Northwest Airline's new policy of banning smoking on North American flights is drawing little support in the airline industry and has attracted criticism from a leading pro-tobacco group.

Northwest Airlines, claiming a rising number of passengers want to fly in a smoke-free environment, said Wednesday it would be the first major U.S. airline to ban smoking on North American flights.The NWA Inc. unit said the policy will be effective as of April 23, the same day that a federal law goes into effect prohibiting smoking on domestic flights of two hours or less.

Of the major U.S. airlines contacted by Reuters, none said they would follow Northwest's move.

Allegis Corp.'s United Airlines, AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, U.S. Air Group Inc. and Texas Air Corp.'s two major units, Continental and Eastern Airlines, all said they had no plans to follow Northwest.

Predictably, The Tobacco Institute, the trade group of U.S. cigarette manufacturers, expressed disappointment with the smoking ban.

"Northwest apparently does not want smokers as passengers," said Brennan Moran, a Tobacco Institute spokeswoman. "Now, smokers have the option of pursuing competitive carriers who will provide them with a smoking section," she said.

On the other side, the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society both spoke out in favor of the smoking ban.

"Northwest has taken a bold and courageous step that we hope others will follow," said American Heart Association president Dr. Howard E. Morgan.

In announcing the new policy, Northwest said it had researched the issue and found that 80 percent of its customers were non-smokers, and that many had requested smoke-free flights.

"A sizable number of smokers expressed a desire for smoke-free flights," a Northwest spokesman said.

The smoking ban would be effective on the vast majority of the airline's 1,400 daily trips.