“Report for airport says smoking lounges work” …. NOT!

The headline of Post-Disptach reporter Phil Sutin’s POLITICAL FIX blog practically made my blood boil. Yet another study commissioned by Lambert Airport officials designed to fool legislators considering making the airport smoke-free into believing it should be exempted.

This is Lambert Airport’s modus operandi every time it fears it may be forced to go smoke-free, whether by the City of St. Louis or St. Louis County, both of which have jurisdiction.

The airport as usual got an industrial hygienist to do an invalid study to show the smoking rooms work and aren’t a problem. Invalid because the study uses a federal standard for nicotine vapor from tobacco in cigarette manufacturing plants and applies that to nicotine generated when you burn tobacco in a cigarette.

This is like suggesting that sniffing on an unlit cigarette is as risky as inhaling the toxins and carcinogens produced by a burning cigarette that lead to lung cancer and heart disease.

The most compelling part of these “studies” is a visual smoke test showing simulated smoke from a puffer being pulled into the open doorway of a smoking room at the airport. Such tests are routinely used by HVAC [Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning] engineers as a rough way to verify airflow at exhaust vents. To the lay person this visual is compelling evidence: after all, seeing is believing.

The first U.S. Surgeon General’s Report dealing with the subject of secondhand smoke, published in 1986, explains why that doesn’t apply. On page 137, in a section titled “Number and Size Distribution of Particles in Environmental Tobacco Smoke,” it notes that most secondhand smoke is invisible, being in the size range of approximately 0.2 microns to 0.4 microns. (For comparison, a human hair is typically about 4 thousandths of an inch, or 100 microns, in diameter, or 250 to 500 times larger.)

The report notes:

“ETS particles are in the diffusion-controlled regime for particle removal and therefore will tend to follow stream lines, remain airborne for long periods of time, and rapidly disperse through open volumes.”

In fact, from my knowledge of diffusion when I worked in a semiconductor lab. making laser diodes, particles this small move from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration, even in the presence of a countervailing force, such as provided by an exhaust fan connected to a ceiling vent like those provided in airport smoking rooms.

I’m not just speculating on this effect. Missouri GASP has proved it repeatedly, and the results for the airport smoking rooms can be found in the peer-reviewed study “Airport smoking rooms don’t work,” published in March, 2004 in the international journal, Tobacco Control, published by the BMJ [British Medical Journal]. You can find the study instantly on-line by Googling on the title: Airport smoking rooms don’t work.

I referred the reporter to James Repace, an international expert on secondhand smoke who lives in Bowie, MD, to provide a response which you can read in the article appended below. But oh, that headline still bugs me!

08.14.2009 3:23 pm
Report for airport says smoking lounges work
By Phil Sutin
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Smoking lounges at Lambert Airport succeed in keeping smoke in the lounges and out of the concourses where they are located, a recent report says.

Golder Associates Inc., the environmental consultant to the airport, said “smoking lounges are effective at preventing nicotine, respirable suspended particulates and gaseous contaminants from migrating from the lounges into the adjacent airport corridors/hallways.”

St. Louis County Councilwoman Barbara Fraser, D-University, has introduced a bill to ask voters to ban smoking in indoor public areas. At the request of Lambert officials, smoking lounges at the airport are one of the exemptions in her proposal.

The company from St. Charles gave the lounges a favorable opinion in late June. A subcontractor, Professional Environmental Engineers Inc. of St. Louis, in mid-May tested the air in and near all but one of the smoking lounges in seven of the eight lounges in concourses. The untested lounge is in a concourse the airport closed. The tests occurred in the daytime of weekdays May 8, 11, 12 and 14.

The study cost no more than $15,000, Jeff Lea, an airport spokesman, said Thursday. About once a year, the airport tests the effectiveness of the lounges, he said.

Smoking lounges come in varying sizes. They have an open door to concourses. The airport uses negative air pressure and air handling systems keep the smoking material in the lounges.

Professional Environmental Engineers tested each concourses for:

> Nicotine in the air.

> Airborne fine particles.

> Airborne microscopic particles.

> Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, temperature and relative humidity in the lounges.

> Airborne smoke tests.

Generally, the Professional Environmental Engineers put testing equipment at one or more places inside the lounges, at the doorway and 10 feet to 25 feet away from the doorway.

The results showed that the items being tested were in larger concentrations inside the lounges than outside with the exception of airborne microscopic particles at the C concourse lounge and carbon monoxide at the E concourse lounge.

Opponents of the smoking lounges questioned the study. “I don’t think the study has any validity,” said James Repace of Repace Associates Inc. of Bowie, Md. He is a biophysist who is a consultant on the handling of second-hand smoke. He spoke to the county council against the lounges when the council was considering a smoking ban in 2005 and 2006.

The nicotine standards cited in the Lambert study are for workers exposed to nicotine vapors at tobacco processing factories, not for nicotine for second-hand smoke, he said. The study did not take into account air turbulence that lets some tobacco smoke out when people leave smoking lounges, he said.

The only way for smoking lounges to keep second-hand smoke out of concourses is to have an airlock at entrances, Repace said.

3 responses to ““Report for airport says smoking lounges work” …. NOT!

  1. I wish the video would have had more verbal information about direction of the detected smoke clouds.

    • You can see clearly that the simulated smoke from the “puffer” is being drawn into the smoking room through the open doorway. That’s what the test is designed to show: direction of airflow. But that doesn’t tell you what is happening to the bulk of the particulates in secondhand smoke, which are invisible. And our paper “Airport smoking room don’t work” detected their presence, using nicotine vapor as a surrogate, over 40 ft from the outside of the smoking room door.

  2. James Repace? please he is hardly an impartial independent source. isn’t he the one that made the wild claim that it would take ‘tornado-like rates of ventilation’ are required to make a room safe from secondhand smoke?

    Of course I found the email exchange he had with Mark Wernimont enlightening.

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