NICHOLASVILLE — The indoor air pollution in a sampling of Jessamine County's public places was 7.4 times higher than in Lexington, where a smoke-free ordinance has been in effect since 2004, according to a study conducted by the University of Kentucky College of Nursing.
The Jessamine measurement was 14.9 times higher than in Louisville, another community where a smoke-free ordinance is in effect.
"This is a very dangerous level on average in Jessamine County," said Ellen Hahn, director of UK's Tobacco Policy Research Program. "This is a wake-up call for the Jessamine County elected officials to do the right thing."
The findings were released Friday, just as local governments in Nicholasville, Wilmore and Jessamine County are about to discuss an ordinance to ban smoking in workplaces and restaurants but not bars.
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That exemption for bars came under criticism from smoke-free advocates who spoke about the Jessamine study.
Working an eight-hour shift in a smoky workplace "is the equivalent of smoking almost a pack of cigarettes a day," said Karen Butler, assistant professor at the UK College of Nursing, and a faculty associate with the UK Tobacco Policy Research Program.
"Nobody should have to choose between their lives and their livelihoods," said Butler, a Jessamine County resident. "Secondhand smoke doesn't make any exceptions or exemptions, and neither should a smoke-free law of Jessamine County."
But Jacob Glancy, owner of Jake's Cigar Bar and Lounge in northern Nicholasville, said employees do have a choice to work where they wish.
"You're not holding a gun to anybody's head," Glancy said.
Glancy's bar would be exempt under the proposed ordinance. "Tobacco is a legal product and all we do is provide an environment for that legal product," he said.
Glancy said the air filtration system in his business is such that no one smells smoke. "When I walk into my bar, I don't smell smoke. All I smell is the mahogany and the poplar on the walls," he said.
Glancy said he has not detected any organized movement among business owners that allow smoking to fight the proposed ordinance in Jessamine.
"Most of them actually have jobs and produce things in society so they don't have the time to force their views on other people," he said.
Bars aren't the only exemption in the proposed ordinance. Smoking also would be allowed in private residences, except when they are used as a child-care, adult day-care or health-care facility; hotel and motel rooms designated for smoking; retail tobacco stores; private clubs; and private functions at otherwise regulated locations.
Terry Meckstroth, the Jessamine Fiscal Court magistrate who chaired a committee that wrote the proposed ordinance, has defended its exemptions, saying that it was drafted so that it had the greatest consensus and the best chance for passage. He has also said that elected officials do not want to put any company out of business.
The study released Friday was paid for by a $2,000 grant through the Jessamine County Board of the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.
The study was conducted from February to May 2009 and measured fine particulates that come out of the burning ends of cigarettes. The study measured air quality in 16 public venues, including restaurants and bars, of various sizes in Jessamine County. One venue that was measured was voluntarily smoke-free.
The venues are not identified in the study, which is in keeping with the protocol for such studies. Some were individually owned and some belonged to national chains.
Researchers measured the air quality with small, purse-sized monitors. The monitors analyzed the level of fine particulates in the air every minute for an average of 67 minutes.
The monitors found that the average amount of particulates — the pollution that smoking causes — was 134 micrograms per cubic meter. The outdoor air standard is 35 micrograms per cubic meter. There is no national standard for indoor air quality.
Many businesses in Jessamine County have gone smoke-free voluntarily. But only community-wide laws ensure that workers and customers are free from exposure to secondhand smoke in all public places, advocates say.
If they want to keep their jobs, many employees don't have a choice about whether to breathe secondhand smoke, say supporters of smoke-free laws.
"Every day I see patients who are non-smokers who suffer the effects of secondhand smoke," said Juawanna Schuller, a nurse practitioner with Paragon Family Practice in Nicholasville. "They made a great decision not to smoke, yet many of them work in an environment where they are exposed to deadly toxins.
"By working in a smoke-filled environment they're putting themselves at increased risk for heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer and even death. These patients should not have to choose between providing for their families and protecting their health."