In yesterday's discussion of smoking bans, a few commenters wondered why improved ventilation is not a viable alternative. In his 2006 report on secondhand smoke, then-Surgeon General Richard Carmona insisted that smoking bans are the only acceptable option (even while denying that he was making any policy recommendations). But around the time that Carmona's report came out, a paper commissioned by the American Gaming Association concluded that ventilation systems can give smoker-friendly casinos air quality at least as good as the air quality outdoors or inside smoke-free office buildings. The main example cited by the report is the Bellagio, where tests in 1999 and 2005 found levels of respirable suspended particles and gases associated with tobacco smoke similar to those outside the casino.

Casinos (which, as the report notes, may soon be the last remaining businesses in the U.S. where smoking is permitted) obviously have an interest in convincing legislators that ventilation makes bans unnecessary. But if these results hold up, they will present an interesting test of the motives underlying anti-smoking ordinances. Will supporters of these laws be satisfied by demonstrably clean air quality, or will they switch to the argument that smoking bans improve "public health" by encouraging smokers to quit or by preventing them from setting a bad example for the kids?

A similar question was raised by California's ban, which is officially a workplace safety measure. It ostensibly allows bars and restaurants to create separately ventilated rooms for smokers, as long as employees don't have to enter them. Last I heard, state regulators had failed to create standards for such rooms, so in practice they remain illegal.

The Bellagio ventilation system sounds expensive to install and operate, but something similar might still make economic sense not just for casinos but for smaller businesses as well. I recall a small tobacconist's lounge in New York where the air seemed fresh and clean despite half a dozen guys puffing away on cigars, thanks to a ventilation system that immediately whisked the smoke away. I suspect the air quality was better in that smokers' lounge than it was on the street outside.

A PDF of the AGA report is available here. NYC CLASH (a smokers' rights group) discusses ventilation here. Ventilation champion Mark Wernimont holds forth here.

[Thanks to Bill Hannegan for the tip.]