Republicans and Democrats, accustomed to arguing in smoke-filled rooms, have found something on which they agree: smoke-free skies.
But then promoting the health of Utahns is a pretty safe stance to take - even in an election year.So Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens and Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter didn't exactly go out on a limb Wednesday when they issued public statements favoring stricter smoking regulations on commercial airline flights.
The statements, along with those of other politicians and local health officials, were introduced at the first of two public hearings Wednesday on smoking curbs on commercial flights. A third forum, sponsored by members of a Utah Air Travel Commission task force, will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday in Provo at Utah Valley Community College.
Each hearing is focusing on three specific questions: Should smoking be banned on all commercial flights in the United States? Can airlines come up with economically feasible ways to isolate second-hand smoke from non-smokers on flights? And, how well is the new law banning smoking on flights of two hours or less working?
The Air Travel Commission, a civic advisory group, will draft resolutions based on the hearing comments.
Based on remarks Wednesday at the University of Utah Hinckley Institute of Politics, it should come as no surprise what they will recommend.
With one distinguished exception - a senior research chemist from R.J. Reynolds, a tobacco company - those who testified sided with the rights of non-smokers.
What does this mean? Hard-core puffers can start fidgeting. If Utahns have their way, the federal law already banning cigarette smoking aboard domestic airline flights of two hours or less will become stricter.
"The FAA's ban on smoking on commercial flights of less than two hours is not enough to adequately protect non-smokers from involuntary smoking," Bangerter said in a written statement.
That's why the governor is asking the Utah attorney general's office to research the legality of banning smoking on flights originating or ending in Utah. His state, he said, should be able to enact statutes or promulgate regulations necessary to protect the health of its citizens.
Owens is going a flight further.
He's co-sponsoring federal legislation to ban smoking on all commercial flights - a move that has the support of the American and Utah medical associations.
"Tobacco smoke is the most frequent source of complaint about aircraft air quality. In addition to being an irritant to the non-smoker, the medical evidence of significant adverse health consequences from environmental tobacco smoke continues to mount," said Dr. John C. Nelson, a physician in the practice of obstetrics/gynecology in Salt Lake City and a member of the executive committee of the AMA's Council on Legislation.
"While we are concerned for all passengers and crew, we have special concern for passengers with pulmonary or cardiovascular disease and for flight attendants who continue to fly while pregnant," he said. "Passive exposure to tobacco smoke has been found to affect a baby's birth weight. In addition, every passenger and crew member is at mortal risk if an aircraft fire is ignited by smoking materials."
Former U.S. Sen. Frank Moss, the "guy who knocked cigarette advertising off television" by pushing through a federal bill prohibiting the advertising, said he doesn't think a stricter smoking ban will affect the airline business.
"I don't think a lot of people will take the train or walk because they can't smoke on airlines," the frequent flier said.
Representatives for America West and American Airlines agreed with Moss. They said the smoking ban imposed in April has not hurt their businesses.