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Smoke danger remains

26 January 2006

I'm writing from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), where I've been following press coverage and local debate about smoke-free legislation. I have noticed there are some misconceptions about the effectiveness of ventilation equipment in removing smoky air in pubs.

Many people believe ventilation machines remove smoky air and replace it with fresh air. This is not the case. Ventilation machines act as a filter. While the machines do remove the visible elements of smoke, the cancer-causing particulates in tobacco smoke are too small to be seen by the human eye and too small to be trapped by the filter. This means that the most dangerous components of tobacco smoke are not removed, just recirculated. At best, these machines dilute the toxins. It has not been proved that they can remove them completely and I have yet to see a ventilation company provide a 100% written guarantee that they do.

Ventilation machines can make the atmosphere seem more comfortable. But this is not about comfort, it's a matter of health and safety. Second-hand smoke kills more British workers than all the other industrial accidents combined.

When the cross-party Health Select Committee investigated whether ventilation was an effective means of dealing with second-hand smoke, it found "according to most scientific opinion, while ventilation can make the atmosphere seem more pleasant, it cannot in practice adequately remove the carcinogens. Ventilation offers cosmetic improvements but does not represent a sufficient response to the health and safety risks."

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt says the proposed health bill will protect 99% of British workers from exposure to second-hand smoke. I urge those in the 1% who will remain exposed to write to their MP and complain. I know I wouldn't put up with it.

Kate Alley
Action on Smoking and Health, London

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