SALT LAKE CITY—Salt Lake City International Airport is one of the last seven international airports in the United States that still allows smoking. A bill on the agenda of 2016 Utah Legislature would remove Salt Lake’s airport from that list.
Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, has filed SB61 in the Senate. The Utah Indoor Clean Air Act, as it stands, lists both international airports and hotels as exceptions to the general ban on smoking in public places. The bill would authorize striking airports from the list. The airport is one year deep in reconstruction of its terminals and Vickers sees it as the perfect time to do away with the smoking lounges.
“With the timing of the remodel of the Salt Lake Airport and the incoming administration of Salt Lake City,” he said, noting that Salt Lake’s new Mayor Jackie Biskupski supports the bill, “it just seems like an opportune time to go ahead and change that to the pattern that’s going on across the country,” Vickers said.
Other reasoning supporting the bill includes the argument that the “enclosed” smoking rooms don’t actually keep smoke completely away from the non-smoking public and expose travelers to secondhand smoke. According to a 2012 study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention focusing on nine hub airports, smoke levels in the supposedly non-smoking areas of airports with enclosed smoking lounges were five times the levels in completely smoke-free airports.
Health associations like the American Cancer Society and Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights publicly advocate for airport anti-smoke policies like SB61. ANR’s website emphatically states that they are “prepared to hold the line against [smoke tolerant airports’] assault on your right to breathe smoke-free air!” Vickers, with experience in health care as a pharmacist, also acknowledged his sensitivity to heart and lung issues.
Through social trends throughout the country, smokers’ options for places they can legally smoke are diminishing. Might this give some smokers a push in the direction of quitting? Vickers held that that wasn’t his main goal behind the bill, but that it would produce a “nice secondary result.”
Daniel Patterson, a 46-year-old Salt Lake City resident and University of Utah political theory doctoral student, thinks otherwise. As a current cigar and pipe smoker and former cigarette smoker, Patterson has made use of the Salt Lake Airport’s smoking lounge before. But his opposition to the bill doesn’t stem from his smoking habits—he says he was never the type who couldn’t wait to smoke somewhere else. His hesitancy comes from what he sees as an insufficiently supported and one-sided political decision.
As far as public health goes, Patterson would support legislative action if research specific to the Salt Lake City airport showed that the lounges failed to contain smoke. When it comes to following America’s example of eliminating all smoking from airports, Patterson isn’t sold.
“If the driving factor behind this is ‘because everybody else is doing it,’ I don’t find that a justifiable reason to take that right from the individual.”
In Patterson’s view, tobacco is a legal product with many regulations attached. He thinks that, with the passing of bills that paint smokers into a corner, law-abiding smokers “are being regulated, or legislated, into more acceptable practice.”
In this year’s legislative session, Patterson says his ideal solution would include seeing the public, including advocates for smoking, invited into the discussion to decide on a compromise. “I think for this to be effective as genuine democratic engagement, that both parties need to be at the table.”
In the near future, hotels may undergo the same policy transformation as airports are now experiencing. The hotel industry currently stands in similar circumstances to airports. Hotel franchises like Westin and Marriott have voluntarily banned smoking. Studies have expanded knowledge about the pervasiveness of smoke—a San Diego State University study found that nicotine residue and smoke from smoking rooms spreads to non-smoking rooms. With hotels standing as one of the last public places protected for smoking under Utah law, they may be the next legislative target.
“I think it probably needs a little more research done and a little more involvement with some of the stakeholders, but that is a possibility,” Vickers said.