Hospitality IAQ Forum Inspires Passionate Debate

January 25, 2002
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ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — You would normally think that bar and restaurant owners would balk at the idea of having a separate ASHRAE IAQ standard for the hospitality industry. You would also think that public health advocates would jump for joy.

You’d be wrong.

Participants at the forum titled, “Should ASHRAE Develop a Separate IAQ Standard for the Hospitality Industry,” held here in Atlantic City during ASHRAE’s Winter Meeting, didn’t exactly form the battle lines one might expect. The two sides stand thus:

The hospitality industry would welcome the standard, because it could allow patrons to smoke in communities that now have (or are considering) 100% smoking bans in public places. Advocates for nonsmokers’ rights would rather these establishments stick to the current ASHRAE IAQ standard, because it recognizes tobacco smoke and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS, second-hand smoke) as carcinogens; 62.1 is, as one consulting engineer called it, “a nonsmoking standard.”

In the middle of the two sides are several (but not all) members of the IAQ Standard 62 Committee and other ASHRAE members, who probably have personal reasons for their preferences, but who politely stick to safer issues, like politics. Many of these design engineers do not seem to relish the idea of yet another IAQ standard, especially in mixed-function facilities, such as a commercial office building with a bar/restaurant on the main floor.

One engineer, however, pointed out that there is precedent for creating a new standard. There’s a separate residential IAQ standard, one for health care facilities, and one for aircraft, plus an industrial IAQ standard “kicking around out there somewhere.” A new IAQ standard for the hospitality industry (bars, restaurants, and casinos) has the support of restaurant associations, hotel employees’ unions, and an energy management consortium.

(Note: Because this was a forum, the trade press cannot identify participants by name.)

‘COLLATERAL DAMAGE’

A member of a major restaurant association said, “It feels like we’re being sideswiped, that we’re collateral damage.” He questioned why engineers didn’t weigh in with the industry before making decisions that impacted owners’ livelihoods.

The owner of a small pub commented, “Our survival depends on our ability to accommodate all of our patrons, smoking and nonsmoking.” He also pointed out a few “myths”: That “one molecule of cigarette smoke will kill you,” and that smoking regulations in communities with 100% smoking bans would level the playing field among bar/ restaurant owners. Sure it will, he said — “the way Prohibition did. Ask Al Capone.”

The final myth, he said, is that nonsmokers who were kept away by cigarette smoke would fill the void left by smokers who decided to stay home and smoke. He pointed out that there simply are not many nonsmokers in casinos and bars. “We need a guideline to follow that will help us support the people who support our facilities.”

Yet another small pub owner added that due to a 100% smoking ban in her community, her sales have been down about 22% from the same time last year, and it’s not due to Sept. 11. “In this room full of engineers, anything other than full consideration of a ventilation solution is shocking,” she said. “Stop playing politics.”

A representative of a restaurant association commented, “We didn’t want to get involved in this.” But in debates with city councils over smoking bans, a professional standard carries a lot of clout. “Without a ventilation standard, they can’t accept our solutions. With no solutions, the air quality is not going to be improved.”

WHOSE RIGHTS PREVAIL?

A representative of nonsmokers’ rights countered that nonsmoking in public buildings has become widespread and accepted, so why move backward? “The hospitality industry is fighting,” he said; “fighting to promote smoking, through tobacco interests.” He called a published 25% loss of revenue “a fabrication” made up by Big Tobacco.

If the proposal for a separate standard passes, he continued, many other venues — movie theaters and meeting rooms, for example — will start calling themselves part of the hospitality industry. The separate standard would provide an opening for the thin edge of the wedge.

He also raised the question of liability: If a standard says a degree of smoking is safe and someone dies, who is liable?

A consumer (who also is a lawyer and a former smoker) pointed out, “It’s legal to smoke cigarette tobacco in the United States. ASHRAE can’t decide to dictate public policy.” And neither should such a standard deal solely with the hospitality industry. The engineers, she said, should be dealing with smoking and nonsmoking spaces, “not singling out industries.

“I can’t believe that all the parties” — engineers, smoking interests, and nonsmoking interests — “will ever agree on what is an acceptable level of environmental tobacco smoke,” she continued. Let “cognizant public health authorities” decide what a proper level of ETS is.

A tobacco industry member pointed out that “The restaurant industry has not had a vote. Air in the restaurant industry looks 10 times worse than in an office, according to ASHRAE’s published materials.” Moreover, “Standard 62-2001 has guidance for autopsy rooms, but not dining room smoking sections.”

GAMING INDUSTRY SPEAKS

A representative of the gaming industry stated, “We recognize that smoking is dangerous to the smoker and those with significant exposure to ETS. We have significant cleaning costs because of tobacco smoke.

“Do we want our patrons to smoke? No. Do we wish they would stop? Yes. But some of them do, and we can’t change that.

“People like me — lawyers, association people — don’t belong on an ASHRAE committee. We’re useless there. However, employees need a voice. Their health is affected.

“Nobody’s looking for an exemption,” he concluded. “What we’re hoping for is a ventilation standard.”

The nonsmokers’ rights advocate spoke up. “The tobacco industry wants to use ASHRAE’s authority to show that cigarette smoke isn’t harmful. It wants you to deviate from your definition to one that accepts risks. Or, you need to change your definition to one that removes health concerns.”

A member of the medical community spoke out: “The medical and scientific case is closed. It’s

a known carcinogen.” ASHRAE ought not set up a separate standard, he said. “You just don’t get better from lung cancer.”

DEGREES OF DAMAGE

The degree of effect Standard 62 has on the hospitality industry depends on local smoking restrictions in public places. In areas with a 100% smoking ban, a separate standard could be perceived as a step backwards. In areas that allow smoking in bars, restaurants, and casinos, though, a ventilation standard for smoking areas would mean an improvement in air quality.

The rest of the discussion was as clear as mud.

A consultant stated that “ASHRAE is not doing what it does best: Solve ventilation problems.” The “dosage” problem, the amount of ETS that could be allowable in indoor air, is a ventilation problem. “Let other people address risk,” he said.

An engineer said, “ASHRAE is not responding to the needs of the hospitality industry or my needs. I need a standard with a table for outdoor air rates with two columns: one for smoking rooms, and the other for nonsmoking rooms. The rest of the IAQ issues should be handled by guidelines.”

A consulting engineer pointed out, “We generally consider outdoor air to be clean enough to provide dilution of indoor air contaminants. The standard doesn’t need any more or any less ETS than is generally found in outdoor air.”

“Pick a number,” threw out another engineer. “We can ventilate to any number you want. The data does exist.”

This raised the hackles of the nonsmokers’ rights advocate. “Picking a number at random is unacceptable,” he said. “And go ahead and tell me: How many deaths are acceptable per year?”

An engineer said, “If we find a number, it should come from a recognizable source, like the Surgeon General, not someone chosen by the restaurant industry.”

In a gambling town like Atlantic City, it’s a safe bet no one’s opinions were changed as a result of this debate. But at least they all had the chance to speak their peace.

What do you think? Send your comments to Barb Checket-Hanks at barbarachecket-hanks@achrnews.com; 313-368-5857 (fax).

Publication date: 01/28/2002

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