The Centers for Disease Control argues that indoor smoking rooms must be eradicated from airports worldwide in order to reduce risk to second-hand smoke. I take the opposite approach: I believe non-smokers are better protected though MORE indoor smoking lounges.
Whenever I write about smoking, I always begin with this disclaimer: I don’t smoke, have never smoked, and never plan on smoking. Rather, I consider it is an expensive and counterproductive habit. Even so, I believe that blanket smoking bans rarely represent the best public policy.
The CDC contends:
Eliminating smoking in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Stop right there. While the elimination of indoor smoking *may* protect nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke, it does not necessarily protect them.
If smokers are simply moved from indoor to outdoor, travelers may well encounter the same secondhand smoke…just in a different place.
Even as airports have taken steps to move smoking areas away from entrances and exits, my observation is that prohibitions are laxly enforced and not effective. For example, scenes like this are quite common:
I fly out of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) often and routinely encounter a cloud of smoke as I enter and exit and various terminals. Ask yourself: isn’t that your experience well?
So when the CDC limits its analysis to indoor smoking (see below), it misses the point.
CDC assessed smoke-free policies at the world’s 50 busiest airports (airports with the highest number of passengers traveling through an airport in a year) as of August 2017; approximately 2.7 billion travelers pass through these 50 airports each year (4). Among these airports, 23 (46%) completely prohibit smoking indoors, including five of the 10 busiest airports. The remaining 27 airports continue to allow smoking in designated smoking areas. Designated or ventilated smoking areas can cause involuntary secondhand smoke exposure among nonsmoking travelers and airport employees.
The problem is not whether smoking is indoor or outdoors. The problem is where to best position smoking areas to minimize secondhand smoke.
Why Indoor Smoking May Be Better Than Outdoor
Noting the problem of secondhand smoke routinely experienced at all the major airports, I would much rather see an outdoor ban than prohibiting small indoor smoking chambers or outdoor terraces on the secure side.
First, separately-ventilated indoor smoking rooms or outdoor patios expose less people to second-hand smoke. Creating an area people must seek out inherently limits exposure. The common objection to this is that airport workers must clean this area and be involuntarily exposed to second-hand smoke. But installing ashtrays receptacles that automatically empty (sort of like a trash chute in an apartment building) greatly reduces the incidence of lingering smoke. Pollution from automobile exhaust is far worse. These lounges could be closed for cleaning (like the smoking room in the KLM Crown Lounge in Amsterdam) to further reduce second-hand smoke.
Second, indoor smoking represents a tremendous revenue opportunity. Tobacco companies spend millions on indoor smoking rooms around the world and are eager to work with airports to accommodate their customers. Noting that indoor smoking may actually reduce the incidence of second-hand smoke, why not take advantage of a win-win situation? Use steep rental fees to fund other airport projects. The result: less smoke, happier travelers, more airport amenities.
Finally, forcing smokers to exit the secure area of the airport every time they need a smoke during a layover or before a flight clogs security for all of us. We see that airport security lines often are burdensome. Adding smokers into the mix further snarls these lines. The lack of secure-side smoking areas also increases air rage…just talk to a smoker who has not had a fix and doesn’t have time for a smoke between flights.
From a broader perspective, I join the CDC’s hope for a smoke-free world one day. But let’s be honest: that won’t happen. It just won’t. Austria just voted to undo its indoor smoking ban set to go into effect next year. Over 30% of German youth smoke cigarettes. Smoking is very ingrained in societies around the world, both eastern and western. And thus the question becomes how to best deal with. My view is clear: smoking inside airports is a better alternative than smoking outside airports.
> Read More: Why I Mourn the Loss of Airport Smoking Lounges