Travelers Exposed to Second-Hand Smoke at Many Major Airports


As holiday traveling begins and on the day designated as the 35th Great American Smokeout, a new study has been published noting smoking is still allowed within three of the largest U.S. airports.

Domestic flights of less than two hours became smoke-free in 1988. This was extended to all flights six hours or less in 1990. In 2000, President Clinton signed the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act of the 21st Century into law which made all flights to and from the U.S. smoke-free. The law’s purpose was stated by then Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater as, "Protecting the health of Americans includes ensuring their right to breathe smoke-free air when they travel."

Many U.S. airports have extended the smoking ban to include the actual airport and not just the planes, but not all according to the study published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The investigators from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began their review by noting smoking policies in airports can be established by state statute; county or city ordinance; or airport/transit authority rule, regulation, or policy. An airport was defined as smoke-free indoors when smoking by anyone was prohibited at all times, in all indoor areas of the airport.

The researchers analyzed state and local laws against individual airport smoking policies at the 29 large-hub U.S. airports using information collected during July--September 2010. These results were compared with information on smoking policies at the 31 airports categorized as large-hub in 2002


Twenty-two (76%) of the 29 large-hub airports were smoke-free indoors in 2010, compared with 13 (42%) of 31 large-hub airports in 2002. Among the seven large-hub airports that allowed smoking indoors in 2010, three were ranked among the top five in passenger boardings: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, and Denver International.

While none of the 29 large-hub airports completely prohibited smoking outdoors on airport property, a larger percentage of airports reported having specifically designated outdoor smoking areas in 2010 than in 2002 (79% vs 68%).

Just over 150 million passengers -- 22% of the people who boarded airplanes in 2009 -- pass through the seven airports where smoking is allowed. All of them are potentially exposed to second-hand smoke effects.

Secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure causes death and disease in both nonsmoking adults and children, including cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

The airports who haven’t totally banned indoor smoking have restricted it. Two of the seven restrict smoking to public smoking rooms, two restrict it to bars, one to both public smoking rooms and bars, one to private airline clubs, and one to nonpublic, leased tenant space.

"Even ventilated smoking rooms do not eliminate secondhand smoke exposure. Eliminating smoking at airports is the only way to fully eliminate exposure for people who pass into and through airports," Thomas R. Frieden, MD, director of the CDC, said in a statement, "This is a no-cost, high-impact strategy that will protect millions of people from secondhand smoke while traveling."

Cordero A et al "Smoking restriction in large-hub airports -- United States, 2002 and 2010" MMWR 2010; 59: 1484-1487.