July 2, 2008

Smoking Tied to Hazardous Air Quality in La Crosse County Restaurants, Bars

By Terry Rindfleisch, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jul. 2--A local study found air quality inside many La Crosse county eating and drinking establishments that allow smoking exceeds hazardous levels.

A La Crosse County Health Department report released Tuesday found that in 13 of the 19 establishments evaluated, air quality exceeded the hazardous limit of the Air Quality Index established by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Air quality in some of the establishments was four times higher than the hazardous level, according to the report. Children, the elderly and people with chronic diseases are advised to avoid breathing air with such a hazardous level, said Al Graewin, health education manager for the county.

Good indoor air quality was found in one smoke-free restaurant and five others during times when no one was in the bar smoking, Graewin said. At one establishment, exempt from the La Crosse County smokefree restaurant ordinance because there is seating for fewer than 50 customers, air quality was at the hazardous level and another exempt eatery had unhealthy levels.

Sue Lynch, consultant with the Smokefree Air For Everyone Coalition in La Crosse, said policymakers need to pay attention to the study. Lynch said the SAFE Coalition, which led efforts to ban smoking in restaurants in La Crosse County municipalities, plans to encourage smokefree workplace proposals in La Crosse, West Salem and Holmen.

The study conducted in February involved indoor air quality monitoring for fine particle matter associated with smoking using the same outdoor air standards developed by the EPA and Wisconsin DNR.

"There is no indoor air standard, which is a weak spot in public health nationwide," said Jim Steinhoff, the health department's laboratory director.

The study's monitors spent about 30 minutes in each facility and recorded the number of people present and the number of cigarettes burning every 15 minutes.

Also noted was whether children and visibly pregnant women were present.

"Names of establishments included in the study will not be released because it is not assumed that air in these facilities is any more or less hazardous than indoor air in any other worksite in the county," Graewin said.

Steinhoff said the study's small sample had the same results documented in hundreds of locations throughout the country.

Local or statewide legislation prohibiting smoking in these establishments would "remove an unnecessary health risk to the public and employees of the hospitality industry," the report said.

Dr. Jason Knuffman, allergist with Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center, said a study of Madison bartenders found their respiratory complaints decreased after a smokefree workplace law went into effect in the city.

"There is no safe level of secondhand smoke," Knuffman said.

Study details

Findings in the indoor air quality report include:

--There is no safe level of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

--It is not possible for patrons and employees to determine the level of fine particulate matter from environmental or secondhand smoke in any specific establishment.

--Establishments may contain high levels of fine particulate matter for long periods after the last cigarette has been extinguished.

--Hospitality workers are likely to be engaged in ongoing strenuous physical activity while working in hazardous air quality conditions.

--Patrons and employees are likely not aware of their risk due to undiagnosed chronic disease. They are also not likely to know that even short-term exposure of 20 minutes can cause sudden life threatening cardiac events.

--Children, who are more susceptible to smoke-related illnesses, cannot choose to avoid smoke-filled environments.

--The study can be viewed and printed from the La Crosse County Health Department Web site at www.co.la-crosse.wi.us/health. Click on the Health Education link and the Tobacco Issues link, and then select Indoor Air Quality Study.

Terry Rindfleisch can be reached at [email protected], or (608) 791-8227.


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