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Thousands Risk Lung Damage in Smoke-filled Restaurants

Paul Mozur, Hong Kong Standard – Wednesday, December 10, 2008

As many as 16,000 employees in 966 locations exempted from the smoking ban are at serious risk of lung and artery damage.

University of Hong Kong chair professor in community medicine Anthony Hedley said yesterday a new study shows the concentration of small particulates at restaurants where smoking is permitted is 300 percent higher than a in a non- smoking restaurant and about 30 times the World Health Organization limits for small particulates.

Employees exposed to this air for periods longer than two-and-a-half years could lose as much as 16 percent of lung function, he said.

“This is very serious. The lungs are being injured and the smoke does damage to arteries, increasing the likelihood of heart disease,” he said. “If nothing changes, people will die because of the conditions in these places.”

The study of 204 non-smoking restaurant staff, completed by Hedley and a team from the HKU School of Public Health, also showed that ventilation at smoking rooms and terraces is not effective.

“Many of the waiters who serviced smoking terraces still had twice the cotinine [an indication of amount of smoke inhaled] of those in restaurants without smoking. It would take a tornado to blow the smoke away from some of these places,” he said.

Sarah McGhee, of the HKU Department of Community Medicine, also stressed reports that revenue would be lost from a complete smoking ban have little supporting evidence.

Hedley expressed regret that legislation left many of the employees affected with few alternatives. He looks forward to June 2009 when exemptions are due to expire.

Most unnerving, he added, was a recent argument from catering and tobacco industries in support of smoking rooms.
“This is a red light and would be a disaster. These rooms are incredibly damaging to people who use them and clean them, and [the rooms] affect the air quality in the vicinity,” he said.

“Hong Kong is dragging its feet. It is time the government stopped trading workers’ health for vested interests.”

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