AUSTRALIA: Big tobacco's filter ploy to beat bans

Publisher Name: 
The Australian

British American Tobacco encouraged hotels to install ventilation air filtration systems, despite knowing they were ineffective at removing tobacco smoke.

Internal company documents reveal that, in 1993, the tobacco company tested an air filtration unit designed to remove dangerous particles from tobacco smoke.

BAT determined the unit was only 34 per cent effective at removing harmful smoke particles such as carbon monoxide, but noted it significantly reduced "haze", therefore giving the appearance that it was clearing the air of any dangerous smoke.

Documents released during litigation against tobacco companies in the US reveal BAT marketed the air filtration systems to hotels in an attempt to prevent indoor smoking bans.

"When entering into deals with restaurant/club owners we try to first convince them of the filters' capability by demonstrating a 'mini' unit which we fill with smoke, switch on, and watch the smoke disappear in a few seconds - an attention grabber," BAT scientist Nigel Warren wrote in an internal memo in 1996. "We point out that by imposing a smoking ban in their outlet they may suffer a loss of (smoking) customers and maybe their non-smoking friends too."

Writing in this week's British Medical Journal, researchers say a total ban on smoking is the only way to protect all employees from environmental tobacco smoke. Richard Hurt, director of the Mayo Clinic's Nicotine Dependence Centre, in Minnesota, says that in June 2000 BAT also installed smoking tables designed to suck tobacco smoke down through a filter and recirculate the partially filtered smoke out into the room again.

"Even if the technology was improved from that in the 1990 filtration units, the tables would be ineffective because isolation of the sources or the worker are the only control measures that yield air quality that is safe to breathe," Dr Hurt says.

Sydney University professor of public health Simon Chapman said smoking bans were an effective way to stop people smoking.

"We know that if you ban smoking in workplaces, it reduces daily consumption in people who keep smoking by about 20 per cent," he said.

"So the tobacco industry's position is to stall anything which has the potential to reduce tobacco use and, therefore, sales.

"Hotels are the place where young people, in particular, learn to smoke, so if you ban smoking in pubs it's an absolute death blow to the industry."

Smoking is banned in all public transport, workplaces and restaurants in Australia.

The Australian Hotels Association's director of national affairs, Bill Healey, said Tasmanian hotels had experienced a fall in trading since the total smoking ban was introduced on January 1.

"Trading is down in Tasmania. It's too early to know by how much, but we know from the experience in some gaming venues that trading is likely to be down 20 to 30 per cent in the first six months. The stats show that it will bounce back, but it never gets back to the same level."

Queensland and Western Australia will be the next states to ban smoking in hotels and clubs, from July this year, followed by the ACT in December and Victoria and NSW in July 2007. The Northern Territory is reviewing its policy.

According to the documents, BAT targeted the hospitality industry to lobby against smoke-free public places.

AMP Section Name:Tobacco