Declaring that non-smokers on airliners are "trapped" into breathing cigarette smoke despite segregation of smokers on airliners, the Utah Air Travel Commission will advocate and press for a total smoking ban on all U.S. and domestic commercial flights.
The commission voted unanimously at its monthly meeting this week to adopt the report of a task force it formed last January to explore the issue of smoking on airliners and to specifically answer three questions:1. Is it in the public interest to place a regulatory ban on all cigarette smoking on commercial air flights in the United States? (Smoking is now banned by federal law on flights of two hours or less.)
2. Is there an economically viable method in which smokers may be physically isolated from non-smokers so non-smokers can breathe unpolluted air?
3. How has Northwest Airlines' total smoking ban on its domestic flights affected the airline's revenues?
The task force was formed by UATC Chairman Yan M. Ross last January and has been working on the study for the past seven months - including holding public hearings last May in Salt Lake City, Ogden and Provo.
According to task force Chairman Robert S. Campbell, the group assembled documents and testimony from every quarter - including the tobacco industry - before making its recommendations. Some 100 publications, articles, reports and other documents were placed in the record from which the final report was derived.
In answering the three priority questions it set for itself, the task force concluded that the "overwhelming weight of the evidence" is that environmental tobacco smoke on airliners is "in all probability, a serious danger" to passenger health.
Further, the group said the evidence is overwhelming that tobacco smoke is "irritating and discomforting" to large segments of air travelers, causing headaches, congestion, coughing and eye irritation.
As for confining smoke to the smoking section, the task force concluded that it is not feasible from an engineering, technical or economic standpoint to design an airplane cabin that would effectively isolate smoking from non-smoking sections.
Northwest Airlines declined to advise the task force on acceptance by passengers of its total smoking ban, which went into effect April 23. But the study notes that Northwest routinely advertises itself as "the non-smoking airline."
The report quotes America West Airlines, commenting on the effects of the federal smoking ban on flights of two hours or less as saying " . . . passenger acceptance has been very favorable as we have received wide positive approval . . . smokers have not found it difficult to accept the new regulation."
The task force speculates that, with the evidence it accumulated, smoking on flights in or out of Utah could constitute a public nuisance and might conceivably be banned under state law.
When the task force was initially formed, at least one commissioner objected to it on the grounds that the smoking issue was not within the jurisdiction of the UATC, which usually concerns itself with trying to gain new and better airline service in the state.
But Campbell pointed out that the commission has, in the past, looked into such issues as antitrust, mergers, fares, airport security and airport development as well as service and routing and thus concluded that the smoking issue was very much in its purview.
"It's no different than if we were looking into airline accidents or contaminated food aboard airlines," said Campbell. "We are here to work in the public interest."
The task force was initially formed following a verbal report to commissioners by Campbell on an unpleasant experience he had suffered on an overseas flight in which he was forced for several hours to breathe smoke from four smokers sitting in front of him. The flight attendants said they were helpless to intervene.
Nevertheless, Campbell said, the personal biases of the task force members were never taken into account while they were conducting the study. Nor, he added, does the report "reflect the views of any religious group. The issue never came up."
The UATC report will be sent to the Utah congressional delegation and various committees of Congress now considering smoking legislation, as well as the governor and other agencies with an interest in the issue.