Canadian Consulting Engineer

Building systems don’t stop second-hand smoke

A newly released report from the U.S. Surgeon General says adverse health effects related to tobacco smoke cannot b...

July 24, 2006   Canadian Consulting Engineer

A newly released report from the U.S. Surgeon General says adverse health effects related to tobacco smoke cannot be eliminated through a building’s mechanical systems, including filtration or ventilation.
The report is in tune with the position of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) on second hand smoke.
In its position document published last year, Ashrae determined that although smoking rooms that are completely separate and isolated can control the transfer of tobacco effects in the same building, the same control cannot be achieved through ventilation.
U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona’s comprehensive report was released June 27. Entitled, “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke,” it is almost 700 pages long.
Chapter 10 focuses on technological methods of tobacco smoke control, and cites the conclusions of a study Ashrae did last year on the same topic. The cited excerpt from this Ashrae study reads:
“At present the only means of eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure is to ban all smoking activity. Although complete separation and isolation of smoking rooms can control secondhand smoke exposure in non-smoking spaces in the same building, adverse health effects for the occupants of the smoking room cannot be controlled by ventilation. No other engineering approaches, including current and advanced dilution ventilation, “air curtains” or air cleaning technologies, have been demonstrated or should be relied upon to control health risks from secondhand smoke exposure in spaces where smoking occurs, though some approaches may reduce that exposure and address odor and some forms of irritation.”
The Ashrae citation continues to say that its members must abide by regulations and “should educate and inform their clients of the substantial limitations and the available benefits of engineering controls.”
The U.S. Surgeon General said they found some disturbing health implications of second hand smoke.
“The health effects of secondhand smoke exposure are more pervasive than we previously thought … The scientific evidence is now indisputable: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance. It is a serious health hazard that can lead to disease and premature death in children and nonsmoking adults.”
The Surgeon General’s press release goes on to note that second hand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemicals, and is itself a known human carcinogen. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke has immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system and increases risk for heart disease and lung cancer. The findings are that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 per cent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 per cent. Second hand smoke is a known cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks in infants and children.
Ashrae says it is pleased that the U.S. government has agreed with its report: “Ashrae’s position is that the only way to effectively eliminate health risk associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity,” said Terry Townsend, P.E., Ashrae president, said in a press release.
The 2005 Ashrae report entitled “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke,” is at www.ashrae.org/positiondocuments.
The 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, “The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke,'” is at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke/report/


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