Tiny tobacco smoke sensor developed

Scientists have developed a breakthrough device, smaller and lighter than a cellphone, that can immediately detect the presence of secondhand and even third-hand smoke.

Dartmouth researchers developed the device using polymer films to collect and measure nicotine in the air. A sensor chip then records the data on a memory card.

“We have developed the first ever tobacco smoke sensor that is sufficiently sensitive to measure secondhand smoke and record its presence in real time,” said Professor of Chemistry Joseph BelBruno, whose Dartmouth lab conducted the research.

“This is a leap forward in secondhand smoke exposure detection technology and can be considered the first step in reducing the risk of health effects,” BelBruno said.

“The intent of the project isn’t to make them stop smoking, but it is to make them stop exposing their children to smoke. On the other hand, if they are worried about their children, demonstrating these exposures may be an incentive for them to stop,” BelBruno said.

Secondhand smoke comes from the burning end of a cigarette or from smoke exhaled by the smoker. Third-hand smoke, also a potential health hazard, according to the Mayo Clinic, is nicotine residue that remains on clothing, furniture, car seats, and other material after the air has cleared.

While the current device is a patent-pending prototype, BelBruno foresees the eventual availability of an affordable consumer version that will incorporate a computer processor, reusable polymer films, and a rechargeable battery.

It may even incorporate an LED panel to provide instantaneous readouts. In addition to its uses in safeguarding childhood health, there are commercial applications for these unique detectors.

Installed in rental cars, hotel rooms, and restaurants, this device could help enforce owner and operator smoking bans through an alert system, much like existing, ceiling-mounted smoke detectors.

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