WEW 9/15/2010: “Wash U. study shows smoking ventilation systems ineffective”

Bill Hannegan just copied me on this e-mail he sent today to the Riverfront Times, Mike Reardon at KMOX Radio, and several people at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Abbe Goldberg of the Central West End Word does a fantastic job of spelling out our Double D Lounge secondhand smoke challenge. I could fund the challenge myself, but that funding would cause the results to look biased. I wish the RFT, the Post, or KMOX would sponsor this test. It would have international significance, yet the cost would be modest.

After reading this article, which covers the subject well, I’m not sure why Bill is so ecstatic. It doesn’t appear to help him in his quest to prove that “air purification” systems, the term he prefers to describe these recirculating air cleaning systems, actually work as advertised. Below is the West End Word article:

Wash U. study shows smoking ventilation systems ineffective

(by Abbe Goldberg – September 15, 2010)
A recent Washington University School of Medicine study of secondhand smoke exposure in St. Louis bars and restaurants shows that ventilation systems do not protect patrons and employees from nicotine exposure.

The study monitored 20 bars and restaurants in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, 16 of which allowed indoor smoking. Seventy-eight employees provided hair samples and answered survey questions. Researchers also looked at airborne nicotine, which can only come from cigarette smoke, in each location.

Every venue had some level of nicotine in the air but those that allowed smoking had levels 31 times higher. Venues with ventilation systems were shown to have higher nicotine concentrations in the air than other locations with similar numbers of smoking patrons. The researchers say this corroborates with the U.S. Surgeon General’s statement that “cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke.”

Nicotine was also found in the hair of employees in both smoke and smoke-free venues, and workers in both reported smoking-related symptoms, including coughing, shortness of breath and irritated eyes. In the long term, secondhand smoke causes cancer, heart disease and lung illness.

“Some of the effects of secondhand smoke on the cardiovascular system in nonsmokers are comparable to the effects of active smoking. These effects occur within a half hour of exposure,” said study author Joaquin Barnoya, research assistant professor in the Department of Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine.

The study pokes a hole in one of the main arguments against smoking bans passed last year in the city of St. Louis and St. Louis County, which will go into effect Jan. 2, prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places. Opponents argued that installing air filtration systems could eliminate the danger of secondhand smoke without reducing the rights of venue owners.

Bill Hannegan, founder of Keep St. Louis Free and a vocal opponent of the smoking ban, said he is “mystified by the results” of the Washington University study. He listed a number of reasons for these results, which he said go against everything he knows about air purification, his preferred term for ventilation systems.

He said that one problem with the results could be that in not knowing what restaurants were tested, we do not know what types of ventilation systems they use or how well they maintain their machines. Hannegan said that the study findings could be a result of restaurants not using their ventilation systems. Many restaurants “don’t turn on the machines unless people complain about the smoke,” he said. Another reason could be that the ventilation systems are taking the toxic particles out of the air but leaving the nicotine behind.

In order to provide more results, Hannegan said he is trying to get together funds to do another study using the same tests as the Washington University findings. He noted that time is limited because there is only a “small window of opportunity before the smoking ban goes into effect.”

He has found a location – the Double D Lounge in Brentwood – to conduct the new study. Hannegan claimed it has twice the amount of ventilation recommended and the system is never turned off, while the machines are checked every four months rather than every six months, which is recommended. Hannegan said that before installing the ventilation system, the staff at Double D Lounge would bring a change of clothes in plastic bags to change into at night because what they wore during their shifts would be saturated with smoke. With the system in place, it is no longer necessary.

Hannegan admitted that if his group’s findings are the same as in the Washington University study, they’ll concede – but he said he doubts that will happen. Ventilation systems have shown a huge improvement in the air quality of smoking restaurants, and testing a venue with what he believes to be the best system would corroborate that, he argued.

Sarah Moreland-Russell, a researcher who worked on the study, said that she believes Hannegan’s experiment would prove biased, given that just one, specifically selected venue would be chosen.

“[The Washington University] study was completed according to the rigor of scientific research,” Moreland-Russell said. “Part of that rigor is to randomly select a representative sample to study in order for the results to be generalizable.

“If Bill Hannegan did complete the study in just the restaurant he has suggested, upfront the study would be biased, and subject to Hawthorne effect,” meaning that the Double D Lounge could change its ventilation protocol during the length of the study to produce the desired effect, she said.

[mogasp: Wikipedia has an entry describing the Hawthorne effect, i.e. “The Hawthorne effect is a form of reactivity whereby subjects improve or modify an aspect of their behavior being experimentally measured simply in response to the fact that they are being studied,[1][2] not in response to any particular experimental manipulation.”
Please click the following for a full description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect]

19 responses to “WEW 9/15/2010: “Wash U. study shows smoking ventilation systems ineffective”

  1. The Hawthorne effect is irrelevant, a total red herring, and the WSU researcher should know that.

    It’s irrelevant because this test is NOT investigating average smoke levels with general ventilation systems. It is setting out to see if a particular quality of system, when PROPERLY DESIGNED AND WHEN PROPERLY RUNNING AT THE RIGHT LEVEL will reduce smoke in the air to an acceptable level.

