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Holiday Air Travelers Greeted With Unwanted Secondhand Smoke Exposure

secondhand smoke, air travel

If you are traveling by plane to your destination this holiday season, keep in mind that several US airports still allow indoor smoking, albeit in designated areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that even though you may not come directly in contact with active cigarette smoke, there is still the danger of exposure through the rest of the airport.

Researchers with the CDC conducted air quality tests between October 19 and November 1 at five US airports that still allow indoor smoking to the general public: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, Washington Dulles International, McCarran International Las Vegas, Denver International, and Salt Lake City International. These busy airports five account for 15% of all US air travel.

The research team measured markers for secondhand smoke in the 3 feet surrounding the airport smoking areas and found that pollution levels were five times higher than in four major smoke-free airports used for comparison (Chicago O’Hare International, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International, Orlando International, and Phoenix Sky Harbor International). Inside the smoking zones, pollution levels were 23 times higher than levels at non-smoking locations.

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"The findings in today's report further confirm that ventilated smoking rooms and designated smoking areas are not effective," said Dr. Tim McAfee, director of the CDC Office on Smoking and Health.

“People who spend time in, pass by, clean, or work near these rooms are at risk of exposure to secondhand smoke,” adds Brian King, co-author of the study and an epidemiologist with the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.

Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke, a proven carcinogen, contains chemicals that can cause immediate changes and potential harm to human respiratory and cardiovascular systems, according to the Surgeon General. A separate recent study, for example, found that just 10 minutes near a smoker in an enclosed area boosts daily exposure to these harmful pollutants by up to 30%.

Federal laws passed between 1988 and 2000 prohibit smoking on all U.S. and international flights, but there is no federal statute that mandates smoke-free airports. "Prohibiting smoking in all indoor areas is the only effective way to fully eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke," concludes Dr. McAfee.

Resources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention