CDC Study Pinpoints Airport Smoking Areas' Pollution Levels

People passing by, cleaning, or working near designated smoking areas in five large U.S. airports are exposed to secondhand smoke, according to the study.

Just ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday airport rush, CDC posted the news of a study it conducted about designated smoking areas in major U.S. airports, comparing the air pollution levels inside and immediately outside them to smoke-free major airports. CDC’s summary said five of the 29 largest U.S. airports allow smoking in designated areas – and they include Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the busiest U.S. airport in 2011 with 44 million emplanements, according to FAA.

Average air pollution levels from secondhand smoke immediately outside designated smoking areas in the five airports were five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports, according to the study. (Inside the smoking areas, the pollution levels inside were 23 times higher than levels in smoke-free airports.) The study said designated smoking areas in airports include restaurants, bars, and ventilated smoking rooms.

Besides the main Atlanta airport, the big ones with designated areas are Washington Dulles International Airport, McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, Denver International Airport, and Salt Lake City International Airport. More than 110 million passengers boarded flights in those airports last year, representing about 15 percent of all U.S. air travel, according to CDC.

"The findings in today's report further confirm that ventilated smoking rooms and designated smoking areas are not effective," said Tim McAfee, M.D., MPH, director of 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."

"Instead of going entirely smoke-free, five airports continue to allow smoking in restaurants, bars, or ventilated smoking rooms. However, research shows that separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot fully eliminate secondhand smoke exposure," said Brian King, Ph.D., an epidemiologist with the office and co-author of the report. "People who spend time in, pass by, clean, or work near these rooms are at risk of exposure to secondhand smoke."

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