Sunday, December 19, 2004

St. Paul Pioneer Press Air Quality Test Results for Nicotine in 20 Bars & Restaurants

St. Paul Pioneer Press (MN)
December 19, 2004 Section: MAIN Edition: St. Paul Page: A10 Column:WATCH DOGMemo:NO



Several Pioneer Press reporters dined at 20 restaurants and bars, all of which have smoking and nonsmoking sections. We chose a variety of places -- historic and brand-new, family favorites and trendy, casual and special-occasion, inexpensive and pricey -- in St. Paul and its suburbs.

We took with us a pump that draws air through a filter and measures the amount of nicotine present. The pump was encased in a box wrapped in gift paper and festooned with a bow; a glass tube containing the filter stuck out of the side of the box. We asked to be seated in the nonsmoking section and accepted wherever the host chose to seat us. The pump ran between 80 and 90 minutes.
Restaurant managers were not notified while the measurements were being taken. It is a practice similar to that used by the newspaper's restaurant critic, who dines anonymously when preparing her restaurant reviews.

We leased the equipment from the city of St. Louis Park, which annually tests the air in the nonsmoking sections of its restaurants and bars and posts the results on establishments' front doors. A lab in Bloomington determines the results.

The main factors in air quality are the ventilation system and barriers such as distance and walls between the smoking and nonsmoking sections. Our results for any given restaurant or bar also might have been affected by the time of day and the number of smokers who were in the smoking section.

One way to explain what the results mean is by referring to the air quality index that many newspapers, including this one, use every day on their weather pages, said James Repace, an international expert on secondhand smoke. That index's levels are good, moderate, unhealthy for some, unhealthy for most and very unhealthy.

A nicotine level of 1 microgram per cubic meter is equivalent to a particle level of 10. Repace added the pollution scores that the nicotine numbers would imply to the average fine particle background air pollution level of 10 to 15.

The results indicate that a nicotine score of 1 implies a particle level of 10 added to a background of 15 for a total of 25, in the "moderate" category. A 3 (equivalent to 30 added to a background of 15, or 45) would be "unhealthy for some" -- asthmatics or people who already have cardiovascular disease, for example. A 5 would be "unhealthy for most." At a nicotine level of 15, the air would be termed "very unhealthy."

Above 25 it becomes "hazardous," and above 50, "that puts you up into what we would call the 'significant harm' level. It's dangerous," Repace said.

-- Debra O'Connor


Restaurant test results

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