Many people, especially those moving into a new home, make the commitment to smoke in the garage instead of the house. While different homeowners have different motivations, most are health-conscious and wish to preserve the fresh smell of their homes.
And while most motivations for exiting the home to smoke are admirable, the questions remain:
Is this an effective strategy? Or is smoking in the garage with the door closed dangerous?
In this article, we’ll explore whether the garage is the best and safest choice for smokers. You’ll also learn about the potential risks of smoking in a garage and how to mitigate them.
First, it’s important to learn about the background of secondhand and (lesser-known) thirdhand smoke and how they might impact your health.
How Dangerous Is Secondhand Smoke?
Smoke from the combusted end of a cigarette, known as sidestream smoke, and smoke exhaled by the smoker, known as mainstream smoke, are both considered to be types of secondhand smoke.
Because of its lower temperature, sidestream smoke has smaller particles and greater concentrations of several harmful substances compared to mainstream smoke (i.e., smoke breathed directly by a smoker).
Over 7,000 compounds have been identified in tobacco smoke, including hundreds that are harmful and roughly 70 that can cause cancer. Some examples include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Hydrogen cyanide
Most people are well aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke; however, many people aren’t aware that thirdhand smoke even exists.
What is Thirdhand Smoke?
The harmful poisons and particles in secondhand smoke remain in the air for a long time after the smoking has stopped. Tobacco smoke residue can be found in dust and on surfaces long after the last cigarette has been smoked.
These particles can then react with other elements in the environment to produce further hazardous pollutants, which is known as thirdhand smoke.
Who is at Risk?
Because of their elevated respiratory rate in relation to body size and their underdeveloped metabolic capacity, it is estimated that newborns and young children are 100 times more vulnerable than adults to contaminants in home dust.
Children may be exposed to secondhand smoke even if their caregiver smokes outside the home since nearly all particles emitted from smoking, including nicotine, are present on the clothes, hair, and skin of a caregiver after smoking.
These toxins can enter the body in a variety of ways, including through the lungs, digestive system, and skin. So, what does this tell us about smoking in the garage?
Is Smoking in the Garage Safe?
Instead of looking at smoking in a garage, which most assume is safer and cleaner than inside the home, first, let’s look at smoking outdoors. I don’t mean outdoors with the garage door open; I mean completely outdoors, in an open-air environment.
All it takes is a good hard look at the evidence. How did we come to our conclusions?
Our research looked at real-life smokers who provided accurate, factual information. First, we’ll examine nicotine exposure and assess the physical health risks.
Physical Exposure and Smoking Outdoors
Many smokers choose to partake in the garage or outdoor smoking to lower the exposure of young children to harmful secondhand smoke. While these are certainly the purest intentions, the results showed anything but promising results.
76% of parents who claimed to only smoke outside claimed they believed their children were not exposed to harmful cigarette smoke or chemicals at all. However, evidence shows that these children’s tobacco smoke exposure was actually seven times higher than that of children in households where there were no smokers.
In addition, regardless of only smoking outside, nicotine was found in detectable levels on half of all the surfaces in the home, including the bedroom.
So what about nicotine on the hands of those who smoke outdoors or in the garage? Those who smoked outdoors only were tested and found to contain nicotine on their index and middle fingers.
Believe it or not, these levels on the skin were just as high as those of homeowners who smoked INSIDE the home. No difference at all was reported.
Many people may counter with the argument that even if the smoke particles are still present, they probably dissipate faster because they’re in lower concentrations. That’s not exactly correct, either.
Thirdhand Concentration Levels
Materials in the homes of those who smoked outdoors were tested for the presence of thirdhand smoke chemicals. Almost two years later, these chemicals were still present on items like cotton and other fabrics throughout the home.
Researchers also noted that nicotine derivatives were siphoned from these materials in a liquid state, much like saliva.
Why is this significant?
Even if you’re smoking outside, imagine if one of your infant or toddler-aged children placed their mouths on these fabrics inside the home. They’re getting a significant dose of nicotine and dangerous byproducts even if you smoke in the garage.
And this is AFTER the secondhand exposure that they’ve already had a heavy dose of.
Smoking In the Garage: The Bottom Line
If you thought smoking in the garage was doing your household a favor, unfortunately, you are sadly mistaken. While the motivations are in the right place, the fact is smoking in the garage can do just as much damage as smoking directly in the home.
And the facts regarding smoking in an open-air environment prove that it doesn’t matter if you’re smoking in a well-ventilated garage. At best, you can hope for the results listed above. However, in the worst-case scenario, you’re in for a more dangerous exposure situation.
If there’s no ventilation in the garage and the doors to the outside are closed, it’s only right to assume that even more smoke and nicotine byproduct is entering the home directly and indirectly through the ventilation system.
Therefore, if you’re truly passionate about safeguarding your home from the dangers of smoking, the only guaranteed solution is to quit smoking altogether.
John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.
- Editorial Stuff, editor. “What Does Your Garage and a Cigarette Have in Common?” American Lung Association, 31 May 2016. https://www.lung.org/blog/your-garage-and-a-cigarette
- Seppänen, A. “Smoking in Closed Space and Its Effect on Carboxyhaemoglobin Saturation of Smoking and Nonsmoking Subjects.” National Library of Medicine, Oct. 1977, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/616214.
- “Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 22 Aug. 2022, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm.
- Sureda, Xisca, et al. “Secondhand Tobacco Smoke Exposure in Open and Semi-Open Settings: A Systematic Review.” National Library of Medicine, July 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3701994.
- Burton, Adrian. “Does the Smoke Ever Really Clear? Thirdhand Smoke Exposure Raises New Concerns.” National Library of Medicine, Feb. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3040625.
- “Ventilation Does Not Effectively Protect People Who Don’t Smoke From Secondhand Smoke.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Sept. 2022, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/protection/ventilation/index.htm.
- “Going Smokefree Matters: In Your Home.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3 July 2019, www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/secondhand_smoke/going-smokefree-matters/home/index.html.
- Roberts, John W., et al. “Monitoring and Reducing Exposure of Infants to Pollutants in House Dust.” National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19484587.
- Bahl, Vasundhra, et al. “Thirdhand Cigarette Smoke: Factors Affecting Exposure and Remediation.” National Library of Medicine, 6 Oct. 2014, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25286392.
- Matt, G., et al. “Households Contaminated by Environmental Tobacco Smoke: Sources of Infant Exposures.” National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2004, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1747815.