The researchers expect to soon convert the prototype, which is said to be smaller and lighter than a mobile phone, into a wearable, affordable and reusable device that helps to enforce no smoking regulations and sheds light on the pervasiveness of second-hand smoke.
The sensor can also detect third-hand smoke, or nicotine off-gassing from clothing, furniture, car seats and other material.
The device uses polymer films to measure ambient nicotine vapour molecules and a sensor chip to record the real-time data, pinpointing when and where the exposure occurred and even the number of cigarettes smoked.
The prototype proved successful in lab tests and clinical studies will start this summer.
According to Dartmouth, the device could help enforce smoking bans in rental cars, hotel rooms, and apartment buildings.
It also could help convince smokers that smoking in other rooms, out of windows and using air fresheners still exposes children and other non-smokers to second-hand smoke.
The device would be more accurate and less expensive than current second-hand smoke sensors, which provide only an average exposure in a limited area over several days or weeks.
‘This is a leap forward in second-hand smoke exposure detection technology,’ said Chemistry Professor Joseph BelBruno, whose lab conducted the research, details of which are published the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.
Federal health officials in the US report there is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke, which can increase the risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease and childhood illness.