequency of all household members in any location. Children with complaints of cough/congestion (GeoM = 97.7 ng/wipe) had higher levels than those without cough/congestion (GeoM = 59.0 ng/wipe, P = .01).


The high hand nicotine levels in children whose caregivers do not necessarily smoke indoor demonstrate that indoor smoking bans do not safeguard against THS exposure and the associations with increased home smoking activity indicate that hand wipes may be a noninvasive way to characterize children's exposure. The findings of associated cough and congestion with higher THS levels need to be examined further.


children; secondhand smoke; thirdhand smoke; tobacco smoke

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of Conflicting Interests:The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

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