Indoor Air Quality

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

The term Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) is widely used in tobacco industry literature to distinguish the total problem of indoor air pollution from that of the main component that causes the problem, secondhand smoke, environmental tobacco smoke or ETS, and also to make the distinction between indoor and outdoor air problems.

The IAQ components that generally cause health and comfort problems in home and office environments are:

  • Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) -- the specific term applied to the problem of tobacco smoke pollution
  • Solvents from office equipment and other machines that use volatile chemicals,
  • Exudates from materials like synthetic carpets, fire-proofing applications, plastic paints, etc.
  • Dust, dirt, fungus, etc which can accumulate in the air-conditioning ducts of larger buildings
  • Exterior pollutants brought into the building by the air-conditioning system

and in extreme cases:

  • Legionella bacteria from badly maintained water cooling systems
  • Radon gas from the breakdown of granite in some locations (mainly in the USA, and in basements)

The quality of indoor air depends largely on the rate of exchange between the indoor air and the outside environment, and also where the intake is positioned (above the street pollution, or not). In hot and cold climates, the tendency is to reduce the indoor-outdoor exchange in order to preserve (or reduce) the heat in the building and save on energy costs. This means that the indoor pollutants have more time to accumulate.

Tobacco industry IAQ ploys

When the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) began to raise the possibility of regulating the quality of office -- and factory -- environment air, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) showed a similar interest in homes and public venues, the problem of environmental tobacco smoke as a component of the IAQ became of prime importance to the tobacco companies.

They reacted by:

By exaggerating the possibilities of Legionella and other problems within ducting and air-conditioning systems, they attempted to divert attention from the high concentration of second-hand tobacco smoke in the air.
They had the support of the ducting and air conditioning engineers (and their association ASHRAE) in this, because it created lucrative work for the building maintenance industry. ASHRAE in the USA also set the primary international standards
  • directly and indirectly funding air-quality testing companies to down-play the smoke component.
Gray Robertson's company, Healthy Buildings International (aka ACVA Atlantic) and a few other companies made a fortune from this. They were directly paid by tobacco companies and the Tobacco Institute.
  • ran "media tours" with experts like Gray Robertson of Healthy Buildings International downplaying the role of tobacco smoke in IAQ.
  • funded the design of new air-sampling equipment, and set the standards of this equipment for measuring the air quality components.
  • managed to get staff into positions of influence on IAQ standards-setting committees.
  • funded associations like BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) which was also resisting indoor quality regulations because of increased costs.
  • funded heavily-weighted seminars, magazines, newsletters, and articles for the op-ed pages in newspapers.
  • funded studies and conferences which concentrated on the other IAQ components (and possible components); radon, asbestos, etc.

Tobacco industry documents about indoor air quality

In a Philip Morris draft speech (estimated date 196) by Bruce Levinson, a representative of Multinational Business Services, Inc. (MBS), given to the State Licensed Beverage Trade Associations on the subject of "Using Ventilation/Air Cleaning to Preserve Freedom of Smoking," Levinson identifies his company as "a regulatory consulting firm in Washington, D.C." and he thanks Philip Morris for making it possible for him to present to his audience. (MBS is in fact a lobbying and consulting firm for Philip Morris on secondhand smoke issues. PM paid MBS hundreds of thousands of dollars for working on secondhand smoke issues during the 1990s.)

The language in the presentation illustrates how the industry attempts to scare potential allies into siding with it against clean indoor air regulations, and how it talks them into installing expensive ventilation equipment as a strategy to head off smoking restriction laws:

I'm going to start with a topic you are probably all too familiar with: the threat posed to your business by unreasonable smoking restrictions --including complete prohibition. In the Spring of 1994, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration--OSHA, proposed a rule which would effectively ban smoking in all workplaces, including bars, taverns and restaurants regardless of the wishes of the customers, employees and even the owner. The only exception to this rule would be if a room was

  • separately ventilated;
  • directly exhausted to the outside;
  • under negative pressure; and
  • where no work--like serving refreshments--could occur.

This is a very expensive proposal...and, even more than that, it's not very hospitable...There's plenty of good consensus that enacting smoking prohibitions hurts the hospitality industry. The problem is that even those bleak expectations can be over optimistic. In 1996, Mesa, Arizona banned smoking in all bars, taverns restaurants and virtually all public places in the jurisdiction. According to a study commissioned by the city of Mesa, sales at restaurants went down by 25-35%. Pool halls lost 30-40% and bowling alleys lost 10-20% of their business. More than half of the surveyed businesses were forced to layoff employees...

The above study by Applied Economics was criticized because its conclusions were not supported by the data actually gathered for the report. The report stated, "It appears that overall, the smoke-free ordinance in Mesa has resulted in sales losses for restaurants, as well as bowling alleys and pool halls, holding other factors constant," but the data on which the report was based actually showed a 2% increase in revenues for restaurants. [1]

The speech is a good training tool to help public health advocates understand how the tobacco industry frightens potential allies into taking its side on public health smoking restrictions can help advocates understand how to preempt the industry's misinformation with factual information.[2]

Related SourceWatch resources

Additional tobacco industry secondhand smoke schemes and programs:

External resources

  • Tobaccoscam How Big Tobacco uses and abuses the restaurant industry


  1. Glantz, S.A.; Letter to the Mesa, Arizona Finance Department criticizing an economic impact study by Applied Economics]" San Francisco: University of California, San Francisco, Institute for Health Policy Studies, October 29, 1996
  2. Multinational Business Services MBS Presentation to State Licensed Beverage Trade Associations on Using Ventilation/Air Cleaning to Preserve Freedom of Smoking Est. 1996. 13 pp. Philip Morris Bates No. 2065230131/0143