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Study shows air is polluted in local restaurants

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'It's not anything you want your patrons and workers breathing.'

By James Roberts

The air in Campbellsville restaurants is polluted, a Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy study shows.

Local health and government leaders converged on Taylor County Health Department Tuesday morning for the unveiling of results of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy's indoor air quality study.

Between April and August 2008, air samples were taken in nine Campbellsville restaurants, according to Ellen J. Hahn, director of the Kentucky Center for Smoke-free Policy.

With small aerosol monitors concealed in pockets or purses, Hahn said, participants entered the locally owned and chain restaurants between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. and took air samples for an average of 48 minutes. According to the report, the devices were hidden so that restaurant workers and occupants' normal behavior would not be disturbed.

The devices measure fine particulate matter, often-invisible particles that contribute to air pollution.

On average, there were 44 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter in Campbellsville restaurants. While there is no indoor air quality standard, Hahn said, the national outdoor standard is 35 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter.

"That's dangerously high," Hahn said. "It's not anything you want your patrons and workers breathing."

Of the nine Campbellsville restaurants tested, three exceeded the national outdoor standard, one with a rating of 148 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter. Hahn said results were kept anonymous so that there is no way to determine which restaurants had the highest or lowest levels.

Hahn said the results show that workers and customers in Campbellsville restaurants are exposed to harmful levels of secondhand smoke.

Though some trace of particulate matter will always be present, Hahn said, eliminating cigarette smoke is the only way to reduce this number.

Louisville reduced its indoor particulate matter to 9 micrograms from 304 after passing a comprehensive smoke-free policy, while Letcher County's level dropped from 67 to 17 after a public smoking ban.

Louisville's first smoking law didn't apply to all public buildings, Hahn said, and particulate matter rose before a comprehensive law was implemented.

Therefore, she said, only a smoking ban in all public buildings would be effective.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Kentucky ranks No. 1 in the instance of lung cancer in both men and women and ranks highly in the instance of other types of cancer brought on by smoking.

And for those reasons alone, local physician Dr. Eugene Shively said, he is in favor of smoking bans and higher cigarette taxes.

"We have to do something about smoking," he said.

Shively encourages everyone to write to lawmakers and "tell them we need a tobacco tax in Kentucky."

Shively said smoking-related illnesses don't simply affect smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke. It hits the rest of the population in the wallet.

"We are all paying for health issues brought on by tobacco use. If we can do something to decrease this addiction, it would dramatically help us all."

Aside from causing cancer, smoking also affects blood flow, increases shortness of breath, can worsen digestive ailments and a number of other things that lead to numerous health problems.

Terry Coyle, a member of the Taylor County Board of Health and a local pharmacist, said smoking at the entrances of restaurants also seems to be a problem.

Hahn suggested that if a smoke-free policy is passed locally, it specifies an outdoor smoking area be a "reasonable distance" from doorways so that smoke doesn't drift into the building.

Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers asked Hahn if Taylor County would be grandfathered if a local law is passed before a statewide ban.

Hahn said in most cases state law takes precedence and doesn't allow for stricter local laws.

To date, only 21 Kentucky communities have passed smoke-free laws, 14 of them without any exemptions.

During a live, televised interview Monday night, Kentucky Senate President David Williams said a statewide smoking ban is needed.

Hahn said a statewide law would likely have so many exemptions that it would be rendered useless.

"We really need local communities to provide a critical mass ... We're really looking for local control at this point."

She isn't the only one who feels that way.

Members of Campbellsville Middle School's Pride Club attended the meeting, which Campbellsville City Councilman David Nunery pointed out, and had written to Mayor Brenda Allen and City Council members urging the adoption of a smoke-free policy.

"I've said before, that if we pass this, it will be the most important thing the Council has done since [my tenure]," Nunery said.

Councilmembers could revisit the issue as early as next month. And they'll now have more data to consider, said Tracy Aaron, Lake Cumberland District Health Department's education director.

"Hopefully, we have provided some information to help validate a comprehensive smoke-free policy by the City Council."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.