Media Room

Air quality inside Sydney bars and clubs nearly five times more toxic than outside

16th August 2018 - Cancer prevention Advocacy

A study by Cancer Council NSW has found that the air quality inside Sydney’s bars and clubs is almost five times worse than outside due to tobacco smoke. The study measured the levels of fine particles in the air, such as second-hand smoke, in a number of popular venues across Sydney, and found that the air quality fell into the ‘unhealthy’ category of the Environment Protection Authority’s framework.

Christina Watts, Tobacco Control Senior Project Officer at Cancer Council NSW said: “This is very alarming because second-hand smoke can cause cancer and it is not safe for a person to be exposed at any level. State laws, introduced over a decade ago, should be protecting the public from second-hand smoke within pubs and clubs. We shouldn’t be seeing these high levels of second-hand smoke, these venues should be totally smoke-free.”

The NSW Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 requires enclosed public spaces to be smoke-free, including in bars and clubs. However, the guidelines for determining if a place is enclosed are complex and open to interpretation. Smoking can occur in bars and clubs where only 25% of the area is open to the outside.

“We are seeing that venues have created purpose-built smoking areas to fit this definition. Many of the areas that comply with current guidelines have walls and roofs that obstruct airflow. The smoke isn’t escaping as it should, resulting in unsafe levels of second-hand smoke being trapped inside,” Ms Watts continued.

In light of these findings, Cancer Council NSW is calling on the NSW Government to strengthen current laws so that people working or socialising in a bar or club are protected from harmful second-hand smoke. This topic forms part of the charity’s new pre-election advocacy campaign Saving Life 2019.

Mark Davison, who works in a club on the Central Coast, says, “I work there 30 hours a week and I’d say around one to two hours of that I am exposed to smoke without wanting to be. I’ve been there for over a year now and it never really dawned on me until a few weeks ago when I started to get quite sick, my chest felt bad, then I knew something wasn’t right. I shouldn’t be subject to this at all. If I was working in any other industry this would never happen.”

“Current legislation means that bars and clubs are exposing people to harmful second-hand smoke. The Smoke-free Environment Act needs to be strengthened to make sure that smoke-free areas are truly smoke-free – which will ultimately save lives,” Ms Watts concluded.

– ENDS –

Media contact: Eden Patrick, Cancer Council NSW, T: (02) 9334 1903; M: 0421 517 245;

Notes to editor

About the study

  • Cancer Council NSW Air Quality Testing Research measured the air quality both inside and outside a sample of 10 venues with smoking permitted areas within the inner Sydney area.
  • Second-hand smoke was measured using a handheld Dustrak Aerosol monitor, which measures airborne particulate matter in the size of 2.5 microns in diameter (PM 2.5). PM 2.5 is expressed in micrograms per cubic meter of air (μg/m3).
  • The average PM2.5 measurement was 55.71 ug/m3 in the target areas, more than twice the accepted safe level of 25 ug/m3.
  • The study showed that PM2.5 is 4.57 times higher in the smoking permitted areas than outside the venue.

Saving Life 2019

  • Saving Life 2019 is the Cancer Council NSW pre-election advocacy campaign that will call on the next NSW government to protect the community from tobacco, tackle childhood obesity, and support people with lymphoedema. Key policy proposals:
    • Strengthen the Smoke-free Environment Act 2000 to ensure that people working or socialising in a bar or club in NSW will be protected from second-hand smoke.
    • Ban tobacco vending machines and introduce an annual licence fee to encourage retailers to stop selling and reduce the risk of young people developing this fatal habit.
    • Remove junk food advertising from NSW Government owned or leased property, in particular public transport, to ensure parents’ efforts to promote healthy eating are not undermined.
    • Increase funding for public lymphoedema services across NSW to ensure timely access to care, regardless of where people live.
Cancer prevention Advocacy