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Tob Control. 2006 February; 15(1): 69–70.
PMCID: PMC2563636

Health meetings do not belong in smoky cities

Each year thousands of tobacco control workers meet at the US National Conference on Tobacco or Health. Eleven years ago, in Boston, the opening plenary of the first meeting was held in the Roxy Hotel. Participants at the session complained of the stench of stale tobacco smoke which lingered in the air from an event on the previous evening.

The most recent meeting, held in May 2005, took place in Chicago, where smoking is still allowed in the lobbies of convention hotels and adjacent bars and clubs. The same complaints heard years ago about Boston were expressed by this year's attendees. A group of delegates conducted research on the air quality of Chicago bars and restaurants in an effort to urge conference organisers and city leaders to adopt a smoke‐free policy. Fifty people were trained in a conference session on conducting indoor air quality studies.

The training session taught participants to learn how to measure indoor air pollution levels in smoke contaminated and smoke‐free settings using a TSI SidePak AM510 Personal Aerosol Monitor (TSI, Inc, St Paul, Minnesota) to assess respirable suspended particles (RSPs). Cigarettes are major sources of small RSPs (less than 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5)). A review by the US Environmental Protection Agency indicates that PM2.5 exposure in excess of 65 μ/m3 in any given day is harmful to health.1

Five air monitoring teams made measurements in 37 venues in and around the Chicago convention area on Wednesday (4 May) and Thursday (5 May) nights, between 6 pm and 12 midnight, for an average of 44 minutes in each venue. Research teams visited venues for at least 30 minutes with an aerosol monitor placed in a shoulder bag with a small tube protruding to sample the air. Additionally, three observations were made every 15 minutes in each establishment to assess the number of people present, the number of burning cigarettes, and the volume of the room using a Zircon DM S50 Sonic Measure. Average PM2.5 concentrations (128 μg/m3) in smoking establishments were six times higher than concentrations (21 μg/m3) in smoke‐free establishments (fig 11).). These data confirm the obvious—that Chicago area hospitality workers were being exposed to unsafe levels of indoor air pollution while working.

figure tc13755.f1
Figure 1 Average concentrations of indoor air pollutants at locations in Chicago and New York.

The organisers of the National Conference on Tobacco or Health have finally made the commitment not to hold another one of their meetings in a city that allows indoor smoking in public places. The next World Conference on Tobacco or Health has selected Washington DC for its 2006 meeting. When the venue was chosen in 2003 the host organisers, the American Cancer Society, believed that the nation's capital would be smoke‐free, but as the date approaches, it remains to be seen if DC officials will enact a smoke‐free air law in time for the conference. It is time for all health organisations to join together to use their collective financial clout to promote smoke‐free cities when they plan their convention sites. Annual meetings of organisations such as the American Medical Association, American Cancer Society, and the American Public Health Association (APHA) bring valuable income to host cities. The 2004 International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus estimates direct spending to local economies per event to include US$945 per delegate, $6753 per exhibiting company, and $454 673 per event organiser.2 Using these estimates, for example, APHA's 2004 meeting attended by 14 000 professionals contributed over $13 million to Washington DC's local economy in delegate spending alone. When planning annual meetings, there are ample large cities that are smoke‐free to choose from (for example, Boston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Providence, San Diego) with others soon to follow. The same is true globally with the number of world class smoke‐free cities (for example, Dublin, Rome, Oslo, Auckland). It is time for all health organisations to put their money where their mouth is and make secondhand smoke history.


Funding for this study was supported by the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute (FAMRI).


1. US Environmental Protection Agency Particulate matter (PM) in New England. (2004) (Accessed July 8, 2005)
2. International Association of Convention & Visitor Bureaus ExPact2004 Convention Expenditure & Impact Study. (Accessed July 20, 2005)

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