clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


Hard-core puffers, who fidgeted and chewed their fingernails, were smoking mad Saturday, but most travelers hailed the new federal law that went into effect banning cigarette smoking aboard domestic airline flights of two hours or less.

The ban, affecting some 13,600 flights a day or 80 percent of all domestic passenger flights, will be in force for two years, with violators subject to a $2,000 fine. Delta Airlines estimates that almost 70 percent of their Salt Lake departures will be smoke-free flights.But Bill Grow, corporate manager of Beehive Travel, doesn't think travel agencies or airlines will lose business because of the new law. It's been too well publicized for people to be too upset.

For the past two weeks Grow's staff has been informing clients of the regulation. While a few opposed it, "the majority were for it," he said. "It didn't stop any of them from flying.

"In fact, I have one customer who has asthma. She said the smoking ban would help her when she travels."

The same positive response was echoed by most of Morris Air Service's clients. Because most of Morris' passengers do not smoke, the air carrier has only two rows for smokers.

"For vacation travel, the law will be advantageous, but commercial business travel could be affected because there are more businessmen smoking on early-morning flights to Los Angeles," said Holly Soter, a Morris Air Service employee.

Like it, or not, the law will be around for at least 24 months.

The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, acting as the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, led the campaign for the federal legislation last year. The Utah congressional delegation supported the efforts of the coalition in creating the ban.

The health organizations maintain the new law reduces opportunities for smoking and makes flying healthier for both smokers and nonsmokers. Many surveys of both smokers and nonsmokers have repeatedly shown that an overwhelming majority support the idea of protecting nonsmokers and former smokers from the hazards of second-hand smoke.

The ban affects all scheduled commercial flights lasting two hours or less. An unscheduled delay in the air or while the plane remains on the ground does not change a flight from nonsmoking to smoking. Passengers traveling on flights affected by the ban will no longer have to request a smoking or nonsmoking seat. All seats will be nonsmoking.

Like all other in-flight regulations, the crew will be trained and responsible for enforcing the smoking ban. Passengers should notify a flight attendant of a violation, instead of trying to enforce the regulation themselves.

Across the country Saturday there were no early reports of violations. But there was confusion.

Gloria Mitchell of Philadelphia described a mix-up on her two-hour, six-minute United flight to Chicago: "First they said we couldn't smoke and then half-way though they said we could smoke. We all had a fit, and then lit up all together."

That's just one side of the anti-smoking story.

An Eastern representative boarding passengers on a flight from Washington's National Airport to Boston apologized over the intercom to smokers. Her "I'm sorry" was greeted with a spontaneous "We're not" from about a dozen waiting passengers.

Some airlines offered substitutes for cigarettes, including hard candy and a chewing gum designed to lessen withdrawal symptoms. Dr. Don R. Powell, executive director of the American Institute for Preventive Medicine, advised smokers to put a rubber band around the wrist of their smoking hand and snap it whenever a nicotine urge struck.

The smokers may be snapping for some time to come.

As of May 1987, federal law also requires all airplane lavatories to be equipped with a smoke alarm. An automatic fire extinguisher must be located in the cabin's waste disposal receptacles. Smoking in the lavatory will immediately alert the flight attendants, who are equipped to open the lavatory door from the outside.

And some congressmen are seeking to extend the smoking ban to all flights after the new law is reviewed in two years. But the tobacco industry is trying to get all bans lifted.

Some smokers aren't complaining about the ban.

"They're forcing me to do something I've been procrastinating about. So I'm keeping a positive attitude," said Bob Wynn, a smoker from Highland Mills, N.Y., who hopes the ban helps him kick the habit.

The three health agencies wish all smokers should follow Wynn's example. They maintain that scientific evidence now justifies this action to protect nonsmokers and former smokers from second-hand smoke. The U.S. surgeon general has reported that second-hand smoke causes disease in otherwise healthy nonsmokers.