Smoking Ban on U.S. Flights Celebrates 25 Years

By Paul Riegler on 25 February 2015
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Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day on which smoking on U.S. domestic flights ceased.

On February 25, 1990, all U.S. domestic flights became no smoking, thanks to a law sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Richard Durbin.

The bill passed despite the objections of tobacco-state lawmakers.

Former smoker Senator Frank R. Lautenberg of New Jersey was the bill’s sponsor in the Senate in 1989. “The American people are overwhelmingly in support of this suspension of smoking on airplanes,” he told reporters at the time.

Flight attendants and some airlines supported the change. Airline-sponsored surveys reported that fewer than 20% of passengers were smokers. Even among the smokers, many did not want to sit in a smoking section during a flight. Also against smoking were many of the nation’s flight attendants, who were at risk for a variety of ailments including lung cancer from inhaling second-hand smoke on an almost daily basis. Cabin crews also complained of having their uniforms smell of cigarette smoke after working a flight.

“It is a vote for the lives of thousands of flight attendants in this country and of millions of passengers,” said Jo Ellen Deutsch, manager of government affairs for the Association of Flight Attendants, a union that represents flight attendants at multiple airlines, at the time. Flight attendants had begun to campaign for a ban on in-flight smoking starting in the 1960s.

The move to non-smoking flights marked the first time a workplace became a designated non-smoking area, something that, in the ensuing decades, became commonplace, first in the United States and then in other parts of the world.

The new regulation replaced a ban that proscribed smoking on domestic flights of two hours or less, roughly 80% of all flights.

Several years later in 1993, the Clinton administration began to push for a ban on smoking on all flights into and out of the United States. At the time, airlines allowed smoking on all international flights except those to and from Canada.

In 2000, ten years after smoking had been banned on domestic flights, it was prohibited on all flights between the United States and foreign destinations.

Today, virtually every commercial flight in the world is a non-smoking one.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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