October 18, 2006
Charlotte, NC – A study released October 18 by the Mecklenburg County Health Department shows that Mecklenburg restaurants that allow smoking may have air that is 28 times more dangerous than the air in smoke-free restaurants.
The data was collected by the Mecklenburg County Health Department and released in partnership with the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association and Smoke Free Mecklenburg. The information was collected in January 2006, using Personal Aerosol Monitors (PAM).
Present at the data presentation was Robert Shepard, MD, co-author of a landmark study in Helena, Montana, that showed that a community with smoke-free worksites, bars and restaurants experienced a significant reduction in heart attacks. This study has now been replicated in at least two other U.S. cities.
"We know that anyone with heart disease, or risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or smoking, should not be exposed to secondhand smoke indoors," said Mecklenburg County Health Director E. Winters Mabry, MD. "The CDC has already released a similar warning. The more data we see on secondhand smoke, the more urgent the situation becomes in terms of the known danger to public health."
The PAM measures particles smaller than 2.5 microns in the air. The EPA measures these same particles in the outdoor air to give air quality measurements, because particles this size are known to trigger heart disease, heart attacks, breathing problems, and contribute to premature deaths. Burning cigarettes release significant amounts of this sized particle, so this machine is a proven measure of how toxic indoor air is when tainted by cigarette smoke.
On January 19 and 20, teams of volunteers visited 32 bars and restaurants and two bowling centers in Mecklenburg County. The volunteers stayed at least 30 minutes and made purchases in each venue, while running the PAMs.
The average PM 2.5 levels in nonsmoking venues was 11.16 micrograms per cubic meter of air, considered in the "safe" range. The average levels in venues with designated areas was 56.14 micrograms per cubic meter, considered unsafe for a 24-hour exposure by the EPA. The average level in smoking venues was 136.34 micrograms per cubic meter, considered "unhealthy" by the EPA. Average air quality in one smoking venue was 28 times worse than the average smoke-free venue. Almost half of the venues visited had average air quality levels considered to be "unhealthy," "very unhealthy," or "hazardous."
The Health Department is not releasing the names of the venues studied. "We could not visit every restaurant, bar and bowling center in the county. The ones selected certainly have no worse air quality than any other indoor areas that allow smoking," Dr. Mabry said. Studies also reveal that while ventilation systems may remove visible smoke from the air, they cannot remove the tiny particles that cause most of the health problems.
On October 17, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution asking the N.C. General Assembly to provide local governments with the authority to enact smoking policies. Four Mecklenburg County towns - Cornelius, Davidson, Mint Hill and Pineville - have also approved resolutions in support of local control on the issue.
For more information on public health in Mecklenburg County, visit