Smoking

No more smoking – soon – at Salt Lake City Int’l Airport

Salt Lake City International Airport Smoking lounge

According to recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, the smoking rate in the U.S. is on the decline: in 2015, 15 percent of U.S. adults smoked, down two percent from 2014 – the biggest decline in more than 20 years.

That may be one of the reasons Salt Lake City International Airport, which for years promoted its five post-security smoking rooms as a convenience for smokers making connections, has announced a schedule for snuffing out those lounges.

The first lounge will close July 5, at the end of the Independence Day weekend, and the last lounge will close the week of December 19, just as the Christmas holiday travel rush begins.

“This is first and foremost an issue of public health, both for travelers and our airport employees,” Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski said in a May statement announcing the closure.

But she also noted that the “beyond capacity” airport was in dire need of the extra space.

“[E]very foot of available space should be used to the best advantage of the traveling public,” said Biskupski, citing retail space, charging stations and extra seating as possible uses for the 1,200 square feet that will be freed up by the closure of the SLC smoking lounges.

Going forward, the Salt Lake City mayor noted that smoking rooms are not included in the current designs for the airport’s $1.8 billion terminal remodel program, which has a scheduled phase one completion date of 2020.

Response to the lounge closure at SLC airport announcement has been mixed, said SLC spokeswoman Nancy Volmer.

“I fly frequently through SLC on business and use the rooms every time,” one passenger wrote in an email shared by airport authorities, “I figured this day would come…What a let-down.”

Public health advocates and other organizations are applauding the airport’s decision.

“This move will protect workers and passengers alike from exposure to secondhand smoke.” said Cynthia Hallett, President and CEO, Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, and puts SLC in good company: more than 600 U.S. airports are now 100 percent smoke free.

Eliminating airport smoking lounges could also help improve the state’s financial bottom line, said Brook Carlisle, Utah Government Relations Director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network,

“It’s estimated that the annual health care costs directly caused by smoking in our state will reach $542 million this year,” said Carlisle, “not to mention the $355 million in costs from smoking-related lost work productivity.”

Noting that “We’ve had #SmokefreeSkies since 1990,” even U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy sent SLC a congratulatory Tweet:

In May, 2015 Murthy has post a thumbs-down photo standing outside a smoking room at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

While SLC is closing its lounges, there are other major U.S. airports, including Washington Dulles, Hartfield Jackson Atlanta International, Denver International Airport, Nashville International, Miami International Airport and McCarran Airport in Las Vegas that still have smoking lounges and/or other areas where smoking is allowed indoors.

(A slightly different version of my story on smoking lounges at airports first appeared on NBC News )

Salt Lake City Airport to close smoking lounges

Lucky Stirke smoking

After years of insisting that the smoking lounges inside its terminals were an important service amenity for travelers, Salt Lake City International Airport has reversed position and announced that it will phase out the available use of the five lounges currently at the airport in a six-month plan beginning on July 5.

First to go will be the smoking room in Concourse D, with the final smoking lounge scheduled to close on December 19.

SLC has a $1.8 billion Terminal Redevelopment Program underway and it was also announced that there are no smoking lounges in the new plans.

“This is first and foremost an issue of public health, both for travelers and our airport employees, but it is also an issue of space concerns,” said Mayor Biskupski, on the closure plan. “The current airport terminal is also beyond capacity, and every foot of available space should be used to the best advantage of the traveling public.”

Closing the smoking rooms might not only help Utah reduce health care costs and lost productivity related to smoking, it will also free up more than 1,200 square feet in the concourses for other purposes, such as retail space, charging stations for electronics and extra passenger seating, the mayor’s announcement noted.

Here’s the schedule for closing the lounges:

*Concourse D (470 square feet): July 5
*Concourse A (308 square feet): Week of August 15
*Concourse B (396 square feet): Week of September 26
*Concourse E (357 square feet): Week of November 7
*Concourse C (598 square feet): Week of December 19

McCarran International in Las Vegas, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Denver International and just a few others are now the only major U.S airports with smoking lounges in the terminals.

