Smoking lounges at airports not going away

Lucky Stirke smoking

Smoking is still allowed in specific areas at the five major U.S. airports detailed in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed air pollution levels that are significantly higher than those at non-smoking airports.

One of the airports — Denver International — did snuff three of its four smoking areas in 2012. Smokin’ Bear Lodge Smoking Lounge is the last place where travelers moving through the airport can light up.

“We are happy about that,” said Karen Phelan of the Colordato Department of Public Heath and Environment.“Because even non-smokers who go near the smoking lounges are exposed to secondhand smoke and even a brief exposure to second hand smoke can trigger a heart attack. So this protects everyone.”

The CDC report found air pollution levels from secondhand smoke directly outside designated airport smoking areas were five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. The CDC examined areas at Denver International, Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta), Washington Dulles, McCarran International (Las Vegas) and Salt Lake City International.

“In general, smoking is limited to a handful of hub airports,” said Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “The list is pretty small. Ten years ago, smoke-free airports were something of an anomaly.”

Besides Denver International, the other airports included in the CDC study have do not have plans to kick the smoking-lounge habit.

“A sizable portion of our airports uses smoke,” said McCarran International Spokperson Christine Crews. “And providing these customers with enclosed areas offers several benefits to non-smokers.” For example, she said, smoking areas inside the airport act as a deterrent to smokers who might light up in non-smoking areas, such as companion care restrooms or near building entrances.

At Dulles, smoking rooms compliant with state and local building codes are offered “as a courtesy because there is no access to the outdoors for passengers in our midfield concourses,” said Kimberly Gibbs, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Nearby Washington National is now smoke-free, Frick notes.

There’s a smoking lounge on each of the five concourses at Salt Lake City International. Additional fans were recently added to one of the lounges and doors were added to the rooms, said airport spokesperson Barbara Gann, but there are no plans to eliminate the rooms.

And at Hartsfield-Jackson, the nation’s busiest airport, improvements to the six smoking lounges were part of a recent concourse cosmetic upgrade project. “We’ve found that if authorized smoking areas are not provided, some passengers – especially those smokers who have just ended long international flights – find unauthorized places to smoke,” said airport spokesperson Myrna White.

Click here to see the smoking policies of the nation’s 35 busiest airports.

“Speaking up for smoke-free airports is important,” Frick said. “The report from the CDC affirms that smoking rooms, smoking sections and ventilation systems do not protect people from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.”

(Photo: George Eastman House, via Flickr, The Commons)

My story about airport smoking lounges first appeared on NBC News.com.

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