P-D Editorial 9/13/2010: “Clearing up a secondhand smoke screen”

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Today’s first editorial takes aim squarely at ventilation as a way to allow smoking to continue in indoor venues, particularly those like bars and restaurants. Ensuring that smoking continues in hospitality venues, which also includes casino gaming floors, has long been the tobacco industry’s fall-back position. And one of its major arguments has been that smoking can be accommodated with appropriate ventilation: there’s no need for legislators to institute smoke-free air laws.

This has galvanized local pro-smoking activist, Bill Hannegan, who has made this a cause celebre, persuading numerous business owners to install ventilation systems rather than go smoke-free. He used to hold up a restaurant near his home in the Central West End as a model of ventilation as a solution, but that has recently been replaced by the Double D Lounge in Brentwood as having the most advanced system. I’m anxious to test it and verify Mr. Hannegan’s claims.

Clearing up a secondhand smoke screen

By The Editorial Board | Posted: Sunday, September 12, 2010 9:00 pm | (44) Comments

As St. Louis voters prepared to cast their ballots on clean indoor-air laws last fall, opponents trotted out a familiar argument:

“Modern filtration systems have all but eliminated the dangers of secondhand smoke,” wrote Bill Hannegan, who headed a group opposing the smoking bans, in a letter to the Post-Dispatch.

It’s a seemingly compelling argument with an interesting provenance.

Unfortunately, it turns out not be true. Washington University researchers measured nicotine levels in 10 bars and 10 restaurants in St. Louis County. Their results were released last week: Places that allow smoking had 31 times more airborne nicotine than those that don’t.

Fully half of the establishments tested had ventilation systems. The ventilation systems didn’t help.

Bars and restaurants with ventilation systems actually recorded higher nicotine levels than restaurants and bars with no ventilation systems. Researchers suggested that may be because of the ventilation systems “recycling the air back into the same space.”

The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers — the people who sell, design and install ventilation systems — wouldn’t be surprised at those results. The group issued a statement in 2005 saying that ventilation systems cannot protect against secondhand smoke.

A Tufts University study of restaurants and bars with state-of-the-art ventilation systems reached the same conclusion in 2006. That same year, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona reported that filtration systems don’t work.

A 2008 study on nicotine levels in 10 St. Louis bars reported that indoor air pollution levels in bars that allow smoking were six times higher than in those that did not.
Notice a pattern here? Mr. Hannegan doesn’t. He told Post-Dispatch reporter Blythe Bernhard last week that he’s not willing to concede the point.

It turns out that the idea that ventilation is the solution to secondhand smoke came from the tobacco industry. We are shocked, shocked.

A 1988 strategy document prepared by the Tobacco Institute, an industry front group, laid out the rationale: “The argument of ‘freedom of choice’ with regard to workplace smoking is becoming increasingly difficult to sell. The concept of ‘indoor air quality’ (with an emphasis on science) has much more credibility and will draw a wider audience.”

That document is among thousands that became public after attorneys general from 48 states settled a lawsuit against the tobacco companies in 1998.

The Tobacco Institute’s report set out a strategy to “promote ventilation as the best solution to all indoor air-quality problems, including smoking.”

At about the same time, Philip Morris was launching its “ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) Strategy.” It’s goal, according to another document marked confidential, was to use “clean-air technology as a means of promoting smoking tolerance.”

The document lays out plans for downplaying the risks of secondhand smoke, as well as a plan of attack on what the company calls “‘politicized’ science.”

It’s no surprise that 20 years later, addicts and apologists are using the same playbook in their rear-guard defense of smoking. The surprise is that anyone would pay attention to them.

After all, since those strategic smokescreens first were dreamed up 22 years ago, 9.5 million Americans have died from tobacco-related causes.

6 responses to “P-D Editorial 9/13/2010: “Clearing up a secondhand smoke screen”

  1. Martin, I’m glad to see you opting for 1000 characters as 500 is really too small to say much.  🙂

    Let me pick just 1 thing in this space: the 31x claim.  Nicotine in places without smokers should be almost zero.  31x almost zero is still almost zero.  If I have a backyard swimming pool the deadly WW One poison gas, chlorine, is probably about 31x as high in my living room as it would be if no pools were allowed in my development.  Does that mean I am being poisoned or at risk of death?  Of course not.

    If the Nicotine is simply being used as a marker for smoke, then again we might be facing the “31x almost zero” problem, but since the researchers neglected even the cheapest and most basic tests for anything else we’ll never know. They also neglected a number of other specific questions that they seemed to have data for.  Why?  Were the answers in the wrong direction?  I can provide examples if desired.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”
    (total = 974 characters)

  2. If Martin would simply connect the dots rather then arranging them to suit his agenda, we would be better served. Perhaps Martin should be lobbying for proper ventilation systems in homes with children? Perhaps he should be lobbying for a ban on the selling of all nicotine products? 420,000 people are not faling over dead from second hand smoke. Your continuous comparison of apples and oranges is simply bad science. If the object of the game for Martin is to save everyone from second hand smoke he should be lobbying to stop first hand smoking. The federal and state governments do NOT want that, and the sources Martin quotes with all their hype do not want that. It would end their grant funding from the company who sells nicotine replacement. THose groups include the Cancer Society and the Heart and Lung Associations, who, in my opinion, are no longer “charities”, but are salesmen for nicotine replacement.

    • Sheila, It’s so nice when people commenting on this blog try to find useful things for me to do. Or make unfounded claims. Try and stick to the facts, please, instead of believing all the tripe you read. (Hopefully other than this blog, which attempts to be objective.)

  3. ventilation doesn’t work?????

    Now how do they manage to secure the safety of industrial workers from exposure to industrial chemicals that would kill most people in very short order?

    Interesting….we will have to inform OSHA that ventilation just doesn’t work!


    • Michelle, Do I detect a note of sarcasm in your comment?! Some jobs require protection from hazardous chemicals, for example, and that may require special clothing and/or additional ventilation. I used to work in a lab. where we handled potentially hazardous chemicals and we did so in a fume hood. The risk is part of the job description, like that of being a policeman or firefighter and you try to minimize it. Exposure to secondhand smoke is an avoidable risk, easily addressed by providing a smoke-free workplace.

  4. Martin, sorry, but whenever you raise the “avoidable risk” argument I’m afraid I *have* to point out the patio dining/sunshine argument, the perhaps somewhat more arguable alcohol-fumes/restaurant argument, and, adding a new one: indoor shower rooms with chlorinated water in gymnastic facilities. People can share their natural post-gym fragrances with others on the bus/train without risk until they get home rather than inundate gym workers with chlorine gas!

    – MJM

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