Clandestine Air-Quality Test Upsets Bar Owner, Smoking Ban Opponents

Share on Nextdoor
That mysterious British agent with a drink in his hand? It's not 007.
That mysterious British agent with a drink in his hand? It's not 007.
That mysterious British agent with a drink in his hand? It's not 007.
For anyone puzzled by the silver-haired gentleman with the English accent observed acting suspiciously at Double D's Lounge on Saturday night, here's an explanation:  

His name is Martin Pion and he was there collecting air quality measurements that he plans to test for nicotine and other pollutants.

"It was a clandestine operation," the 70-something Pion tells Daily RFT. "It was me, a colleague and his wife, who was very good. She reminded me of (outed CIA agent) Valerie Plame. She blended in perfectly and knew all the words to the karaoke songs. Me? I was clueless."

Still, Pion -- who in 1984 founded Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution (Mo-GASP) after arriving in the states from his native England -- managed to make the most of his hour at Double D's. Using an electric hand-held device, Pion collected "respirable suspended particulates". A mini-vac equipped with a paper filter sucked up airborne nicotine.

It was only when Pion started taking photos that he aroused suspicion.

"An employee questioned what I was doing taking pictures," says Pion. "I was trying to figure out the dimensions of the bar, but didn't tell him that. I just gave him my name."

Yesterday Pion emailed Bill Hannegan -- a vocal opponent of smoking bans -- to ask him if he knew the bar's measurements, which he needs to round-out his study.

It was Hannegan, after all, who prompted Pion to study the air inside Double D's after Washington University recently released a study suggesting that smoke-eaters make air quality worse. Hannegan disputed the study and challenged Wash. U. to check out Double D's, which uses five commercial-grade air filters.

Martin Pion
Martin Pion
Martin Pion
Pion says the email now has him "locked in a nasty situation" with Hannegan, who took offense to the way Pion went about conducting his research and has since exchanged several emails with the Mo-GASP founder. 

"I told him I think it opens him up to liability, especially if he goes and publishes a report saying that the air inside Double D's is dangerous," says Hannegan. "The fact of the matter is, we don't know how or where he took his test that night and under what conditions. Was the machine sitting right in front of a burning cigarette? If I were going to test the air at Double D's, I'd invite Martin and others to watch the process -- just to control the credibility issue."

Reached for comment, Donna Wideman, owner of the Brentwood-based Double D's, says she was unaware of Pion's covert operation Saturday. Then again, she's legally blind. "My manager noticed him and asked why he was taking pictures. He said he told him that he'd heard about our bar and was wanting to tell a friend about it. So, he lied right there," says Wideman. "Frankly, I see what he did as an invasion on our business."

Pion says he should get his results back from the lab this week and doesn't plan on going to the press with the figures. First he'd like to see if he could get his findings published in a scientific journal. He adds that the air inside Double D's seemed cleaner than other bars, though he did have a somewhat sore throat after the hour he spent in the bar drinking a non-alcoholic beverage and pretending to enjoy himself.

As for the methodology behind his survey, Pion offers no apologies. He was acting on behalf of the public and suffered in the process.

"I had to endure second-hand smoke and rather deafening karaoke," he says.  

P.S. Stay tuned tomorrow as Pion argues smoking-ban opponent Tony Palazzolo in Daily RFT's Tuesday Tussle.

About The Author

Scroll to read more St. Louis Metro News articles (1)


Join Riverfront Times Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.