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Airport smoke is unhealthy

Posted - Dec. 23, 2004 at 2:20 p.m.



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ATLANTA _ Airports that have smoking areas are putting the health of travelers and workers at risk, according to a federal report released Wednesday, near the peak of the holiday season.

Most of the nation's small airports ban smoking, but most large hubs let people light up. Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International, which has doorless smoking rooms, was cited as one of the worst contributors to secondhand smoke.

More than eight out of 10 non-hub airports ban smoking anywhere indoors. But of the 31 largest airports, which account for 70 percent of passengers, only 13 forbid lighting up.

"We're not doing a good enough job of protecting travelers and, especially, employees at our airports," said Eric Pevzner, a behavioral scientist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose study was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nearly 2 million people fly daily, and 2 million more work at airports, the report said. At facilities that allow smoking, those people are increasing their risk of cancer and heart disease, Pevzner said.

Even 30 minutes of exposure can be harmful, he said. '`There's no known level at which exposure to secondhand smoke is safe,'' Pevzner said.

Today is expected to be the busiest travel day of the year at the Atlanta airport, with 287,615 passengers expected.

Hartsfield-Jackson allows smoking in two bars and 12 rooms that use air curtains'' instead of doors to keep smoke inside. But Pevzner called themfictitious, with no science to it,'' saying they allow smoke to seep out.

Tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos. subsidized construction of the glass-lined smoking rooms about 10 years ago.

The Atlanta City Council has pondered a smoking ban for the past year, but exempted the airport in drafts of the legislation.

Airport chief Ben DeCosta said Wednesday that he has considered a smoking ban at Hartsfield-Jackson, but decided it was better to have designated rooms than have smokers ``sneak around'' and light up anyway.

Cigarettes are addictive, he said, and ``people are going to smoke.''

Top airports' smoke rules

Smoking policies at the 10 busiest airports:

1. Hartsfield-Jackson -- Yes, allowed in 12 smoking lounges and two bars

2. Chicago O'Hare -- Yes, allowed in lounges

3. Los Angeles -- No

4. Dallas-Fort Worth -- No

5. Denver -- Yes, designated areas

6. Phoenix Sky Harbor -- Yes, designated areas

7. Las Vegas McCarran -- Yes, designated areas

8. George Bush International, Houston -- No

9. Minneapolis-St. Paul -- No

10. Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County -- Yes, but only in one bar

*May 2004 survey by Americans for Nonsmokers Rights

Kirsten Tagami and David Wahlberg write for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. E-mail: ktagami@ajc.com; dwahlberg(at)ajc.com

Cox News Service

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