Call me old-fashioned, but few things irritate me more than seeing smoking areas eliminated from the secure side of airports. I don’t smoke, don’t intend to ever smoke, and consider it an unhealthy, overpriced, and sophomoric habit.
At the same time, 20% of the U.S. population does smoke and that percentage is much higher in many countries around the world. One line of reasoning insists that the harder we make it for people to smoke, the less they will do it. There is no doubt some truth to that, but I think the way cigarettes are taxed in many states right now is more than enough to discourage people from smoking. We see that reflected in the dwindling number of smokers each year in America.
To give you an example, for years LAX offered outdoor patios in many terminals, like Terminal Six on the left, where smokers could light up before or after a flight without having to leave the secure area. Due to a change in the Los Angeles Municipal Code that now bans smoking within 20 feet of all doors and windows of a business establishment, the smoking patios at LAX were locked up one night in a fashion reminiscent of Mayor Daley ordering his goons to tear up Meigs Field.
I understand the concern of some that smoking areas pose a hazard to employees by subjecting them to smoke, but I do not believe that is relevant to most airport smoking areas. If the overnight custodian steps out on the patio or into a smoking room to empty the ashtrays into a waste bucket, he’s being exposed to less smoke (probably none at all) than the custodians who have to empty the trash outside the terminal entrances where smokers now must huddle for a smoke. It’s not like there is a bartender on the patio who has to breath in the smoke all day against her will.
There are many improvements I would like to see at LAX, but my top priority is the restoration of smoking areas. And let me be controversial: I’d like to see indoor smoking areas return!
I’m not advocating for the animal cages available at Frankfurt or Stockholm (for example), though they would be better than nothing.
While better than nothing, I don’t like the cage-like look of the smoking cubicles at CPH (left) and FRA (right).
I’m also not advocating for smoking areas that non-smokers cannot escape from, like the gate areas at Moscow Sheremetyevo or the way airports like Athens and Frankfurt used to be just a few years ago.
I took these pictures at SVO during my 2007 visit to Moscow. No way to escape the smoke here.
What I want is a comfortable, ventilated room where smokers can enjoy a cigarette or cigar before or after a long flight. My model airports are Hong Kong and Zürich, which offer relatively spacious oases for passengers to smoke. These well-designed rooms do not bother anyone: unlike the smoking lounge near C7 at IAD that hits you with the stale smell of smoke when you walk by (though I’d rather have that than no smoking area at all), these smoking areas do not burden the senses or endanger the health of those who wish to avoid them.
HKG and ZRH are just two examples of airports that offer a comfortable and secluded place for travelers to smoke.
With smokers herded out to terminal sidewalks, I can’t help but to breathe in cigarette smoke when I enter the terminal at most airports. I submit that making available smoking areas on the secure side would result in less second-hand smoke than exists now.
I don’t want to see smoking sections return to airplanes, where there is no way for a passenger to avoid the stench and health ramifications of smoke. Anyone old enough to remember smoking on planes should remember that the illusion of a smoking and non-smoking section was often a joke, with smoke wafting throughout the entire airplane.
But what we are talking about here is an area that is only accessed by an affirmative step and that anyone can avoid if they so desire.
I really hope that one day this discussion will become moot because no will be foolish enough to smoke, but let’s be realistic: that is not going to happen when smoking is so ingrained and even extolled in cultures around the world.
Airports like SFO, LAX, and JFK are gateways to America for millions of visitors each year—millions of smokers each year—and I find it shameful that smokers have become such pariahs in our culture that they have to endure additional torture by the TSA if they (gasp) want to smoke a legal substance that the government depends on for tax revenue.
It is probably a pipe-dream, but I’d love to see smoking areas—whether that be the re-opening of the patios at LAX or the installation of specially ventilated rooms (that the tobacco companies would be more than happy to fund)—return to major airports in America even if states have passed comprehensive smoking bans. Colorado pulls this off nicely at DEN as does Virginia at IAD, at least in terminal B. A happy medium that protects the rights of non-smokers while providing a place of refuge for those afflicted with the habit is possible—and necessary.
One of two smoking lounges in Terminal B at Washington Dulles