    What is “acceptable”? I would say equal to the GENERAL quality of the air in nonsmoking establishments (A separate study unless previous studies have provided sufficient data. NOTE: to be properly scientific in a medical sense, the true test should NOT center on an element unique to tobacco smoke (like nicotine) but measurements of several harmful elements that might ordinarily be present in bar/restaurant air (e.g. formadelhyde, acetocholine, CO, chlorine gas, FPM 2.5 & 10, alcohol fumes)

    The goal is to provide air generally as safe in a medically significant sense or even safer than in a nonsmoking environment.

    Michael J. McFadden
    Author of “Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains”

    • Michael, As you point out, this is 1,067 characters long, which exceeds the new limit. However, I’ll allow it.
      I would agree that one could define “acceptable air quality” as what you’d generally find in a smoke-free establishment. I don’t see why this study, which investigated a number of venues with different ventilation systems, most allowing smoking, isn’t relevant though. If it shows markedly higher amounts of nicotine present in those venues allowing smoking compared to those that don’t that indicates to me that the ventilation systems billed as an alternative to smoke-free air are inadequate.

  2. Thanks Martin. Couldn’t quite hit 999 :>

    The WSU study wasn’t irrelevant: the Hawthorne concern was. Hawthorne notes that subjects knowing they are being studied may change their behavior. If you are looking for average real life readings then the Hawthorne Effect can come into play.

    However, when performing a one-time experiment where the behavior of the subjects can be set to “normal” or even “heavier than normal” conditions (as determined by previous observations), then the effect is irrelevant. Similarly the air equipment could be run at standard settings OR, just for experiment, run at MAX even if such were not normally used. The justification for the MAX experiment would be to determine if such equipment COULD produce air cleaner than normally found in nonsmoking venues.

    Simply showing “higher” amounts of nicotine does NOT show system inadequacy. If a swimming pool room showed “higher” amounts of chlorine than a classroom, does that make its system inadequate?

    – MJM
    [mogasp: 988 characters is close enough!]

  3. Marshall Keith says Ah yes you quote

    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.

    That was a policy statement and not based on any studies that they had done. And of course the lead author was Jonathan Samet a long time hard core anti smoker who has used questionable methods in both the EPA report and the SG report. It is based on the premise that there is no safe level of ETS even though that statement has never been proven for any chemical much less then ETS Again can you show any dose response curves that are linear? Of course not.

    • Ventilation systems are designed by HVAC engineers primarily for human comfort, not to guarantee against the air containing toxins or SHS. That is not the area of expertise of HVAC engineers. It was the tobacco industry which managed to gain representation on the ASHRAE standards committee, and succeeded in having the standards allow indoor smoking and still be acceptable. That has since been repudiated by ASHRAE but it has not been easy.

  4. mogasp: Please more scare tactics.
    You said ““Some of the effects of secondhand smoke on the cardiovascular system in nonsmokers are comparable to the effects of active smoking.

    The problem with this assertion is that it implies that second hand smoke is the equivalent to smoking and that there is a clear and eminent threat. Your friend Dr Siegel shows how these are dishonest scare tactics. He points out that the same physiological changes occur by simply eating a cheeseburger.

    Again quoting the Surgeon General. His own report does not even back up his statements. There is nothing in the SG reports that prove no safe level. So that the fact that their is nicotine in the air is proof that filtration is not 100% effective not that it does not bring the level of toxins to a safe level. By the way what is the safe level of nicotine in Tomatoes. Most of the conclusions by the surgeon general are based on Meta analysis, which if you look at the report on page 21 they admit that its use is “Recognizing that there is still an active discussion
    around the use of meta-analysis to pool data
    from observational studies” And yet the findings are repeatedly quoted as scientific fact.

    Click to access fullreport.pdf

    Marshall P. Keith

  5. mogasp, ASHRAE was a society of ENGINEERS. Go back 25 years and compare their ration of engineers to medical researchers/advocates. My *guess* is that the ratio was about 20-1. Fastforward to 2000ish and the push to have ASHRAE, for the first time ever I’m aware of, declare that ventilation could not handle normal indoor human activity and that instead it would turn that judgment over to nonengineers. I’d bet that ratio had changed a LOT simply to achieve that smoking ban support.

    I believe ASHRAE always demanded about 15air-changes/hr in smoking venues. It was purely due to pressure from the new antismoking advocates that had invaded them that the unprecedented “safety” statement was made. ASHRAE may now be legally vulnerable for ALL its statements that DON’T specifically address health.

