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Exposure to secondhand smoke is an established cause of cancer, heart disease and serious lung ailments, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. In a study of secondhand smoke exposure in St. Louis bars and restaurants, Washington University researchers found that ventilation systems and “voluntary” smoke-free policies do not protect employees and customers from exposure to tobacco smoke in the air.

“Some of the effects of secondhand smoke on the cardiovascular system in nonsmokers are comparable to the effects of active smoking,” says study author Joaquin Barnoya, MD, an epidemiologist at Washington University at the time. “These effects occur within a half hour of exposure.” 

Median airborne nicotine levels were 31 times higher in venues where smoking is allowed, compared with those that are voluntarily smoke-free. As the percentage of smoking clients rose, so did nicotine concentrations. In addition, comparing establishments with similar levels of smoking patrons, restaurants and bars that had ventilation systems actually had higher nicotine concentrations than restaurants that didn’t have them.

Read more about the study.

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