Once again, the City of OKC was excoriated on the front page of a national newspaper for its public health shortcomings. On Monday, May 23, 2011, USA Today singled out OKC as it “lumbers in last in analysis of 50 U.S. Metro areas” noting that the study by the American College of Sports Medicine ranked OKC last “because of the residents’ personal health habits such as smoking and not exercising enough.”
OKC’s health epidemics are not only a cause for concern for the individual citizens involved, but also represent a real threat to the economic viability of our healthcare system and are an impediment to economic development. Roy Williams, of the OKC Chamber of Commerce, recently noted that the perception around the country of OKC’s pubic health shortcomings are the single greatest obstacle to company recruitment to OKC.
OKC must make substantive policy changes to begin to alter our downward spiraling health epidemics. I have introduced a resolution banning smoke rooms in OKC government-owned buildings and it will be heard before the OKC City Council on May 31, 2011.
Banning smoking in city-owned buildings is a logical first step in that direction. The placement of designated smoking rooms at City Hall and other city government workplaces is based on presumptions about the effectiveness of ventilation systems that are not supported by the scientific literature.
Second-hand smoke is responsible for 50,000 deaths/year in the U.S. of which 92% are cardiovascular related. Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals of which >50 are carcinogenic and >200 are toxic. The National Toxicology Program has determined that there is no safe level of exposure and even brief exposures will cause measurable cardiovascular effects. U.S. studies have shown as much as a 40% decrease in heart attack rates after smoke-free laws were enacted.
What is lost on proponents of smoking rooms is that ventilation systems are effective at removing large particles but ineffective at removing smaller carcinogenic and allergenic chemicals. The U.S. EPA Air Quality Index is a standard which assesses risk to different segments of our population based on the amount of particulate matter in the air. Levels greater than 250 are considered hazardous.
In 2010, the Oklahoma Tobacco Research Center published a study assessing tobacco smoke pollution in Oklahoma workplaces, specifically restaurants and bars. The data indicated that even with very expensive ventilation systems there was significant spillover into non-smoking dining areas and that smoking areas and bars were well beyond the hazardous threshold established by the EPA. Staff, as well as smoking and non-smoking patrons, are being subjected to hazardous air.
The only protection in the workplace is to establish smoke-free workplace laws and protections.
The World Health Organization’s strong recommendation is that the only protection is to provide 100% smoke-free air. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) has stated “ At present, the only means of effectively eliminating health risks associated with indoor exposure is to ban smoking activity.” Furthermore, a 2006 Surgeon General report concluded “separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to second-hand smoke.” A study by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology found that “even the best designed smoking rooms do not fully protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke and that some leakage of secondhand smoke is inevitable.” Up to 10% of smoking room air enters non-smoking areas just by opening and closing of a swing type entry door. Finally, the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine concluded “smoke-free workplace laws eliminate the hazard of tobacco smoke and provide health protection impossible to achieve through ventilation or air cleaning.
I have introduced a resolution banning smoke rooms in OKC government-owned buildings and it will be heard before the OKC City Council on May 31, 2011. I hope you will stand with me on this important issue as we work to make Oklahoma City a healthier community.
Together we can make Oklahoma City better!