2013-02-12 P-D OpEd: “Time to go smoke-free everywhere in Missouri’s Capitol”

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Stan Cowan on numerous occasions over the years, including an indoor air quality test of St. Louis bars and restaurants in 2010 in collaboration with the Center for Tobacco Policy Research. I’m delighted to see his OpEd published in today’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

It focuses on one of MoGASP’s primary campaigns in the past: seeking a totally smoke-free Missouri State Capitol. Despite efforts spanning many years, that goal has proved elusive as some of those responsible have essentially thumbed their noses at federal law and the Americans with Disabilities Act, with which they are not in compliance by continuing to allow smoking, even if nominally confined to private offices.

Only by keeping the pressure on will the People’s House finally come into conformance with every other state office building, which is already smoke-free.

Stan Cowan

Stan Cowan

Time to go smoke-free everywhere in Missouri’s Capitol
Responsible choice * Majority caucus should pick a policy that protects people from harm.

While employees and visitors in other governmental buildings are afforded a workplace free from secondhand smoke toxins, the same is not true for our state capitol building.
         The Missouri House of Representatives rejected an amendment for all areas of the House to be smokefree and instead opted for each party’s caucus to determine office smoking policies for their members. The Minority Caucus adopted a smokefree policy; now it’s time for the Majority Caucus to act responsibly.
         Recently the Majority Caucus announced they are considering a policy to let lawmakers continue smoking in their offices while encouraging them to be “conscientious” and “respectful.” They suggested posting signs on doors; smokers providing equipment to mitigate smoke leaving their offices; smoking only between 6 p.m. and midnight; and leaving a window open.
         It seems a small, but influential number of representatives that insist upon smoking in their offices is preventing adoption of a smokefree policy, the only way that is truly “conscientious” and “respectful” of fellow legislators, staff and visitors.
         Flaws in the caucus’ suggestions defy the laws of physics.

         – A sign posted on a door does not keep smoke from infiltrating into neighboring offices or from entering the ventilation system to be distributed elsewhere in the building.
– Using equipment to “mitigate smoke emanting from their offices” is not a viable solution. The American Society for Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers concluded no air cleaning or filtration systems can be relied upon to adequately remove the toxins of secondhand smoke from the air. They stated the best solution is to not allow smoking in indoor environments.
– Smoking only between 6 p.m. and midnight still means the non-smokers in the building during those hours will continue to be exposed to this known cause for respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
– Leaving a window open, especially during cold weather, is wasteful of expensive energy and simply callous stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

         If legislators that smoke truly want to be conscientious and respectful, they will support a smokefree office policy and stop posing a threat to the health of others. There are a number of smokeless options available that can satisfy their nicotine cravings during the times they’re indoors. Better yet, quitting tobacco would be conscientious and respectful to their own health.
The Majority Caucus has an opportunity to do what is right and be praised for it. Also important, they will show the busloads of school children that visit the Capitol each year they are good role models by no longer permitting smoking in the Capitol, the people’s building.
         Polite and courteous encouragement may be sent to your state representative and to Rep. John Diehl, chair of the Majority Caucus, at John.Diehl@house.missouri.gov

Stan Cowan has dedicated over 35 years toward protecting and advancing pubic health in Missouri. He was active in the citizens coalition that led to a voter-approved ordinance for smoke-free workplaces in Jefferson City.

2 responses to “2013-02-12 P-D OpEd: “Time to go smoke-free everywhere in Missouri’s Capitol”

  1. MoGasp, you wrote, “Using equipment to “mitigate smoke emanting from their offices” is not a viable solution. [ASHRAE] concluded no air cleaning or filtration systems can be relied upon to adequately remove the toxins of secondhand smoke from the air.”

    MoGasp, I feel you are misleading here. ASHRAE actually holds that INSIDE A ROOM with smokers that reasonable ventilation/filtration equipment cannot reach down and grab every last molecule of smoke before it might find its way to the nose of a nonsmoker in that room. They cited the lack of threshold as meaning, per “cognizant authorities,” that only a ZERO level of exposure could be acceptable — flying in the face of just about every other substance on the face of the earth that ASHRAE regulates.

    ASHRAE also stated that smoking rooms separated from nonsmokers was fully acceptable provided it met reasonable standards of air separation. That’s a point I don’t think I’ve ever seen MoGasp, or any other antismoking group, admit.

    – MJM

    mogasp reply: You’re attributing to me things that were actually written by Stan Cowan in his OpEd.
    At the same time I don’t believe you can use ASHRAE as supporting smoking in any indoor environment shared by smokers and nonsmokers.
    Finally, ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air Conditioning Engineers, is primarily in the business of setting standards for comfort in indoor environments, not safety. They defer to others who are specialists in the field when it comes to secondhand smoke, for example.

  2. Whoops! Sorry, my fault! True, I wouldn’t say ASHRAE supports smoking, just that it’s refused to say that its ventilation/filtration systems can’t handle smoking when it’s in a separate room.

    Question though: if ASHRAE normally only addresses comfort, why did it move outside its normal M.O. to so specifically address safety in this case? Obviously there are many other airborne problems that affect health and safety in buildings: does it refuse to address them as such? Are there examples of other ones that it calls upon “cognizant authorities” to evaluate? I’ll confess I can’t think of much in that regard at the moment other than perhaps such things as carcinogenic alcohol fumes or airborne microparticles of shellfish in restaurants where people are cracking open crabs/lobsters or biting shrimp off their tails etc…. although actually, yeah, those should certainly be given the same zero regulation if the concern is truly about safety, particularly of sensitive populations.

    – MJM

    mogasp reply: I could give you my opinion but why don’t you ask AASHTO directly?!

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