A DAY DOES NOT PASS when we are not asked to believe that a substance that most people were breathing since the beginning of time – smoke from ordinary plant materials – cannot be dealt with using modern air cleaning technology. For all the literature produced about it, there have been no medical cases where causation of medical conditions has been categorically proven to be due to low levels of exposure to tobacco smoke – a fact that has made many people question the need for any smoking ban, never mind one as comprehensive as the one found in Scotland.
Recently I proposed, on behalf of Freedom to Choose (Scotland)1, Scottish Parliament petition 01451 (Review of smoking ban) in order to challenge the assumptions of the health lobby, whose underlying motivation is to discourage smoking, that smoke is a toxin that no air cleaning technology can now or will ever be able to deal with safely, that there is no safe level of tobacco smoke, and, most definitely, that ventilation doesn't work.
Declaring that never will technology be able to clear the emissions from smoking seems to be the product of a mindset that does not want to enable smokers to be catered for either in the workplace or in recreational venues. The position of Freedom to Choose (Scotland) is that society's interests should be met rather than resisted. A blanket prohibition on smoking makes it harder for people to get together socially, and this affects people more in districts where concentrations of smokers are higher, aggravating inequalities in many ways.
It is generally true that in workplaces there is a principle that exposure to toxins is best avoided if at all possible, however it has also always been recognised that different workplaces involve different sorts of exposures to different levels of risks from different sources that are difficult to avoid without fundamentally challenging the nature of that workplace.
Asking schoolteachers and children to put up with classrooms that had tanning lamps installed and running in the ceilings would be unacceptable, yet we allow restaurants to install patio dining and drinking facilities where their workers are "forced" to expose themselves on a daily basis to the risk of malignant melanoma from solar radiation. Just as with any Class A carcinogen, there is, theoretically, no safe level of exposure to sunlight, yet we do not ban patio dining: we accept that workers can reduce the risk through partial protection provided by clothing, awnings, and sunscreen use.
We tolerate workers being exposed to levels of carbon monoxide and diesel exhaust products in indoor garages that would never be acceptable in a day-care centre: we do not simply ban indoor garages, however we accept the partial protection afforded by modern ventilation and air filtration technology.
Freedom to Choose (Scotland) is urging that the same sort of thought be applied to allowing pubs freedom of choice in deciding their own smoking policies based upon the wishes of their owners, workers, and clientele.
The ambient air, into which tobacco smoke is released, is not clean in the first place, making it well nigh impossible to isolate secondary smoke as the cause of sickness because pollutants contained in smoke are not limited to smoke. So not only is smoke not avoidable, but removing it still leaves air containing viruses, bacteria, spores, pollen, and plain old smells.
If the advocates of smoking bans are interested in clean air, their method of extracting one specific source of so-called ‘toxins’ (tobacco smoke) and leaving us with record-breaking pollutant levels in the general atmosphere lacks all logic. Their purpose is clearly and simply to discourage tobacco use by pinning all kinds of respiratory, heart and lung conditions on to smoking (or secondary smoke), in spite of the exposures to other toxins or adverse environmental conditions in the workplace, on the battlefield, or even in the home.
There are specific, measurable standards of occupational exposure to airborne contaminants, and permissible exposures vary between different jurisdictions. In saying that there is ‘no safe level’, the enemies of tobacco smoke declare that there is no point in measuring tobacco smoke which, because it is so lethal, one cannot be exposed to at all. In fact it is a mix of particles and gases, each constituent of which can be said to have a permissible safe level expressed in parts per million or billion. If people are smoking in a given air space and these permissible levels are not exceeded (for whatever reason: the room is large with a high ceiling, the window is open) there cannot be said to be a danger. When the level of smoking approaches impermissible levels, air-cleaning equipment can be used. Permissible standards are the guide regardless of whether or not a facility allows smoking.
Equipment that cleans air employs various technologies: extraction and filtration, ionising technology, and others: sometimes combined within a single unit. Any equipment that cleans air has to be maintained and serviced to ensure efficient running.
Any venue that wishes to permit smoking needs to ensure that its air-flow can cope with it. The industry should carry an audit of recommended equipment for all sizes of venue and price ranges but with specific air quality requirements in mind. Establishments that wish to allow smoking can then obtain the equipment, and once in place, patrons can be invited to smoke.
The result should be that ambient air, even with the addition of smoking, treated with air cleaning equipment, gives a cleaner result than ambient air in a non-smoking establishment where no treatment of air has taken place.
Of course upholding such standards would be an ongoing concern of the industry, with the assistance of environmental officers. But using local environmental officers to uphold and maintain air quality standards rather than simply hand out tickets to smokers is a far better use of local resources. This is about priorities.
Freedom to Choose (Scotland) believes that smoking bans damage people, increasing their isolation; and damage businesses, when they are helpless to alleviate a problem because of overzealous regulation. Taken to extremes, both isolation and business failure are measurably detrimental to health. With the rapidly increasing air pollution rates and increasing numbers of lung cancers found in non-smokers (Glasgow is one of the most polluted cities in the UK), sending people outside on to the street to smoke is worse than fiddling while Rome burns.
The power of the health lobby is a significant obstacle. We should be able to allow the hospitality industry (together with the appropriate government agency) to set standards for air quality, to give the air-cleaning industry the specifications it needs for improving ambient air, and in doing so create spaces with improved air quality where smoking can take place with the minimum of inconvenience to anyone else.
1 Freedom to Choose (Scotland) includes both smokers and non-smokers and receives no support from any industry.