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Legislation aims to outlaw smoking rooms at SLC airport

First Published      Last Updated May 24 2016 09:03 pm

SB61 » Biskupski supports bill to remove lounges at Salt Lake City International.

Salt Lake City International Airport is one of seven large airports in the nation that offer smoking lounges. But they could go up in smoke, so to speak.

State Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, has written a bill, SB61, to outlaw them, and it is supported by such groups as the American Cancer Society. More importantly, new Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski favors the bill and removal of the smoking rooms.

The airport has five smoking lounges — and had planned to reduce them to two when terminals are rebuilt soon. Airport officials say the rooms feature state-of-the-art ventilation systems that draw in air from surrounding areas, then pump smoke directly outdoors.

"I know they try to do that," Vickers said. But he says he uses the airport often, and he's noticed the smoking rooms "seem not to work as well as they like."

He says he often smells smoke "especially when the doors open and people go in and out."

A 2012 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that smoking rooms at airports, including in Salt Lake City, were not effective and that banning all indoor smoking "is the only effective way to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke."

Vickers said that led health groups to seek banning them nationwide.

Scott Barton, a doctor and former chairman of the Utah Tobacco Free Alliance, said his group and others also question at "what level does the number of smokers overwhelm the system so that the smoke spills into the public areas? They cannot guarantee the safety of the public."

Matthew Rojas, a spokesman for Biskupski, said after a quick review of Vickers' bill, the mayor favors it and removal of the smoking lounges. "Salt Lake City is an anomaly, as far as allowing smoking in the airport," Rojas said. "It's not something that is necessary for the airport."

Rojas added that Biskupski favors the action because she "is a proponent of people not smoking."

Airport spokeswoman Nancy Volmer explained why the airport has offered the smoking rooms.

"These lounges provide a place for passengers with connecting flights to have a place to smoke without impacting other passengers. It also lessens nonsmokers' exposure to secondhand smoke," she said.

"Having these lounges reduces the number of smokers gathering outside the airport entrances," she added, so people entering buildings need not walk through smoke.

Without lounges, she said, smokers would need to leave secured areas to smoke outside, and then re-enter through screening checkpoints again. So Volmer said the lounges "reduce the number of passengers in security screening lines."

Brook Carlisle, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, said allowing smoking areas at the airport dates back to when Delta and Western airlines merged. "Basically, what Delta said is we want smoking rooms or we're going to pull our hub from Salt Lake City. Obviously, that's something no one wanted, so: smoking rooms."

But she said most airports have banned all smoking.

Carlisle said as the airport planned to rebuild its terminals, health groups decided it would be a good time to push the city to eliminate smoking lounges. She said they then decided to push to get rid of them now, and Vickers (a pharmacist) agreed to help with his SB61.

Carlisle said her group also worries about airport employees who must clean the smoking rooms. "The airport will say those people are smokers and they clean those rooms voluntarily. But should those people want to quit smoking or not want the extra secondhand smoke," they should not need to worry about that "unhealthy responsibility."

Carlisle also said she has heard arguments that eliminating smoking rooms would increase the likelihood of people improperly smoking in bathrooms or other public areas. She said that has not been a problem in airports that ban all smoking.

She also notes that Utah law bans indoor smoking in all other public buildings — except within hotel rooms — and says the airport should be added to that list.



Large U.S. airports that allow some smoking

Atlanta » It has 13 smoking rooms and allows smoking in select food and beverage areas

Dallas-Fort Worth » It allows smoking in private clubs

Denver » It permits smoking in one restaurant until its lease expires in 2018

Las Vegas » It allows smoking in slot machine and gaming floor areas within the airport

Nashville » It permits smoking in two private lounges if smokers make purchases there

Salt Lake City » It offers five smoking lounges

Washington-Dulles » It offers four smoking lounges

Source: American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation