It’s a touchy subject, but one that needs discussion

June 3, 2013 — Deron Hamel

The risks associated with first- and second-hand tobacco smoke are well documented, but the issue of “third-hand smoke” is not something a lot of people are familiar with  — however, it’s a subject that’s likely on the horizon, given the attention it’s receiving in the U.S., says Maureen King.

King, the administrator at Springdale Country Manor, says the issue of third-hand smoke caught her eye while reading news websites recently. While third-hand smoke may not be getting a lot of attention in Canada, it is something long-term care home management may want to consider discussing with staff members, she says.

Third-hand smoke refers to the chemical residue and smell that’s left behind on people who have recently smoked. Third-hand smoke gets into hair, clothing and objects touched by people who’ve recently smoked.

King says third-hand smoke is largely a quality of life issue in a long-term care environment. She notes that many people working in the long-term care sector are smokers. Throughout the work day, those who smoke take cigarette breaks — returning to work smelling of smoke.

Some residents are sensitive to the smell of tobacco smoke, King notes. In other cases, she adds, there are residents who were smokers but had to kick the habit upon moving into long-term care. Having to be around smelling of cigarettes can create urges for them to light up, King says.

“Residents have a choice, and if they choose not to have somebody who smells of cigarette smoke near them then that has to be abided by in long-term care,” King tells the OMNIway.

But having a discussion with staff members about third-hand smoke is not going to be easy; King herself says she does not know how she would approach the issue. There’s a balance that needs to be struck, she says — smokers have a right to smoke (outside, in designated areas, of course), but residents, if they choose, have the right to not be exposed to third-hand smoke.

“You can’t tell staff what to do on their break, but we do have some ability to say to them, ‘Your uniform has to be clean, and smelling of smoke is not clean — especially if it’s contrary to a person’s health,’ ” King says.

To learn more about third-hand smoke, visit the Canadian Lung Association’s website .

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