Air Travelers at Risk from Secondhand Smoke: CDC

Although more airports prohibit smoking today than in 2002, smoking is still allowed inside seven of the nation's largest airports, including three of the five busiest airports.

A new CDC report shows that 22 percent of U.S. passenger boardings take place at seven of the largest airports that still allow smoking indoors, putting air travelers and workers at risk of being exposed to secondhand smoke. Studies have shown that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart attacks, lung cancer, asthma attacks, and other diseases.

The study, published in MMWR, compares the status of smoke-free polices among the largest U.S. airports in 2002 and 2010. Although more airports prohibit smoking today than in 2002, smoking is still allowed inside seven of the nation's largest airports, including three of the five busiest airports—Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Dallas Fort Worth International Airport, and Denver International Airport. Other airports that still allow smoking indoors include: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, and Salt Lake City International Airport.

Of the 29 airports analyzed, 22 (76 percent) are currently smoke-free indoors, compared to 13 of 31 (42 percent) in 2002. Smoking was banned on domestic airline flights in 1990, but there is no national policy that addresses smoking inside the nation's airports.

"Every year, millions of people who travel through and work at these airports are unnecessarily exposed to secondhand smoke," said CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, M.P.H. "Even ventilated smoking rooms do not eliminate secondhand smoke exposure. Eliminating smoking at airports is the only way to fully eliminate exposure for people who pass into and through airports. This is a no-cost, high-impact strategy that will protect millions of people from secondhand smoke while traveling."

As an alternative to adopting smoke-free policies, several airports have installed enclosed, ventilated smoking rooms. The Surgeon General's Report concluded in 2006 that separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposure of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke. People who spend time in, pass by, clean, or work near these rooms are at risk of exposure to secondhand smoke.

The Surgeon General's Report also concluded that secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and many serious health conditions in children, including more severe asthma and respiratory infections. A 2009 Institute of Medicine report found that even brief exposure to secondhand smoke could plausibly trigger heart attacks.

"Completely eliminating smoking in all public places and workplaces, including airports, is the only way to fully protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke exposure," said Ursula Bauer, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. "Secondhand smoke is responsible for 46,000 heart disease deaths and 3,400 lung cancer deaths each year."

For a list of airports included in the analysis, view the full report at

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