Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dr. Varun Puri's Statements in Suburban Journal

Dear St. Charles County Councilmen,

In a Suburban Journal article yesterday, Dr. Varun Puri made statements in support of a St. Charles County smoking ban that need qualification. While Dr. Puri rightly suggests that no one in the scientific community contends that all secondhand smoke exposure is without ill health effects, the extent of those ill-effects is indeed still in dispute as is the ability of ventilation/filtrations systems to reduce secondhand smoke exposure to an tolerable level. As evidence of this ongoing dispute, please find attached a letter written in 2009 by Dr. Geoffrey Kabat, Senior Epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to the St. Louis County Council, which questions the extent of the life risk of second smoke and makes this statement about the use of air filtration to address the health concerns of secondhand smoke:

"Yet, since the available evidence suggests that the effects of environmental tobacco smoke, particularly for coronary heart disease, are considerably smaller than generally believed, lawmakers may therefore have greater latitude than generally believed to consider the segregation of smokers and nonsmokers and the use of air filtration as adequate and responsible ways to address the health concerns of environmental tobacco smoke in workplaces such as bars and restaurants."

Please also find attached a letter from Dr. Roger Jenkins, a scientist at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who led the largest study ever conducted concerning the actual smoke exposure of employees in bars and restaurants in 16 US cites, as well as tests of the effectiveness of restaurant ventilation systems against secondhand smoke. St. Louis was one of the cities tested. Dr. Jenkins sums up his findings:

"Overall concentrations of ETS were fairly low: the highest concentration of particles measured in any facility were still 1/7th of the OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit...The data from the study indicated that it is possible to reduce ETS in the non‐smoking section to levels that are comparable to those encountered in similar facilities in which smoking is prohibited altogether. The findings suggested that effective segregation of smoking and non‐smoking areas in hospitality facilities is both achievable and economically viable if sufficient attention is given to overall system design, robust air exchange rates, directional airflow, and the use of appropriate heat recovery systems."

Let me further add that even Surgeon General Carmona in his 2006 report reserved judgement concerning the ability of air filtration systems to remove smoke from bar and restaurant air saying that their effectiveness needed more widespread demonstration to be accepted. Local bar employees report that such systems can indeed remove the sight and smell of smoke, and tests conducted by the casinos have found that their best air filtration systems are able to render indoor air as clean as the air outdoors despite indoor smoking. Please find this casino research attached.

Councilmen, please do not let overblown statements in the press by smoking ban advocates bully you into not considering technologies that could provide a legitimate basis for a rational smoking ban exemption such as the City of Chicago included in its ban. Though I believe OSHA's ruling concerning secondhand smoke in the workplace should be accepted as final, rational options short of a total County ban exist which can allow business owners, employees and patrons continued free choice and should be explored.



Bill Hannegan
314.315.3779 (cell)