    By the way, unless they’ve changed recently, I think ASHRAE has ONLY accepted not being able to control smoke IN A SMOKING ROOM. I think they still say that separate rooms are fine, no?


  6. mogasp, mogasp, mogasp

    You said “It was the tobacco industry which managed to gain representation on the ASHRAE standards committee, and succeeded in having the standards allow indoor smoking and still be acceptable. That has since been repudiated by ASHRAE but it has not been easy.”

    This is nothing but an out and out lie. The ASHRAE has never had anything to do with setting policy about indoor smoking practices. That decision has always been left to the owner, which in a free society is as it should be.

    Smoking bans are nothing but a feeble attempt do declare non-smokers a protected class and demanding more rights then everyone else including the property owner. The founders never intended the government to be your nanny and protect you from every conceivable hazard. I suggest that you learn what the founding principles were.

    When it comes to ventilation you are correct it is for comfort. But air filtration was indeed designed to remove toxins and are advertised as such.

    Marshall P. Keith

  7. mogasp takes the playbook of the nanny state right from Cass Sunstein, the most dangerous man in America to our freedom!
    “The nanny state is underrated; those who don’t appreciate it are nothing but ‘Homer Simpson’ Americans: Holy war between Socialism & Capitalism; Sunstein doesn’t call himself a Socialist, GIVEN CERTAIN CONCEPTIONS OF WHAT IS MEANS…Suns…tein just wants to control what people buy w/consumption taxes & the like! Sunstein believes there should ‘absolutely’ be a BOTTOM FLOOR on economic equality, and a consumption ceiling, probably!! Sunstein isn’t a Socialist, really, he’s not! He just wants gov’t to control how much you’re allowed to buy!”

  8. Actually, just last night before heading to bed I read what I believe is ASHRAE’S latest official paper/statement on ETS. And indeed, at least three out of the eight authors were MDs rather than engineers. Does anyone know if the rest of ASHRAE’s ventilation guidelines are determined nowadays by such a panel? If so, then it might be wrong to suggest that ASHRAE’s ETS rules have been “engineered” by Antismokers.

    It’s also interesting that ASHRAE goes to such pains not to provide its OWN recommendations, but merely accedes to the recommendations of what it refers to as “cognizent authorities.” Does it do such things in other areas it covers as well? If not, then it would seem that adhering to ASHRAE standards in other areas might very well leae businesses wide open to lawsuits since ASHRAE deliberately leaves out similar health warnings for other areas. (Or am I incorrect in that belief?)

    I also noted that the language in their document VERY clearly still allows for places to have separately ventilated smoking rooms. Funny how the Antismokers’ NEVER seem to mention that. If I’m wrong btw, please feel free to correct me.

    – MJM

    • Michael, I believe ASHRAE may allow smoking in a totally separate building used exclusively for that purpose, e.g. an enclosed smoking room separate from the main building. That’s just from memory though, so I could be wrong about their current standards and whether this is in them. I can’t conceive them allowing such a room inside another building though, even if it had its own HVAC system.

  9. Just looked it up! 🙂
    • It is the consensus of the medical community and its cognizant authorities that ETS is a health risk, (lists types).
    • At present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risk associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity.
    • Although complete separation and isolation of smoking rooms can control ETS exposure in non-smoking spaces in the same building, adverse health effects for the occupants of the smoking room cannot be controlled
    by ventilation. (NOTE: “for the occupants OF THE SMOKING ROOM)
    • No other engineering approaches, including current and advanced dilution ventilation or air cleaning technologies,
    have been demonstrated or should be relied upon to control health risks from ETS exposure in spaces where smoking occurs. Some engineering measures may reduce that exposure and the corresponding
    risk to some degree while also addressing to some extent the comfort issues of odor and some forms of irritation.


    I have a comment or two that I’ll make in a separate post.

    – MJM

    • Michael, Please provide the link for the ASHRAE reference you quote. If you provide it I’ll modify “Just looked it up!” to link directly to it for convenience.

  10. In the second point note they say “only way of ELIMINATING” — in other words they’re simply stating the obvious admission that the only way to assure ABSOLUTE ZERO is for there to be nothing present to begin with. The exact same statement could be made for alcohol fumes or any of an enormous number of other exposures… including the waste products of ordinary human respiratory metabolism.

    Now it’s in the wording of their third point that I see ASHRAE’s normally expected scientific engineering approach perverted. To simply say “adverse health effects cannot be controlled by ventilation” is nonsense: If I locked you in a closet with a number of thick burning ropes you would die. If I bring you into a McDonalds where a number of li’l darlings are singing a cute song and then blowing out the flames from a number of very tiny ropes (candles) I would say that ventilation/diffusion/dilution/amount makes it highly unlikely we’d be attending your wake the next day. … even if they were blowing out all the candles on YOUR cake! ;>

    The fourth point seems to make a rather convoluted effort to address reality while still trying to pound the somewhat contradictory central message home.

