With spring arriving, the sun burning brighter and the weather warmer, the season for eating outside has officially begun! Unfortunately, few things ruin a meal faster than the smell of cigarette smoke. Because there is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure, according to the Surgeon General’s Report, both children and adults can suffer short-and long- term effects from exposure to secondhand smoke, putting both restaurant patrons and employees at risk.
While some believe that secondhand smoke is only harmful if indoors in an enclosed environment, research shows this popular misconception is definitely not true. If one were to spend time outdoors near multiple smokers over a period of a day, say as a worker at a restaurant with an outdoor patio, it would be possible to receive an outdoor exposure to particles that exceeds the current United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) health-based standards.
A study conducted by Stanford University in 2007, found that secondhand exposure levels can be significant near an active smoker, even in outdoor areas.
San Marcos residents have taken notice of these startling statistics, choosing to eat at restaurants where smoking is not allowed on outdoor patios. A recent survey of 130 San Marcos residents conducted by Vista Community Clinic showed that:
- 72% of survey participants reported that they have been bothered by secondhand smoke when eating outside in a restaurant patio.
- 96% of those surveyed preferred to eat on patios where smoking was not allowed.
- 65% reported that they would eat out MORE if outdoor dining areas were smoke free.
While patrons can choose whether they want to eat on a patio where smoking is allowed or not, employees of restaurants do not always have that option. In 2009, a study from the University of Georgia found that those exposed to outdoor tobacco smoke for periods of six hours or more were found to have up to 162 times the amount of cotinine in their bloodstream. Cotinine is what remains in the bloodstream after nicotine from tobacco smoke is metabolized, and it is used as an indicator for exposure to tobacco smoke. Smoke-free outdoor dining patios can lead to less sick time, resulting in decreased expenses to the business and better protection of workers’ health.
In response to increased public demand and new scientific information on the health hazards of outdoor exposure to secondhand smoke, many communities have chosen to expand smoke-free indoor air laws to cover outdoor public areas. As of December 2014, 119 municipalities in California have adopted smoke-free outdoor dining policies, including nine cities in San Diego County: Coronado, Chula Vista, Del Mar, El Cajon, Encinitas, National City, Carlsbad, Solana Beach and most recently the City of Oceanside.
Not only do these policies safeguard the employer, employees and diners from unwanted secondhand smoke exposure, but recent surveys have shown that restaurant and bar business have actually increased since smoke-free policies went into effect. In 2013, 80 percent of Carlsbad restaurants reported a positive financial impact of smoke-free outdoor patios, and a 2007 survey showed 76 percent of Chula Vista businesses with smoke-free dining would recommend this for other cities in San Diego County.