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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Air pollution in Boston bars before and after a smoking ban

James L Repace12*, James N Hyde1 and Doug Brugge1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Family Medicine, Tufts University School of Medicine, 136 Harrison Ave.; Boston, MA 02111, USA

2 Repace Associates, 101 Felicia Lane, Bowie, MD 20720, USA

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:266  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-266

Published: 27 October 2006



We quantified the air quality benefits of a smoke-free workplace law in Boston Massachusetts, U.S.A., by measuring air pollution from secondhand smoke (SHS) in 7 pubs before and after the law, comparing actual ventilation practices to engineering society (ASHRAE) recommendations, and assessing SHS levels using health and comfort indices.


We performed real-time measurements of respirable particle (RSP) air pollution and particulate polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PPAH), in 7 pubs and outdoors in a model-based design yielding air exchange rates for RSP removal. We also assessed ventilation rates from carbon dioxide concentrations. We compared RSP air pollution to the federal Air Quality Index (AQI) and the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) to assess health risks, and assessed odor and irritation levels using published SHS-RSP thresholds.


Pre-smoking-ban RSP levels in 6 pubs (one pub with a non-SHS air quality problem was excluded) averaged 179 μg/m3, 23 times higher than post-ban levels, which averaged 7.7 μg/m3, exceeding the NAAQS for fine particle pollution (PM2.5) by nearly 4-fold. Pre-smoking ban levels of fine particle air pollution in all 7 of the pubs were in the Unhealthy to Hazardous range of the AQI. In the same 6 pubs, pre-ban indoor carcinogenic PPAH averaged 61.7 ng/m3, nearly 10 times higher than post-ban levels of 6.32 ng/m3. Post-ban particulate air pollution levels were in the Good AQI range, except for 1 venue with a defective gas-fired deep-fat fryer, while post-ban carcinogen levels in all 7 pubs were lower than outdoors.


During smoking, although pub ventilation rates per occupant were within ASHRAE design parameters for the control of carbon dioxide levels for the number of occupants present, they failed to control SHS carcinogens or RSP. Nonsmokers' SHS odor and irritation sensory thresholds were massively exceeded. Post-ban air pollution measurements showed 90% to 95% reductions in PPAH and RSP respectively, differing little from outdoor concentrations. Ventilation failed to control SHS, leading to increased risk of the diseases of air pollution for nonsmoking workers and patrons. Boston's smoking ban eliminated this risk.