The ranks of U.S. smokers are in steady decline. Unfortunately, frets Raymond H. Deibert, a director of client services at Boelter Environmental Consultants in Park Ridge, Ill., per-smoker cigarette consumption is not. Puffing on 30 cigarettes a day (3 more a day than were smoked 30 years ago), today's average smoker lights up 2 cigarettes an hour, allowing each to burn for 10 minutes. Since people spend some 90% of their time indoors, "it takes only a few smokers in a given space to release a more-or-less steady stream of environmental tobacco smoke [ETS] into indoor air," Deibert reckons.

What to do with an enclosed office?

A separate smoking area doesn't work. ETS-contaminated air enters nonsmoking areas through a company's heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system. However diluted, the remaining ETS exceeds the stringent guidelines promulgated earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which hold that exposure to secondhand smoke at any level is potentially harmful. The effectiveness of electrostatic cleaners or air filters in controlling tobacco smoke "has yet to be proven," Deibert says, and radical designs such as tobacco company R.J. Reynolds's carpeted room, in which air is supplied through the floor and exhausted through the ceiling, "wouldn't remove all the contaminants."

A self-contained lounge is a viable though costly alternative -- provided it's separately ventilated, exhausts directly to the outside, and is maintained at a negative pressure relative to the rest of the building. But the safest and cheapest policy is to ban smoking altogether, Deibert concludes. Considering the extra costs involved in building maintenance, insurance, lost productivity, and absenteeism, a smoker costs a company about $1,000 a year more than a nonsmoker does. But a ban should be just the start. When a company introduces a smoking policy, Deibert recommends, it should at the same time make a smoking-cessation program available to employees who want to quit.

Some topical publications: The Consultant, a quarterly environmental news journal from Boelter (708-692-4700); and "Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking" (publication number EPA/600/6-90/006F), an evaluation of the hazards of ETS in the workplace and in home settings, from the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, Washington, DC 20460.

* * *

The EPA's Smoke Signal
"The EPA has sounded the health alarm on ETS....For building operators who haven't considered the issue, or who only limit smoking to public areas, or who leave the issue up to the tenant, the news signals trouble ahead....In addition to gaining the attention of plaintiffs' attorneys...the EPA report may also rekindle interest in the indoor air-quality bills before Congress and cause increased attention in state houses. For those building operators who cannot or will not totally ban smoking, the future may involve costly and time-consuming litigation and/or costly renovations."

-- Raymond H. Deibert, certified industrial hygienist and Juris Doctor, The Consultant, April 1993

* * *
* * *