Hospitals use walls of air to separate areas considered
contagious. And now systems in some restaurants change the air 10
times an hour - nearly the equivalent of leaving the bedroom window
open to get a cool breeze.
But can this relatively new technology eliminate the need for
antismoking rules in bars and restaurants?
This question is at the heart of a lot of hot air over
ventilation, as an increasing number of cities and states further
tighten their antismoking rules to eliminate all smoking in public
Restaurant and bar owners now argue that the technology has
improved enough that their facilities can now accommodate both
smokers and nonsmokers. Not true, say public-health advocates, who
maintain that no ventilation system can make a room safe for
The argument has become part of the ongoing smoking debate in
cities across the country.
This month, in New York, the city council, in a proposed bill to
tighten up antismoking rules, includes a task force to determine if
there are new technologies that can clean smoke-filled rooms and
filter potential carcinogens. In Washington State, another bill
tightening smoking rules, which recently passed the Senate, also
included a task force on ventilation. And, earlier this month, the
Minnesota Health Department, turning to a ventilation standard,
proposed a new law requiring bars to direct smoke away from
"The battleground for clean indoor air is shifting from economic
impact to ventilation technology," says Elva Yanez of Smokeless
States, a private-sector effort to support state antismoking
efforts. "Second-hand smoke is the Achilles heel of the tobacco
industry, and what we're seeing is a natural reaction to that
Antismoking groups point to Philadelphia as an example of how
task forces fit into the tobacco companies strategy. Last year,
Councilman Michael Nutter tried to introduce legislation that would
ban smoking in restaurants. To try to compromise with those opposed
to the legislation, he agreed to a ventilation task force. The task
force split right along ideological lines.
"There was total disagreement with the concepts - such as
acknowledging that second-hand smoke is a health hazard - to even
reach a middle ground," says Bob Finkboner, a nonvoting member of
the task force and a consultant with Invensys Building Systems.
"They could not even agree on the title of the report."
Still, antismoking activists say the Philadelphia task force did
accomplish one thing: It took some of the momentum away from the
bill, which never got out of committee.
The ventilation issue has also been successful at dividing the
antismoking community. California activist Stan Glantz accuses New
Yorkers of failing to notice the creation of the task force. …