Second hand smoke does permeate areas

February 27, 2014

Predictably, some have taken exception to the courageous efforts of Rehoboth Beach civic leaders to protect those on the beach and boardwalk from outdoor tobacco smoke, also known as second hand smoke.

In this instance, we are assured that second hand smoke poses no risk unless it “permeates the environment.” Because “the wind constantly blows off the Atlantic and immediately dissipates and disperses second hand smoke” we are assured that “no one at the beach is at risk from their second hand smoke.”  R.J. Reynolds could not have said it better himself.

If only it were true. Sadly, these comforting assurances conflict with the scientific research demonstrating that smoking outdoors can produce high levels of hazardous air pollution exposure for nearby people.  In response to the question of whether “anyone [has] done a scientific study on the range and potency of second hand smoke on a wide open windy beach or board walk?”  The answer is yes.  One such study is the so-called Stanford University Tobacco Smoke Study [Real-Time Measurement Of Outdoor Tobacco Smoke Particles Neil E. Klepeis,_ Wayne R. Ott, And Paul Switzer Stanford University,  2007].

The Stanford study found that outdoor tobacco smoke can be high during periods of smoking in locations where persons are within six or seven feet of active smokers (very common on the Boardwalk and beach in the summer). The average levels can be comparable to those measured indoors when one is downwind or within a few feet of an outdoor smoker. An important finding was that a person near an outdoor smoker could breathe in wisps of smoke that could be 10s or 100s of times more concentrated than normal background air pollution levels.

The wind effect is interesting.  As might be expected, if one is upwind from a smoker, levels of outdoor tobacco smoke are likely negligible. However, for those downwind of the smoker, exposure is greater at a distance than exposure for those immediately upwind.  Thus, in a beach or boardwalk setting, it is possible for a smoker position themselves strategically to spare those in their own group from exposure - at the expense of those five to 15 feet away downwind. Most of us undoubtedly recall instances where the wind pushed the smoke from a nearby smoker into our group.

Regarding the “economic factor,” I agree that city leadership should consider the impact on city businesses as summer visitors become aware of the dangers of second hand smoke and the availability of smoke free beaches in nearby resorts such as Bethany and Fenwick Island.  Imagine the impact if Rehoboth Beach were to candidly acknowledge the emerging research and post a Surgeon General type warning on the boardwalk and beach entrances – WARNING: Recent research has determined that visiting the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk and beach is dangerous to your health.

I very much doubt that fighting to preserve the “right” to generate toxic air pollution in the breathing space of others in in the long term economic interest of Rehoboth Beach.

Michael Bednarek
Rehoboth Beach


  • A letter to the editor expresses a reader's opinion and, as such, is not reflective of the editorial opinions of this newspaper.

    To submit a letter to the editor for publishing, send an email to Letters must be signed and include a telephone number for verification. Please keep letters to 650 words or fewer.  We reserve the right to edit for content and length.