The contamination of indoor nonsmoking environments with thirdhand smoke (THS) is an important, poorly understood public health concern. Real-time THS off-gassing from smokers into a nonsmoking movie theater was observed with online and offline high-resolution mass spectrometry. Prominent emission events of THS tracers (e.g., 2,5-dimethylfuran, 2-methylfuran, and acetonitrile) and other tobacco-related volatile organic compounds (VOCs) coincided with the arrival of certain moviegoers and left residual contamination.
These VOC emission events exposed occupants to the equivalent of 1 to 10 cigarettes of secondhand smoke, including multiple hazardous air pollutants (e.g., benzene and formaldehyde) at parts-per-billion concentrations. Nicotine and related intermediate-volatility nitrogen-containing compounds, which vaporized from clothes/bodies and recondensed onto aerosol, comprised 34% of observed functionalized organic aerosol abundance.
Exposure to THS VOC emission events will be considerably enhanced in poorly ventilated or smaller spaces in contrast with a large, well-ventilated theater—amplifying concentrations and potential impacts on health and indoor chemistry.