    – MJM

  11. ASHRAE Reports – Click year for link:

    Interesting: in 2001/2 neither Dr. Samet nor Coultas are present. I have not checked if any of the personnel have hidden background competing interests in tobacco/anti-tobacco research, associations, or support. It might be interesting to check for tobacco/antismoking/engineering/medical connections of the earlier & later voting members and the history of changes.

    Also of interest: It may be incorrect to say “ASHRAE has determined” anything about health standards. They seem to have agreed to simply repeat whatever “cognizant authorities” told them to. Note 2001:

    “In adding the requirement for additional ventilation and/or air cleaning, it is noted that the specific amount of additional ventilation cannot be determined until cognizant health authorities have determined an acceptable level of environmental tobacco smoke.”

    If the SG is considered the “cognizant authority” then I’d guess ZERO is the only “acceptable level”?

    [983 characters]

  12. mogasp,
    everything from the ASHRAE are policy statements and as of late I see Jonathan Samet’s name on avery one. He and Glantz are well known anti-smoking activist. The ASHRAE did not do any studies to determine if ventilation or filtration brought levels of toxins to a safe level. As I have pointed out there is nothing in the SG report that proves that there is no safe level. The only group that even tried to find out what was a safe level was OSHA and they were threatened with lawsuits by ASH. I pointed out on page 21 of the SG report their admission of their controversial use of Meta-Analysis That was also used in the 1992 EPA report. Yet both you and other anti-smoking activist tought these findings as fact when the scientific methods behind them are highly in doubt.

    Again from the SG report page 21.
    authors of this Surgeon General’s report used
    this methodology to summarize the available data
    when deemed appropriate and useful, even while
    recognizing that the uncertainty around the metaanalytic
    estimates may exceed the uncertainty indicated
    by conventional statistical indices, because of
    biases either within the observational studies or produced
    by the manner of their selection.

    Click to access fullreport.pdf

    So again please show us the proof that there is no safe level and if you can’t then show us what a safe level would be.

    Marshall P. Keith

    [mogasp: This is WAY over the 1,000 character limit and should be rejected. I’ll allow it as an exception but next time please abide by that rule.]

  13. Anti-smokers are guilty of flagrant scientific fraud for ignoring more than 50 studies, which prove that human papillomaviruses cause over 10x more lung cancers than they pretend are caused by ETS. Passive smokers are more likely to have been exposed to this virus for socioeconomic reasons, and because their fraudulent studies are based on nothing but lifestyle questionnaires, they’re cynically DESIGNED to falsely blame ETS for all those extra lung cancers.
    And the anti-smokers have committed the same type of fraud with every other disease they blame on smoking and ETS.
    This is a massive and systematic violation of smokers’ Constitutional rights to the equal protection of the laws. And Bill Hannegan is nothing but a phony & a traitor, because he lets the anti-smokers get away with their scientific fraud. He’s a strawman chosen by the anti-smokers, whose purpose is to drown out the real opposition and create a false charade of dissent.
    [mogasp: character count=1,035 but it will be allowed]

  14. The “no safe level” controversy seemingly has two bases:

    1) The generalized “threshold theory” (TT) debate: Some feel there is a “threshold” for carcinogenic exposure with lower exposures called safe; others feel there is no threshold: that even one molecule of an offending compound = “not safe.”

    2) The statement by SG Carmona about his 700 page Report.

    Dealing with #2 is easy: If you read the Report I believe you’ll find there is only ONE mention, by ONE researcher of the “no safe level” concept as being reasonable, and that was only a suggestion in relation to asthmatic reactions. Carmona’s statement is *about* the report, his opinion of what it shows, and he clearly adopts the “no threshold” argument of point #1 when he says “Breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion.” My next post will argue there’s significant weakness in such a statement and that Carmona’s statement was not a “fact” in the true sense of the words used.

  15. Dealing with #1: The (TT) debate asks “Can a single straw break a camel’s back?” TT supporters could argue the SPCA should outlaw straws on camels because “you never know” just when a single straw might break a single camel’s back.

    TT says *ANY* measurement of a carcinogen is “unsafe” and needs to be outlawed unless it is clearly “inherent and necessary” to an important human activity. It would ban virtually all exposure to smoke, alcohol and sunlight except for those deliberately desiring such exposure as part of their work or play. A true and consistent TT would ban even outdoor smoking around nonsmokers, ban alcohol in any facility that is not purely devoted to alcohol service (because of the high volatility of the carcinogen), and ban sunlit patio dining to avoid unnecessary risk to waitpeople (remember: sunscreen and awnings provide only *partial* protection!)

    The weakness of the Antismokers’ argument is that they support the TT for smoke, but not for alcohol or sunshine.

    – MJM

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