SALT LAKE CITY — The nation has undergone major changes in recent decades to keep public areas smoke free, but a few airports in the U.S. still have smoking lounges. A new study focuses on the effects of second-hand smoke in some of the country's largest airports, including Salt Lake International.
Its results have been controversial because researchers with the Centers for Disease Control monitored smoke levels here and found unacceptable levels of air pollution. At the same time, airport officials also monitored the air and had different results.
Travelers like Randy Ostberg find smoking lounges like these convenient. But he feels the inevitable is coming — a ban on smoking.
"It's just what the world is coming to," said a traveler named Randy. "You can't smoke in a park. You can't smoke on the sidewalk. You can't smoke in a line."
In the study released Wednesday, the CDC looked at five of the country's 29 largest airports. They found elevated levels of air pollution from second-hand smoke in all five: Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta; Washington-Dulles; McCarran in Las Vegas; Denver International, and Salt Lake International.
Using air quality monitors, researchers compared these five airports to smoke-free airports and found 23 times the air pollution inside smoking lounges and five times greater pollution just outside the lounges.
The CDC said the five airports, including Salt Lake International, have an exemption under the clean air act for these lounges. By January all of the smoking lounges at the Salt Lake airport will have doors.
Salt Lake International officials say they're not finding pollution. Travelers we talked to didn't notice.
"That's interesting, because I don't smell the smoke," said traveler Gladys Farmer. "I didn't even realize there was one here by me."
Airport spokesperson Barbara Gann said that because Salt Lake International is a hub, the smoking lounges are a necessary evil for travelers and staff connecting between long flights.
"They're tested daily," said Barbara Gann, a spokesperson for the airport. "They're in guidelines of the Clean Air Act. "We change the filters and monitor, and clean them frequently."
Gann also said that if the lounges were eliminated, it could increase lines at security because passengers would be forced to go in and out in order to smoke. She also said more people will be walking through smoke near entrances to the airport.
The study showed that about 15 percent of all U.S. air travel took place at the five airports studied. And while the number may not seem significant, researchers with the CDC say, the only escape from second-hand smoke is a smoke-free airport.
"We know that there's no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure and therefore individuals who are inside these smoking room environments or even outside them are potentially susceptible to secondhand smoke exposure - which is problematic for workers as well as travelers, particularly children," said Dr. Brian King with the CDC.