As travellers around the world join the Christmas queues, Dr Melissa Stoneham reports on a recent review of smoking policies at major international airports.
The findings suggest there is significant room to improve the safety of airport environments for the health and wellbeing of travellers and of airport employees.
(While the review mentions a website called Smoking in Transit, Croakey was intrigued to find the Airport Smokers website – as per the featured image above – which aims to “help the travelling smoker”. It would be interesting to know who is behind such sites…)
Melissa Stoneham writes:
In my job, I spend a lot of time in airports. In fact, I wrote this blog while flying from Perth to Broome to run a training course.
So what makes a good airport?
At Perth airport, I was pleasantly surprised to see a musical duo, entertaining people while they waited for their flight, and watched as their expected time of departure receded further into the afternoon.
I don’t know too many people who actually enjoy being at airports; however, most travellers, whether on work or play, can now shop, snack, dine and order fancy cocktails at most airports. In some, you can even have a massage, a manicure, attend a music concerts or visit a kids’ play area.
One thing I dislike about airports more than anything is the smoking areas. It wasn’t long ago that my home city, Perth, allowed smoking at the entrance to the terminal. It was always a mad dash holding my breath to get through those doors without being exposed to passive smoke! Does anyone remember the glass cubicles at Heathrow that could take six or seven people hunched over their cigarettes, much to the amusement of myself and other passers-by?
So it was interesting to come across the article selected for this month’s JournalWatch, which reviews smoking policies of major international airports, and compares these policies with corresponding in-country tobacco control legislation. It also identifies areas of improvement for advancing smoke-free policy in airports.
Led by Francis Stillman from the Department of Health, Behaviour and Society, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, the study also included an examination of anecdotal information from travellers about airport rooms and areas where smoking is officially or unofficially allowed.
The research team collected data from 34 major airports selected from five world regions: four from Africa, nine from Asia, six from Europe, three from the Western Pacific and twelve from the Americas. Passenger traffic was used to identify major airports. Individual airport websites were searched for information on airport smoking policies, with specific searches looking for either an explicit statement of indoor smoking policy, or a listing for a designated smoking room.
The research team then searched data on legislation of smoke-free public places for each airport. Three sources were used, including the Global Smokefree Partnership, the WHO tobacco control country profiles and the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids website. The next step was to compare airport data with local data to examine whether airport smoking policies were consistent with current legislation on smoking in indoor public places.
To access traveller’s perceptions and opinions, a website called Smoking in Transit was reviewed. This website is an online site targeting smokers, which allows them to search for airport smoking areas and comment on their experiences and observations of smoking rules. The researchers reviewed comments that were posted between 2011 and 2013.
Room for improvement in Africa and Asia
Based on these data, the researchers found that 41 percent of airports were designated as smoke free, 53 percent were smoking restricted, and the remaining airports were “unreported” – meaning no policies were able to be located.
Most of the smoke-free airports were located in the Americas (eight airports, or 66 percent of sample) and the Western Pacific (three airports, or 100 percent of sample). Africa and Asia were the worst performers – Africa had no airports designated as smoke free and in Asia only 11 per cent of the sample were smoke-free.
National level legislation data for smoking in indoor public places indicated that 35 percent of airports were smoke free, 58 per cent had smoking restrictions and almost nine percent had no restrictions. National level smoke-free legislation existed in airports located in Asia (1), Europe (3), the Western Pacific (3) and the Americas (5). Smoking was not restricted at the national level in three airports located in Asia: two in China (Beijing Capital International and Hong Kong International) and one in Japan (Tokyo International).
As for the travellers’ comments, the Smoking in Transit website provided insight into compliance or enforcement of airport smoking policies. Three of the airports that supposedly prohibited all indoor smoking were mentioned as having areas where smoking was in fact permitted.
I did a quick search on Australian airports to see what I could find. On this website, it was clearly stated: “the best airport in Australia for smokers is Brisbane airport (the only one to provide a smoke area) and the worst was Canberra airport, the rest have limited pre-security facilities.” Sorry Brisbane…..
So what does all this mean?
Basically, the study shows that despite the plethora of smoke free policies, prevention programs, social marketing campaigns and advocacy strategies, the majority of major international airports evaluated in this study contained designated smoking rooms or other indoor smoking areas, and several of these airports were located in countries with smoke-free status.
Given all the science that we have that smoking kills, exposure to second hand smoke is harmful to health and the goal of so many cities and states to go smoke-free, the fact that airports are not moving in that direction more quickly is disconcerting, particularly if they are located within a country which has pledged to be smoke-free.
As an empathetic person who understands that tobacco is an addictive drug, I try to imagine what it would be like to be a smoker who is travelling. But please do not tell me that the industry has the smoker’s best interests at heart. Not when I read how the 12 smoking rooms at the Atlanta airport were initially paid for by Phillip Morris and built before the 1996 Olympics.
Of course, it makes sense for a tobacco company to build smoking rooms at airports – because that will increase their profits. As a public health advocate, my main concern is for the health of all people. Research consistently shows that smoking rooms do not effectively protect outer areas from second hand smoke exposure due to leakage of smoking air in the room – so my empathy for the smokers is short lived.
In time, I am confident that smoking will be phased out at all airports. Some airports have instigated a user-pays (or in this case smoker-pays) system. Nashville International Airport has two Graycliff smoking lounges accessible to those paying an entrance fee. The Smokin’ Bear Lodge Smoking Lounge located behind the Timberline Restaurant at the Denver International Airport is accessible with a $5 minimum purchase from the restaurant.
The authors of the journal article recommend that proposed state, local or national smoke-free legislation—or revisions being made to existing smoke-free law—should explicitly include airports as part of indoor workplace smoking bans.
In addition, they suggest that airports should be encouraged to adopt internal policies to protect all persons who work or use their facilities.
A couple of decades ago, no one would have imagined we could ban smoking on planes. But we have achieved this, and in fact Australia was the first country to do so, way back in 1987. It is now normalised. No one complains (much).
With consistent and persistent advocacy, it is only a matter of time before we see all airports become smoke free. And that will be a day worth celebrating.
• Article – A review of smoking policies in airports around the world. Frances A Stillman, Andrea Soong, Cerise Kleb, Ashley Grant and Ana Navas-Acien. Tobacco Control.
The Public Health Advocacy Institute WA (PHAIWA) JournalWatch service reviews 10 key public health journals on a monthly basis, providing a précis of articles that highlight key public health and advocacy related findings, with an emphasis on findings that can be readily translated into policy or practice. Read the previous editions here.
The Journals reviewed include:
- Australian & New Zealand Journal of Public Health (ANZJPH)
- Journal of Public Health Policy (JPHP)
- Health Promotion Journal of Australia (HPJA)
- Medical Journal of Australia (MJA)
- The Lancet
- Journal for Water Sanitation and Hygiene Development
- Tobacco Control (TC)
- American Journal of Public Health (AMJPH)
- Health Promotion International (HPI)
- American Journal of Preventive Medicine (AJPM).
These reviews are then emailed to all JournalWatch subscribers and are placed on the PHAIWA website. To subscribe click to Journal Watch click here.