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Smoke stays - Jamaica Cancer Society warns against third-hand smoke in vehicles

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Sheldon Williams, Gleaner Writer

Before purchasing a used car, it is advisable that the potential buyer enquire if the vehicle has a history of being smoked in. This is to prevent potential exposure to third-hand smoke (the residue from second-hand smoke that clings to surfaces), which can accumulate and linger inside vehicles.

This may predispose occupants to diseases, including cancer. The warning comes after the recent ban on smoking in public spaces in Jamaica.

Yulit Gordon, executive director of the Jamaica Cancer Society, explained that children are most at risk for tobacco toxins trapped inside an enclosed area like a motor vehicle. "Third-hand smoke is considered to be residual nicotine and other chemicals left on a variety of surfaces as a result of tobacco smoke. This residue is thought to react with common indoor pollutants to create a toxic mix. This toxic mix of third-hand smoke contains cancer-causing substances, posing a potential health hazard to non-smokers who are exposed to it, especially children," Gordon said.

She reiterated that "young children are particularly vulnerable, because they can ingest tobacco residue by putting their hands in their mouths after

touching contaminated surfaces".

Gordon said research findings showed the longevity of smoke in vehicles. "A recent study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (in the US) confirmed that high levels of nicotine were detected in motor vehicles where its occupants smoked, even after banning smoking for 12 months! Third-hand smoke clings to the fibre of carpets, fabric and leather seats, dashboard surfaces, and door panels," she said.

President of the Jamaica Used Car Dealers' Association, Lynvalle Hamilton, recommended that dealers clean used vehicles thoroughly to remove third-hand smoke before the vehicle is advertised for sale, but noted that it is not compulsory. He explained that it would be left to the dealers' discretion but pointed out that cleaning would be within good sense, as it would encourage a faster sale.

"It's all dependent on the dealer. You have dealers who would definitely clean it, because cleaning would enhance the vehicle being sold quickly. From my perspective, I would advise my dealers to do that but as I said there is no obligation," Hamilton said.

"The ones that are imported, it would make sense that the dealer does it but again there is no obligation. It's not like there is anything in the motor-vehicle import policy that bounds you to do that. But if you are in business, it would make sense because we have seen on several occasions when the vehicles just come off the wharf they are smelly and it would be a turn-off to the consumer. So we would advise dealers to ensure that all those odours are removed before they advertise the vehicle".

Explaining the cleaning process to rid cars of smoke residue, Hamilton said "There are several chemicals that can be used to remove those sorts of odours. You can turn on the car and leave it on and you can even open the car and leave it in the sun for an extended period, but you have to use the chemical with it too".

"Most of the cleaning agents that you use to clean upholstery can be used, but the main one that most of the dealers use is the purple blaster that can be used to remove stains."

He said there is a higher probability that imported used vehicles would be cleaned, rather than cars that are sold to dealers by Jamaican drivers. He also said dealers should advise potential customers if the vehicle belonged to a smoker.

And Gordon reinforced that "smoking happens to be one of the most preventable risk factors for cancer, heart disease, bronchitis, emphysema, and stroke".