Hopkins: Smoky bars pose risk


February 27, 2007|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,SUN REPORTER

The air in smoky Baltimore bars presents a far greater risk to the health of patrons and workers than that of smoke-free establishments, according to a study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Tobacco smoke in city bars produced airborne particle levels 10 times higher on average than the Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for outdoor air, the study found.

By contrast, the air in nonsmoking bars contained about the same particle levels as outdoor air and at least 90 percent less harmful particulate matter than the air in smoking bars.

The researchers also found high levels of nicotine in samples of hair from people who worked in bars that allowed smoking.

"The difference is enormous," said Dr. Ana Navas-Acien, one of the study's researchers and an epidemiologist in Bloomberg's department of environmental health sciences. "In Baltimore, where most workplaces are smoke-free, it's clear the highest levels of tobacco smoke exposure are happening in bars."

The publicizing of the Hopkins study, funded by the American Cancer Society, came on the same day as yesterday's vote by the Baltimore City Council, but its effect was unclear.

"It's nice that coincidentally we have the data ready today," Navas-Acien said. "It is an important day for Baltimore."

While the study has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the Hopkins researchers said the findings of elevated particle and nicotine levels do indicate a problem.

"These levels could be quiet easily reduced by having a smoke-free environment," Navas-Acien said. "The benefit is pretty enormous, which we know from many studies showing the relationship between secondhand smoke to many diseases."

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds, and 60 are known to cause cancer or are suspected of doing so, according to the American Cancer Society. Secondhand smoke has been linked to asthma, heart disease, lung cancer, lower birth weight and infections of the lower respiratory tract.

Hopkins researchers measured smoke concentration in 14 Baltimore bars over two days in late January as part of a larger study looking at secondhand smoke levels in bars in 20 countries.


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