When looking to buy or rent a home, of course you check to see whether a property has problems with radon or lead. But a new study published in Tobacco Control suggests that you also consider whether the previous occupant smoked.

San Diego State University researchers examined the homes of 100 smokers and 50 nonsmokers before the residents moved out… and again after new nonsmoking residents moved in. Air, dust and surfaces such as walls and ceilings were tested for tobacco smoke pollutants — also known as thirdhand smoke.

Results: Compared with homes previously occupied by nonsmokers, homes that had been occupied by smokers continued to have higher levels of nicotine and other tobacco pollutants in the dust and on surfaces. This occurred even after the homes had been vacant for about two months and even though the homes had been cleaned and repainted before the new residents moved in! Also: New nonsmoking residents were tested about one month after moving in. Compared with people living in homes previously occupied by nonsmokers, those living in smokers’ former homes had higher levels of nicotine on their fingers and greater amounts of a tobacco-related marker in their urine.

Self-defense: The health effects of thirdhand smoke are not yet fully understood — but as a precaution, researchers recommend against moving into a smoker’s former home, especially if you have small children… have asthma or another respiratory illness… or can smell stale tobacco smoke (a sign of high pollutant levels). If you already have moved in, consider replacing the main toxin reservoirs (carpets, curtains, upholstery)… having wood floors refinished… and cleaning air ducts and heating/air-conditioning equipment.