As U.S. Celebrates 25 Years of… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
sign up

As U.S. Celebrates 25 Years of Smoke-Free Airlines, It’s Time to Make All Workplaces and Public Places Smoke-Free

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
February 23, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, it is inconceivable to Americans that smoking would be allowed on airline flights. In fact, smoking and noxious clouds of secondhand smoke were widespread on airlines in the United States just 25 years ago. That all changed on February 25, 1990, when, after a tough Congressional battle, the U.S. implemented a landmark law making domestic flights smoke-free (the law was extended to international flights to and from the U.S. in 2000).

The ban on smoking on airlines not only made flying healthier; it was the catalyst for one of the greatest public health transformations in history. Today, 24 states, Washington, DC, and hundreds of cities have smoke-free laws that apply to all workplaces and public places, including restaurants and bars. More than 1,500 colleges and universities have smoke-free campuses (more than 1,000 are completely tobacco-free). Worldwide, 43 countries have comprehensive smoke-free laws.

As we celebrate 25 years of smoke-free skies and the accelerating movement for smoke-free air sparked by the 1990 law, our challenge today is to finish the job and make all workplaces and public places smoke-free. Secondhand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease and other serious illnesses and is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. each year. No employee or customer should be exposed to these serious health risks, whether on airplanes or in offices, restaurants, bars, casinos and other workplaces. It’s time for every state and community to enact a comprehensive smoke-free law and protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids applauds all who made the 1990 law possible, including its brave legislative champions, then-U.S. Rep. and now Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and the late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ); the many public health organizations that marshaled support; and the flight attendants who tenaciously fought for their right to breathe smoke-free air. They won a hard-fought victory over a tobacco industry that did everything it could to defeat the law. We owe a debt of gratitude to them every time we enjoy a smoke-free flight or the many other venues that have since become smoke-free.

The victory for smoke-free flights set a pattern that has been repeated over and over as smoke-free protections have been extended to more places. Every time, the tobacco industry and its allies predicted doom and gloom – they claim that smoke-free laws will devastate business, be impossible to enforce and divide the public. The opposite has happened. Uniformly, smoke-free laws are wildly popular, achieve almost universal compliance and quickly improve air quality and health. And business – including in restaurants and bars – has flourished. No one who experiences smoke-free air wants to go back.

Despite the success of such laws and the conclusive evidence regarding the serious health risks of secondhand smoke, far too many people are still exposed. A report issued earlier this month by the CDC found that one in four non-smoking Americans – 58 million people altogether – are still exposed to secondhand smoke. The report found large disparities in exposure, with the highest exposure among children, African Americans, those who live in poverty, and those who live in rental housing. It found that 40.6 percent of children aged 3-11 – including nearly seven in ten African-American children – are still exposed to secondhand smoke. States in the South have especially lagged behind in enacting smoke-free laws.

In addition, the growing use of e-cigarettes threatens to undermine these hard-won protections. E-cigarettes should be included in smoke-free laws, and the U.S. Department of Transportation should issue a long-awaited final rule prohibiting e-cigarette use on airplanes.

The progress our nation and the world have made in reducing exposure to secondhand smoke is an amazing public health success story, but there is still much work to do. Twenty-five years after domestic airline flights became smoke-free, it’s time to protect everyone’s right to breathe clean air.

Background on secondhand smoke and smoke-free laws

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

The Surgeon General also found that secondhand smoke is responsible for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States each year, there is no safe level of exposure, and only comprehensive smoke-free laws provide effective protection. The evidence is also clear that smoke-free laws protect health without harming business.

Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights has detailed information on the smoke-free skies anniversary.