Tobacco Secondhand Smoke

particle counter used to detect secondhand smoke

Do you need to prove that a tenant has been smoking cigarettes in a non-smoking area? Are you trying to track how secondhand smoke is getting from point A to point B?  Call Indoor Science at (312) 920-9393 to get us involved in your secondhand smoke project.

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke refers to the chemicals and particles that come off a lit cigarette (sidestream smoke) or are exhaled by the smoker and become part of the surrounding air.  Secondhand smoke is more technically called “environmental tobacco smoke” or ETS for short. The EPA states that over 4,000 compounds have been identified in cigarette smoke.

Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Beyond the obvious health effects to smokers themselves (firsthand smoke), there are short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) health effects of environmental tobacco smoke.  Acute effects include eye nose and throat irritation.  Other effects include respiratory infections, runny nose, nasal congestion, hoarseness, and odor annoyance. Chronic effects of ETS include cancer and asthma. Over 50 components of ETS are classified as known or suspected human carcinogens. After radon, ETS is the second leading cause of lung cancer for non-smokers.  Secondhand smoke can be toxic to a developing fetus, causing stunted fetal growth or cognitive effects after birth.

Testing for Cigarette Smoke

Many clients need to document the presence of secondhand smoke. Because ETS is a mixture of many different chemicals and particles, it is impossible to measure all the individual components. Therefore, various indicator measurements are typically used as a surrogate for cigarette and cigar smoke.

One common method is to collect air samples for chemical markers.  One challenge is that the chemicals in cigarette smoke can also be from cooking, cleaning, and building materials. It is difficult to distinguish between these chemicals to definitively conclude they came from cigarette smoke.

Another method is to wipe surfaces to detect the presence of nicotine. Nicotine is a semi-volatile compound that can be found in the air, but it is more prevalent on surfaces.  The concentrations on surfaces can be low and may be below the limit of detection for the laboratory analysis.

Besides testing chemicals, ongoing monitoring of fine particulate matter can document the presence of secondhand smoke.  Indoor Science will log particle levels for 24 hours and compare them with an odor log kept by occupants. This report can show a spike in smoke particles during times when the smoke odor is strongest.

Each of these markers has limitations, so we may recommend a combination of tests.

Controlling Secondhand Smoke

Not only can Indoor Science document the presence of secondhand smoke, we can also provide recommendations for controlling it.  We do not sell any products (e.g. air purifiers) or services (e.g. HVAC contracting), so our recommendations have your best interest in mind.  We take a scientific approach and evaluate air pathways, pressurization and source control options.

What does it cost?

Call us at (312) 920-9393 for a customized quote.  Pricing will be based on the method used and the number of tests collected.