Tobacco smoke is now recognized as one of the worst environmental pollutants. It is linked to a raft of diseases, no doubt because it contains hundreds, if not thousands, of toxic compounds. Smoke in houses, however, is common, and if you add to that other types of smoke that can affect your indoor air quality, like smoke from open fires, log burners, and nearby houses or factories etc., then it’s clear: indoor smoke is something we should take very seriously.
In many parts of the world people still cook with coal, wood, or dung which just like tobacco, releases dangerous smoke particles into the home which can trigger allergens and cause illness. In the Western world, you are unlikely to cook with wood or dung, but you still have the risk from BBQ smoke, burnt food, and fires… hazards which are often overlooked.
In this article we will see why smoke is so bad for our health, why children can be the worst affected, and what the best air purifiers for smoke are to help deal with this problem. Then, we will look at True HEPA air purifiers and see why they are especially good at treating smoke-filled rooms. You may be wondering if all air purifiers are the same, or whether they work at all.
Well, many people now filter their water because they know the importance of clean water for our overall health. Clean air is just as important as clean water, and indoor smoke can be cleansed in an equally effective way.
Tobacco Smoke is Poison
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), nearly half of all pneumonia deaths in children under 5 are caused by inhaling particulate matter (in smoke) in indoor air.
Smoke from cigarettes can contain up to 7,000 different compounds, including hydrocarbons like benzene, metals like cadmium, and of course, the highly addictive nicotine. Perhaps less known, but equally shocking, is that cigarette smoke often contains pesticides residues, like DDT and lindane.
There’s no doubt: pesticides sprayed on tobacco fields can end up in your lungs. Also, the lungs of your friends, family, or work colleagues. The same is true for all the other toxins found in smoke. The smoker is obviously always directly affected, but so too are the passive smokers who have no choice in the matter. And remember, children passive smokers are much more susceptible than adults.
According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), second-hand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths in the U.S. alone, increases your risk of lung cancer by 20-30%, and your risk of developing heart disease by 25-30%.
We still don’t fully understand the full impacts of breathing toxic smoke particles, especially in developing bodies, but studies show that exposure to pesticide residues in tobacco can be higher in children passive smokers than adults. Also, we know that other illnesses linked to passive smoking, like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are said to start early in life. In other words, there is increased risk from early life exposure to tobacco smoke.
Smoke from other sources
The only danger isn’t tobacco. Although it might be the most frequent, there are other types of smoke hazards that can affect your indoor air quality just as much as tobacco. This includes the burning of vegetation in agriculture, bushfires, burning buildings (e.g. during riots), and things like oil fires (e.g. Deepwater Horizon). Even volcanic ash can enter your home (volcanic ash particles can travel thousands of miles).
Why buy an Air Purifier?
The good news is that air purifiers are especially good at filtering smoke from the air. Smoke particles are more easily trapped than things like VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and viruses.
HEPA filters (high efficiency particulate air purifiers), which must meet national standards for smoke particle reduction, act like a vacuum bag, but unlike a vacuum cleaner, air purifiers operate quietly in the background, so you wouldn’t know they are there. And they now come with a bunch of smart features, so they can adjust automatically to save energy or to changing pollution levels.
Although air purifiers can’t 100% eliminate the threat from smoke, they can significantly reduce it because their air filters trap both the large particles and the smaller smoke particles. For example, a study in China showed that on average, air purification can reduce smoke particulate matter (PM) by nearly 60% within just hours of operation. And remember, air purifiers can also be a vital defense against emergencies, like wildfire smoke.
Let’s be clear, there’s no substitute for banning smoking inside. Also, there’s no substitute for naturally clean air. But life is not that simple. People will smoke inside, or out the window, sometimes whether you like it or not. Much of the smoke can blow back in, pass under doors, or come from outside corridors. In homes with children, this is especially worrying for their growing bodies.
In the absence of an ideal world, an air purifier can help with these problems. So much so in fact, that city health departments (e.g. Baltimore City Health Department) are trialing air purifiers in homes with pregnant women and with children. Their conclusion: Indoor particulate matter was significantly decreased by use of an air purifier and 98% of participants would recommend one.
