CDC Study: Five Big Airports Still Have Smoking Areas, Putting Travelers and Employees at Risk

November 21, 2012


A new study of smoking policies and air quality at the largest U.S. airports has both good news and bad news for travelers heading into the busy holiday season.

The good news: 24 of 29 large hub airports do not allow smoking in any areas accessible to the public, according to the study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The bad news: The five hub airports that still have designated smoking areas, such as smoking rooms, bars or restaurants, have high levels of air pollution in and near the smoking areas.

The study found that average air pollution levels inside designated smoking areas at these airports were 23 times higher than levels in smoke-free airports.  Even in areas adjacent to the smoking areas, air pollution levels were five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports.

The five airports with designated smoking areas are Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Denver International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport. More than 110 million passenger boardings – about 15 percent of all U.S. air travel – occurred at these five airports last year.

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’s Office on Smoking and Health.  “Prohibiting smoking in all indoor areas is the only effective way to fully eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.”

The study points to one possible reason why some airports still allow smoking: “Certain tobacco product manufacturers have promoted and paid for separately enclosed and ventilated smoking areas in airports and have opposed efforts to implement smoke-free policies in airports.”

The study’s findings underscore the need for all airports to go completely smoke-free to protect the health of travelers and employees.  State and local smoke-free laws should make no exceptions for airports.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 69 that cause cancer. According to the Surgeon General, secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and respiratory problems, sudden infant death syndrome, low birth weight, ear infections and more severe asthma attacks in infants and children.

No one should have to put their health, or their families’ health, at risk when traveling this holiday season – or any time of the year. It’s time for all airports to be smoke-free and protect everyone's right to breathe clean air.

Information on smoking policies at the 35 busiest U.S. passenger airports is available from Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights.