Smoke levels are risky at some airports

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — As you travel through out-of-state airports this holiday season, you may want to make a wide detour around those haze-filled fishbowl smoking lounges.

A new study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found major airports that allow travelers to light up in designated rooms, bars or restaurants had risky levels of second-hand smoke, despite special ventilation systems.

Researchers monitored air pollution measures at five major airports and matched them up against the four smoke-free ones with similar passenger loads.

“Smoking-permitted areas, as well as the areas around them, just aren’t healthy, especially for children,” said CDC epidemiologist and study co-author Brian King. “Travelers and airport workers at the airport are a captive audience.”

The study, which was the CDC’s first comparison of air quality in smoking vs. tobacco-free terminals, bolstered federal public health officials’ earlier position: that the only way to eliminate second-hand smoke dangers at airports is to ban all indoor smoking.

Richard Davis, a Chicago minister who arrived in Fort Lauderdale Tuesday for a holiday visit, thinks that’s a good idea.

“There’s always a chance someone could get sick because of it,” he said, sitting well away from the outside smoking area at Terminal 1. “A little bit of second-hand smoke is still bad.”

At Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, puffing passengers have to be outside and away from the exits.

Hollywood native Ketti Lutz, who was waiting for her parents to pick her up, said she’s a nonsmoker but respects a person’s right to their cigarettes.

“There may be some risk of second-hand smoke, but the smokers should get some consideration, too,” Lutz said.

The CDC found pollution levels were 23 times higher inside smoking lounges and bars than they were in the four smoke-free terminals studied. And the results show that smoking rooms, though completely enclosed and outfitted with ventilation systems, can’t keep a terminal’s air clear, said King, of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health.

Pollution monitors set up outside but adjacent to smoking areas recorded levels five times higher than in the smoke-free terminals, so even non-smokers who never entered those places were at risk, the study authors said.

While efforts to ban smoking on flights began in 1988, there is no federal law requiring the same for airports.

But among the 29 large-hub airports nationwide, only five currently allow smoking indoors.

Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson, the nation’s busiest airport, has 11 smoking rooms and bars — at least one in every concourse.

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