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Article | Smoking outdoors at pubs and bars: is it a problem? An air quality study

Aims: (i) To measure air quality in semi-enclosed outdoor smoking areas of pubs and bars in New Zealand. (ii) To evaluate evidence of drift of fine particulates of secondhand smoke (SHS) from semi-enclosed outdoor smoking areas to indoor (smoke-free) areas. (iii) To evaluate evidence that the degree of communication between the outdoor smoking area and indoor areas influences the level of particulates indoors.

Methods: We measured fine particulate levels (PM2.5) using portable real-time aerosol monitors in a convenience sample of seven pubs and bars in central Wellington City. This was on one to three occasions (12 measurements in total) over four different nights.

Results: On the first two nights, when there was no or infrequent communication between the outdoor and indoor areas, the mean level of PM2.5 varied from 32 to 109 µg/m3 in the outdoor smoking area, and from 14 to 79 µg/m3 in the adjacent indoor areas. On nights three and four, communicating doors were generally open most of the time. The mean level of PM2.5 varied from 29 to 192 µg/m3 in the smoking areas, from 36 to 117 µg/m3 in adjacent indoor areas, and from 23 to 104 µg/m3 in more distant indoor areas. Levels of PM2.5 in adjacent indoor areas were highest in pubs where communicating doors were open all the time (mean 117 µg/m3), intermediate where communicating doors were open intermittently (mean 85 µg/m3), and lowest when they were wholly or mainly closed (mean 25 µg/m3).

Conclusions: Air quality in semi-enclosed outdoor smoking areas was variable, and in some pubs was very poor. Where free communication exists between outdoor smoking areas and indoor areas, SHS drift can often greatly reduce indoor air quality throughout the pub or bar. Regulations to restrict the degree of communication and proximity of smoking areas to indoor areas may be justified to maintain indoor air quality and to protect health, particularly that of workers.

Citation: Edwards, R., & Wilson, N. (2011). Smoking outdoors at pubs and bars: is it a problem? An air quality study. New Zealand Medical Journal, 124(1347), 1-11.

Listen to Richard Edwards being interviewed by Kathryn Ryan on Radio New Zealand’s ‘Nine to Noon’ show about the research.  Michael Colhoun, spokesperson for ASH, and Bruce Robertson, Chief Executive of Hospitality New Zealand, were also interviewed for this story.