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Bars and Restaurants in Smoke-Free Cities Have 82% Less Air Pollution Than Cities That Allow Smoking, Seven-City Study Finds

CDC Recently Advised Persons With Heart Disease to Avoid Smoky Establishments
May 21, 2004

Washington, DC — Bars and restaurants in cities that protect workers and patrons with smoke-free workplace laws have dramatically lower levels of indoor air pollution than those without such protections, according to a study released today.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, used state-of-the-art air pollution monitors to measure the levels of fine particulate air pollution in the bars and restaurants of seven major U.S. cities. Three of the cities – Buffalo, New York and Los Angeles – have comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws covering restaurants and bars, and four – Baltimore, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Hoboken, NJ – do not have such laws.

The study found that air pollution levels were 82 percent lower on average in venues required by law to be smoke-free compared to those where smoking was permitted. In cities without smoke-free laws, full-time bar and restaurant employees are exposed on the job to more than four times the average annual limits of fine particulate air pollution recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the study found.

The study found that New York City’s restaurants and bars had the lowest level of air pollution, followed in order by Buffalo, Los Angeles, Hoboken, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, DC, which had the highest levels of indoor air pollution.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 known carcinogens and hundreds of toxic chemicals, and is a known cause of lung cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and asthma.

“This study shows precisely why policymakers need to enact comprehensive smoke-free air policies that cover all indoor workplaces and all workers,” said William V. Corr, Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which commissioned the study along with the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute. “The study demonstrates conclusively that smoke-free air laws work to protect workers and patrons from the harmful air pollutants in secondhand smoke. Smoke-free air laws are about protecting health and protecting the right of all workers and patrons to breathe clean air.”

The study, conducted between March 25 and April 17, 2004, involved 53 bars and restaurants in the seven cities. To receive an accurate representation, researchers visited a minimum of three bars and three restaurants in at least two popular entertainment districts in each of the seven cities. Most sampling was performed on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings between 6:00 PM and 3:00 AM. The study is the largest of its type ever conducted to measure the impact of smoke-free laws on the indoor air quality of restaurants and bars.

“Regardless of location, levels of tobacco smoke pollution were dramatically lower in bars and restaurants that were smoke-free, and this should translate into lower disease rates for these workers,” said Andrew Hyland, lead investigator of the study.

The EPA has found that fine particulate air pollutants can penetrate deeply into the lungs and have serious health effects, including increased respiratory symptoms and disease, decreased lung function, and alterations in lung tissue and structure. These particles also carry other dangerous chemicals, including carcinogens, into the lungs. There is a direct link between RSP levels and levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), which are known carcinogens in cigarette smoke.

The study comes amidst accumulating evidence of the health harms caused by exposure to secondhand smoke. Because of evidence that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger heart attacks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April advised persons with heart disease to avoid indoor settings where smoking is allowed. The CDC recommendation accompanied a study published in The British Medical Journal that found the number of heart attacks reported in Helena, Montana, fell by 40 percent during a six-month period in 2002 when the city’s comprehensive smoke-free law was in effect (the law is currently on hold due to a legal challenge). The CDC estimates that secondhand smoke causes 35,000 heart disease deaths a year in the United States and expects to revise that estimate upward as a result of the Helena study.

A study issued in 2002 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization concluded, “Nonsmokers are exposed to the same carcinogens as active smokers. Even the typical levels of passive exposure have been shown to cause lung cancer' among people who have never smoked. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are especially vulnerable, suffering more asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and other ailments.

Several studies have also shown that there is no negative impact on restaurant sales or employment from smoke-free policies. A recent report by the New York City Department of Finance, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Small Business Services, and Economic Development Corporation, found that since New York City’s smoke-free policy took effect March 30, 2003, business receipts for restaurants and bars have increased, employment has risen, the number of liquor licenses has increased, virtually all establishments are complying with the law, the vast majority of New Yorkers support the law, and customers and workers alike are being protected from the harmful health effects of secondhand smoke.

According to the 2004 Zagat New York City Restaurant Survey, which polled nearly 30,000 New York restaurant-goers, 'the city's recent smoking ban, far from curbing restaurant traffic, has given it a major lift.' In fact, the survey reports that by a margin of almost 6-to-1, respondents said they are eating out more often because of the city's smoke-free workplace policy.

“A smoke-free workplace law is a win-win-win for every community. It protects workers and customers from harm, it is politically popular, and it may even help improve the business climate,” Corr concluded.