Tobacco smoke particles also cause smoke odors which can penetrate fabrics. Nothing can therefore eliminate the danger, even smoking outside. Maybe then, you should consider an air purifier, especially if you or someone in your household smokes. When choosing an air purifier for air cleaning in your home, it is worth considering its size and the room size, the unit’s noise levels, flow rate (volume of air it processes per minute/hour), and whether it has an ionizer (they have their own merits/drawbacks). Here’s a summary:
- The correct size: an air purifier needs to be the right size for the room and placed in a suitable spot. If not, it will be less efficient. Consider buying one which is designed for a bigger room – it will increase efficiency (maximize smoke removal) and can be used on a quieter setting
- The correct rate: every air purifier will have a clean air delivery rate (CADR). The more efficient models will have a CADR well over 300. Consider also the fan speed and noise level
- True HEPA filter: in the U.S., a unit with this air filter must be proven to remove at least 99.97% of fine particles of diameter 0.3 μm.
- Pre-filters and Activated Carbon filters: consider units with these features as they can protect your HEPA filter, make it more efficient, last longer (so requires less maintenance and/or filter changing), and help remove odors.
- Cleaning and Maintenance: All air purifiers need cleaning and maintenance. Filter replacement can be a chore, so choose carefully as some units require more maintenance (and expense) than others.
The 5 Best Air Purifiers for Smoke
Below are 5 examples of air purifiers that can deal with the threat of indoor smoke. They can be found at retailers like Amazon or directly on the company’s websites.
Rabbit Air Minus A2
This unit is designed to be quiet, so ideal for constant use in well-used rooms (e.g. living rooms/ family rooms) where smoking adults may mix with other family members. It is slim and unobtrusive, so can be wall mounted. It has the following key features:
- True-HEPA rated using advanced BioGS® HEPA filtration system which can trap particles less than 0.1 microns in size at higher than 99% efficiency
- Has sensors which can lower power consumption if you are away from the home or speed up the unit when a smoker lights up
- Multi-speed motor which can operate at around 20dBA (very quiet)
- Smoke CADR (clean air delivery rate) of 166-180 (SPA-700A model)
- 2 air changes per hour in 700 square feet
Levoit LV-PUR131 True HEPA Air Purifier
This is a cheaper unit ($179) which is designed for small rooms, so is a good choice if you want an air purifier for a small living room or bedroom. It also has a sleek design (good for small rooms) and a 2-year warranty. The relatively low CADR (clean air delivery rate) means it is best suited for low smoke levels and small rooms.
The key features of this unit:
- 3-stage True HEPA & activated carbon filtration unit which will remove 99.97% of particles
- Sleep-mode which will quieten the unit during the night
- Suitable for rooms up to around 300 sq. ft.
- Clean air delivery rate (CADR) of 135+
Given the size and CADR of this unit it is not suitable for large rooms. It also has a timer and a smart auto mode which can speed up the unit during peak times of high smoke levels.
Austin Air HealthMate®
This unit is said to be ‘medical grade’ and designed for large rooms which on the highest setting is rated at 1500 sq. ft. It is a robust unit which has a carbon combination filter and a 60 sq. ft. True HEPA filter.
The key features of this unit:
- Powerful design which can achieve 2 air changes per hour in 1500 sq. ft. room
- 5-year parts and labor warranty and pro-rated warranty on filter assembly
- 4-stage filtration system which requires less regular filter changes than other units
This is a high-end model with a price tag of $1,099.99 on the company’s website. For your money you get the highest possible rating from AHAM (association of home appliance manufacturers) and a powerful unit suitable for large rooms. As discussed earlier, buying a powerful unit designed for large rooms with a high CADR rating, and then using them in small rooms can be a successful strategy for maximizing the cleaning rate.
The standout features of this unit are as follows:
- CADR (clean air delivery rate) rating of 450+ for smoke
- AHAM (association of home appliance manufacturers) verified for rooms up to 698 sq. ft. (4 air changes per hour)
- Energy efficient (90W)
- App-enabled, so can be controlled remotely
- Dual filtration process with two permanent Fine Mesh Pre-Filters, two replaceable Coated DeOdorization (CD) Carbon Filters and two replaceable True HEPA filters.
Homelabs Air Purifier for Home, Bedroom or Office with True HEPA H13 Filter
This unit is at the other end of the price spectrum as it is currently on offer for only $69.99 on the company website (reduced from $139.99). The downside of course is that it is less powerful, so suitable only for rooms up to 194 sq. ft. However, it does include 3-stage filtration and a True HEPA filter which will effectively filter smoke particles in a small-sized room.
