As an Augusta Commission committee prepares to resume work this week on a potentially tougher smoking ordinance, research conducted last year in some Augusta bars that permit smoking found indoor pollution levels more than 10 times over the limit for outdoor air, putting patrons and staff potentially at risk for lung cancer and heart disease, the researcher said.
The commission’s Public Services Committee will hold a work session Wednesday on the ordinance that it had sent back to General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie in October for revisions. Committee Chairman Corey Johnson, for instance, wanted the ordinance revised to address smoking in a car with children, among the other potential restrictions.
The proposed ordinance would ban smoking in all public places and in some outdoor areas such as parks and construction sites. Augusta is currently under a statewide law that bans smoking in most places where children are present but allows it for adult-only places such as bars and restaurants that don’t admit anyone younger than 18.
But while it is legal to smoke in those places, the air quality clearly suffers. Public health researcher Dr. Paul Mowery, a contractor for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did a survey of Augusta establishments last February at the behest of the East Central Health District.
Using air samplers that can measure fine particle emissions, the researchers went into 25 places in Augusta, which were not named in the survey, and took readings for about half an hour. Lit cigarettes were noted in 16 of the 25. The highest reading was 499.8 micrograms per cubic meter of fine particles; the Environmental Protection Agency sets the acceptable outdoor air limit as an average 35.5 micrograms per cubic meter over 24 hours. Of the 16 establishments where smoking was noted, the average was 197.4 micrograms per cubic meter.
Fine particles are a particular concern for the EPA and health advocates because of their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and cause damage. And that could affect people who go to or work in those places, Mowery said.
“People that are exposed to those levels for long periods of time are at risk for lung cancer and other respiratory diseases,” he said.
The particles have also been linked with cardiovascular disease, Mowery said.
“For people who are perhaps at a higher risk of a heart attack anyway, it can actually cause a heart attack,” he said.