Secondhand smoke study buoys city efforts

Tying in to Belmont’s efforts to limit smoking within city limits, a new study from Stanford University suggests that secondhand smoke — even outdoors — is more dangerous than previously thought.

The study by Stanford researchers Wayne Ott, Neil Klepeis and Paul Switzer measured the amount of floating particles given off by a burning cigarette at distances from 18 inches to beyond 6 feet.

And although city leaders have backed away from banning smoking in Belmont, Mayor Coralin Feierbach said the study backs up their belief that stiffer restrictions are needed.

By turning secondhand smoke into a public nuisance like loud noise, Feierbach and the council hope to give Belmont police the tools to protect residents from wafting carcinogens. The council is still trying to determine the scope of the ordinance, from an all-out ban on smokingto simple restrictions in highly populated areas. According to Ott, the study — using particle sensors set up around burning cigarettes — showed that being within 6 feet of a single smoker outdoors can expose someone to similar or higher levels of smoke than being in an enclosed space, depending on distance.

The findings in the study were compared to measurements taken in Menlo Park’s Oasis Tavern in 1997. “The amazing thing to me is that just two cigarettes from one smoker less than a half a meter away is greater than the effect of all the smoke inside the tavern for an hour before they banned smoking,” Ott said. “Pound for pound, cigarettes are so tiny that the amount of pollution they create is astounding.”

Feierbach said the results of the study enforce her belief that the council is doing the right thing in pursuing a stronger smoking ordinance. “It just crystallizes that we’re doing the right thing,” she said. “People have said ‘has anyone proven that secondhand smoke is a problem,’ and this answers that.”

One of the people who have questioned the dangers of outdoor secondhand smoke is Robert Best of the International Smokers’ Rights Group, who said “there is no scientific evidence that proves that secondhand smoke in an outdoor environment exists,” in March.

Best told The Examiner that many studies are biased, and even if secondhand smoke is proven to be a problem in outdoor areas, he said that cigarette smoke is not the only potential carcinogen in the atmosphere.

Feierbach said the ordinance should be coming up for discussion at the June 12 council meeting.

jgoldman@examiner.com

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