Tobacco industry promoted 'ineffective' ventilation systems

Blowing smoke: British American Tobacco's air filtration scheme; BMJ Volume 332 pp 227-9

Newly released documents reveal that, despite knowing that ventilation and air filtration are ineffective at removing environmental tobacco smoke, British American Tobacco (BAT) promoted these technologies to the hospitality industry as viable options to smoking bans.

Writing in this week's BMJ, researchers argue that a total ban on smoking in public places is the only way to protect all employees from environmental tobacco smoke.

The documents show that, although BAT concluded that the air filtration units were only 34% efficient at removing particulate matter from tobacco smoke, it continued to install units worldwide. According to BAT scientist, Nigel Warren, the company's interest in air filtration was primarily, "To negate the need for indoor smoking bans around the world "

BAT targeted the hospitality industry by pushing a so-called "smoker resocialisation" initiative, which aimed to portray smoking in a "more positive and stylish context" and to lobby against smoke-free public places.

In June 2000, BAT also installed "smoking tables" designed to suck tobacco smoke down through a filter and re-circulate the partially filtered smoke out into the room again. But, even if the technology was improved from earlier filtration units, the tables would be ineffective because isolation of the source or the worker are the only control measures that yield air quality that is safe to breathe, write the authors.

In November 2004, the UK government published proposals to end smoking in most workplaces and public places, but with exemptions for private clubs and pubs that do not serve food.

The public health community should reject these proposals, say the authors. Without a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law, the tobacco and hospitality industries can continue to mislead the public about the hazards of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke by promoting separate seating, ventilation, and air filtration as viable options to smoking bans.

This will do nothing to reduce the risk of lung cancer among employees.

All workers deserve to work in smoke-free environments. The United Kingdom should follow the lead of countries such as Bhutan, Cuba, Ireland, Italy, Malta, New Zealand, and Norway in legislating for a total ban on smoking in public places, they conclude.

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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