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USA: continuing battles over “acceptable” air quality standards
  1. David Simpson,
  2. Stella Aguinaga Bialous
  1. Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of California San Francisco, USA
  1. stella{at}bialous.com

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The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is an international organisation of more than 55 000 members with chapters throughout the world. ASHRAE develops standards that “set uniform methods of testing and rating equipment and establish accepted practices for the HVAC&R (Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration) industry worldwide, such as the design of energy efficient buildings” (www.ashrae.org). ASHRAE then submits its standards to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for endorsement as an American standard. Furthermore, ASHRAE standards are also adopted by several other international standards setting organisations as their own national standards, giving ASHRAE a reach well beyond the USA.

The tobacco industry, for the past 20 years, has been heavily involved with ASHRAE in an attempt to influence the development of Standard 62—Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality. The industry was successful until recently—Standard 62 determined ventilation rates to accommodate a “moderate” amount of smoking and ignored the health effects of second hand smoking. However, despite the tobacco industry's overt and covert manoeuverings, the latest version of the standard, 62-1999, determines ventilation rates based on the premise that there will be no smoking indoors, the only exceptions being casinos, bars, and cocktail lounges. Currently, there are no standards that recommend ventilation rates if smoking is allowed in places such as restaurants or bowling alleys. To comply with the standard, these places have to be entirely smoke-free. Furthermore, standard 62-1999 declares that tobacco smoke is a known carcinogen. In response to the standard, the tobacco industry rallied its allies in the hospitality industry, who began lobbying ASHRAE to develop a separate ventilation standard for the hospitality industry, as if workers and patrons in these venues do not deserve acceptable indoor air quality.

On the health side, many denounced the industry's obvious influence. The American Heart Association wrote a strongly worded letter to ASHRAE urging it not to “contribute to the body count” by supporting the unfounded claim by the tobacco industry that ventilation can protect non-smokers from second hand tobacco smoke. Professor Stanton Glantz, through the TobaccoScam project (to educate the hospitality industry about tobacco industry manipulation), attempted to run an ad in the ASHRAE Journal denouncing the tobacco industry influence over ASHRAE and ASHRAE's apparent acceptance of that influence. The journal refused to run the ad, which was timed to coincide with the Winter meeting issue (January), when a symposium debating the need for a separate standard was being held. With one exception, the symposium presenters were consultants and allies of the tobacco industry, with none of the invited participants being from a recognised health group. Glantz then ran the ad in another trade publication, Engineered Systems, under the introductory heading: “This is the ad that ASHRAE refused to run.”

The ad created quite a stir for controversy-shy ASHRAE. The society's president, William J Coad, wrote a commentary in the February issue of the journal; ironically, while misrepresenting the ad, he implied that despite years of tobacco industry influence, ASHRAE did not cave in under pressure from interests groups. More revealing was Coad's implication that there were still doubts about the harmful effects of second hand smoke and the inability of ventilation systems to eliminate the hazards it causes. With a blizzard of letters sent to the ASHRAE Journal, the saga continues. Until recently, it has been dominated by the tobacco industry, but tobacco control advocates are now looking to other influential health groups to become involved, to ensure that the top priority of indoor air standards is the protection of people's health, not the continued prosperity of the tobacco industry.


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Advertisement denouncing the tobacco industry's influence over ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers), which the ASHRAE Journal refused to run.

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