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.
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.
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.)
If you start noticing people standing outside airport smoking rooms taking thumbs-down selfies, here’s why:
Inspired by the U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who posted a selfie of himself on Facebook giving thumbs down to a smoking room at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport airport, the non-profit Americans for NonSmokers’ Rights is starting a selfie campaign to get other anti-smoking fans to do the same.
ANR – and others – maintain that ventilated airport smoking rooms at airports – and elsewhere – really don’t address the health hazards of secondhand smoke exposure or prevent the smoke from drifting out into the indoor shared airspace.
And while hundreds of airports in the U.S. are completely smoke free, there are some major airports that still have indoor smoking areas, including Atlanta Hartsfield, Washington Dulles, Denver, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas McCarran, Nashville and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky.
ANR is encouraging non-smokers to take a thumbs-down selfie outside an airport smoking lounges, smoking rooms, or anywhere people are spotted smoking cigarettes or e-cigarettes at airports and post it to Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc., with the hashtag: #SmokefreeAirports and the airport’s tag.
Selfies giving the thumbs-up to non-smoking airports are welcome as well.
As a reward, ANR is handing out these luggage tags, while supplies last.
Miami International Airport is developing a locally-themed marketplace in the North Terminal, (between gates D-26 and D-29) and plans to fill it with shops and restaurants that offer a sampling of Miami’s diverse demographics.
A Miami Marlins store opened in the marketplace in December and this week the airport celebrated the opening of a branch of Cuban Crafters , which sells boutique cigars, humidors and accessories.
More marketplace outlets should be open by the summer and the airport promises other locally themed concepts, from Caribbean and Mediterranean food to stone crabs and empanadas.
Sales of e-cigarettes and their cousins, re-fillable “vaporizers,” are currently a $2.2 billion market in the United States, according to tobacco analysts at Wells Fargo Securities, up from an estimated $1.7 billion in 2013. And e-cig consumption could surpass that of combustible cigarettes in 10 years, according to the same forecast.
Yet, while the popular, smoke-free, nicotine delivery tools are marketed as being less toxic than traditional cigarettes, the options for where travelers may use the devices can be hazy.
In the air
Although its rules don’t explicitly spell it out, the Department of Transportation believes the existing ban on smoking on domestic and international flights of U.S. and foreign air carriers is sufficiently broad to include a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes.
“We are finalizing a rule that will address whether we should amend the existing regulatory text to explicitly ban use of electronic cigarettes aboard commercial airline flights. DOT expects the final rule will be published in the Federal Register in early 2015,” an agency spokesperson said via email.
While e-cigs are sold at some airport newsstands, their use is determined by local regulations and ordinances.
A handful of airport shops operated by Paradies have been selling e-cigs since July at the request of the airports, according to Paradies Senior Marketing Manager Justin Marlett.
The Hudson Group also sells e-cigs in some airport newsstands. Cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigs, now account for less than 1 percent of Hudson’s overall newsstand sales, “but while only 7 percent of that 1 percent is represented by e-cigs, e-cigarettes are the only tobacco products that are showing growth…albeit only incremental growth,” said Mike Maslen, Hudson’s vice president of sales.
Buying e-cigs at an airport is one thing, using them there is another.
Rules vary airport-to-airport, and sometimes within concession-to-concession. Until earlier this year, when Minnesota enacted legislation banning e-cigarettes from government buildings, e-cigs could be used in the terminals of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“We had no ordinance or policy banning them,” said Patrick Hogan, MSP’s director, public affairs & marketing, which mean e-cigs could be used in areas controlled by the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “However, concessionaires and airlines could prevent their use within their leased space. I don’t know how many did,” said Hogan.
Because the city of Los Angeles prohibits e-cigarettes inside public buildings, “the public is prohibited from using e-cigarettes within 20 feet of entrances to terminals, office buildings, and other on-airport properties,” said LAX spokesperson Nancy Castles.
But at Denver International Airport, where some retailers sell e-cigs, “this falls under the airport’s tobacco policy, so their use is only allowed in areas where smoking is allowed, such as the remaining smoking lounge on the C Concourse,” said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery.
Hotels also vary widely in their e-cig policies.
While the cluster of hip Provenance Hotels in Oregon, Washington and Nashville, Tennessee, have no formal policies on e-cigs, The Warwick in San Francisco is clear that the hotel’s smoking ban includes e-cigs.
And while some hotels sell e-cigs in the in-room mini-bars, “most hotels use the same policy for e-cigs as they do for traditional smoking,” said Julie Faver-Dylla, executive director of the Hotel Association of Tarrant Country, Texas, which represents about 400 properties in and around Arlington and Forth Worth.
“Although we understand that oftentimes the vapor produced by e-cigs is less damaging to our properties and less offensive than traditional burned cigarettes, there many variants of those products in use, and it is not possible for hotel staff to determine which might be problematic,” she said.
There is no industry-level policy on e-cigarette use on cruise lines, but “it is something that individual cruise lines are looking at,” said Elinore Boeke, spokeswoman for Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade association.
American Cruise Lines, for example, does not have a formal policy in place for e-cigarette use, but “for our smoking passengers there is a designated area on the top deck of each of our ships. In the event we have a passenger who does use e-cigs or vapes, we encourage them to go up to the top deck as well,” said company spokesman Britt Rabinovici.
On the Holland America Line, “electronic cigarettes are permitted in staterooms but not in other public areas of the ship other than on outside decks designated as smoking areas,” but on Royal Caribbean Cruises, e-cigarette users must join traditional cigarette, cigar and pipe smokers in designated outdoor areas of the starboard side of most ships.
(My story about e-cigarettes first appeared on CNBC Road Warrior).