Travel Tidbits: e-cigs, Cuba & mascots

Lucky Stirke smoking

The U.S. Department of Transportation has finalized a rule related to smoking on airplanes and now the use of electronic cigarettes on commercial flights is officially forbidden.

According to DOT: “The final rule applies to all scheduled flights of U.S. and foreign carriers involving transportation in, to, and from the U.S.”

havana

Many U.S. airlines – including Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United – filed applications this week for regularly scheduled flights to Havana and other airports in Cuba. 110 daily flights will be approved, so stay tuned and start planning your trip now.

Frontier mascot

And, Frontier Airlines is running a contest to pick a school mascot to be featured on one of its new Airbus 320 airplanes.

The winning mascot’s organization will win 20 roundtrip tickets and every time you vote you get entered in a contest to win a free flight.

Should airports have smoking rooms?

Salt Lake City International Airport Smoking lounge

The debate over airport smoking rooms is flaring up again.

In May, just a few months after the 25th anniversary of the federal law banning smoking on domestic U.S. flights, Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, the U.S. Surgeon General, posted a photo on Facebook and Twitter giving thumbs down to smoking rooms at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Surgeon General Facebook post

Now, several anti-smoking groups are publicly urging Salt Lake City International Airport, which currently has five smoking rooms, to make the airport’s new main terminal — scheduled to open in 2020 — entirely tobacco-free.

“In a state that does not allow smoking in other major public places and workplaces, it is time that the Salt Lake City International Airport do what is right to protect the health of all of those who utilize it by eliminating all the indoor smoking rooms,” said Brook Carlisle, Utah government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

For now, the plan is to keep the smoking lounges as a benefit to smokers who make connections at the airport, says SLC spokeswoman Bianca Shreeve.

The lounges “not only segregate smokers from non-smokers, they keep smokers with short connections from trying to smoke in areas they are not supposed to,” she said.

Initially paid for by Phillip Morris and built before the 1996 Olympics, the twelve smoking lounges at Atlanta’s airport “are an amenity that many of our passengers still use,” said ATL spokesman Andrew Gobeil. “There are no immediate plans to close them.”

In addition to SLC and ATL, there are public indoor smoking spaces in several other major U.S. airports, including Washington Dulles International, McCarran International in Las Vegas, and Denver International.

Nashville International Airport has two Graycliff smoking lounges accessible to those paying an entrance fee. T.G.I. Friday’s, in the middle of Concourse D at Miami International Airport, has a smoking lounge for patrons and the Smokin’ Bear Lodge Smoking Lounge located behind the Timberline Restaurant at Denver International Airport is accessible with a $5 minimum purchase from the restaurant.

Denver International Airport_Smokin' Bear Lodge Smoking Lounge

At Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, there is a smoking area inside the Admirals Club in Terminal A, although American Airlines says that smoking policy is “under evaluation.”

Dulles Airport has four smoking lounges and considers them an amenity for the “broad cross section of passengers we serve, which includes a large number of international travelers and domestic travelers boarding or getting off long transcontinental flights,” said airport spokesman Christopher Paolino.

In Las Vegas, McCarran International Airport allows smoking in select bars and gaming areas.

While the number of U.S. airports offering smoking spaces has declined in the past ten years, a CDC study found that the average air pollution levels from second-hand smoke directly outside designated smoking areas in five large hub U.S. airports — Washington Dulles, Denver, Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Las Vegas — were five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports.

“Given all the science that we have and the fact that so many cities and states are working towards going smoke-free, the fact that airports aren’t going in that direction more quickly is disconcerting,” said Cynthia Hallett, executive director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.

The U.S. Surgeon General agrees. “We know second-hand smoke kills,” said Vivek Murthy via email. “By making our indoor spaces — like airports — smoke-free, we can help prevent 41,000 deaths each year in the U.S.”

(My story about airport smoking rooms first appeared on USA TODAY as an At the Airport column.)