The key features of this unit:
- Suitable for small rooms (up to 194 sq. ft.)
- Compact, cylindrical design
- Will trap 99.97% of particles via the True HEPA filter
Hopefully, you now have an idea of the kinds of options out there and are better placed to make an informed decision.
So, it is clear: Air Purifiers may be a very wise investment
As we all know, tobacco smoke is a serious problem and although they can’t eliminate the risk, air purifiers offer you an effective way of lowering the potential risk to your family, especially if you buy the appropriate model.
To reiterate the danger of smoke particles in your home it is worth considering in a little more detail some of the facts…
For example, the cadmium found in cigarette smoke is linked to osteoporosis and increased risk of bone fracture. Cigarette smoke is also linked to reduced brain function in children, even at low exposure levels.
As studies repeatedly reveal, children are especially at risk from secondhand smoke. And this can even be true for households with non-smokers or in households where the adults usually smoke outside.
A study in Nicotine & Tobacco Research looked at the relationships between secondhand smoke and illnesses in children living in multi-unit housing in homes with no smokers at all. What they uncovered was how ‘smoke incursion’ (smoke seeping into your house from neighboring homes) increases rates of illness in children.
What they discovered was that more than half of the children’s homes in MUH (multi-unit housing) without smokers had SHS incursion and this SHS (secondhand smoke incursion) was linked to wheeze, rhinitis, and eczema symptoms in children (allergic symptoms).
The threat to Children and Non-Smokers
Smokers know the risk they take but children and non-smokers maybe don’t know the risk from smokers so well.
If this sounds unfair, then the results of studies back it up. For example, in children, SHS (secondhand smoke) exposure has now been associated with higher blood pressure, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and neurobehavioral problems.
Children are still growing and more susceptible. They inhale more air per body volume than adults, especially when they are active (e.g. jumping around the living room). So, they are disproportionately affected.
In a study looking into neurobehavioral effects, it was found that increased exposure to secondhand smoke leads to reduced attention performance and poorer visuomotor skills.
Non-smoking adults also suffer. Smoke can trigger allergic reactions, cause cancer, skin problems and worsen asthma. In fact, the list of associated illnesses goes on and on.
It is not just tobacco
As touched upon earlier, it not just tobacco smoke you should be concerned about. There are other smoke hazards in your home that an air purifier can help to eliminate.
Cooking, for example, i.e., frying or using a BBQ or an open fire can release smoke particles that are just as hazardous as tobacco smoke.
Deep-frying gives off an almost invisible smoke which can lead to concentrations of PM (particulate matter) 170 times higher than normal levels (for 2.5 particulate matter with diameter ≤ 250 nm) mass concentrations. Studies show that an air purifier can lead to a statistically significant reduction in the indoor PM2.5 levels.
But Tobacco is the Biggest Danger
Cooking takes place sporadically. Same with agricultural fires or burning buildings. Tobacco smoke on the other hand can be insidiously regular and therefore hammer away at our well-being on a constant basis.
Tobacco smoke contains well-known carcinogenic chemicals like benzene, vinyl chloride, polonium 210 and formaldehyde. It gives off gases like carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, butane, and toluene. It also contains deadly toxic metals like chromium, arsenic, lead, and cadmium.
The problem is people don’t always smoke outside or consider others (e.g. children). As the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) say, the main place where young children are exposed to secondhand smoke is at home.
Children who are exposed to SHS (secondhand smoke) have higher levels of cotinine (a biological marker) which enables scientists to measure its effects (and which confirms the link between SHS and health effects).
According to the CDC, 4 in every 10 U.S. children aged 3-11 are exposed to secondhand smoke. This is 3 times higher than the number of non-smoking adults that live with a smoking partner.
The effects on children are shown to be both immediate and long-term. For example, babies exposed to SHS are more likely to suddenly die from infant death syndrome (SIDS). And exposed pregnant mothers are likely to have less healthy babies (with lower birth weight and weakened immune systems).
In fact, the list of linked ailments and diseases goes on and on and sadly, the effects in childhood are accentuated and can develop into adulthood.
So, clearly, an air purifier, in tandem with other measures (e.g. not smoking near children) can be a vital tool in safeguarding the health of all, especially our children. Remember too: air filtration is not only good for smoke, but also for removing other forms of air pollution like mold spores, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and even fine pet hair floating in the indoor air.