- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Anti-smoking groups are pushing to ban smoking at Salt Lake City’s airport, one of last of the nation’s busiest airports to still allow smoking indoors.

Salt Lake City International Airport already has five smoking rooms between its three terminals, but the airport plans to replace them over time with one master terminal that would include two smoking rooms.

Anti-smoking groups say the rooms are a public health risk to travelers, but airport officials contend they allow the airport to contain secondhand smoke.

Travelers with a smoking habit may not have time to exit secure areas and smoke outside buildings between flights, particularly as Salt Lake City’s airport serves as a hub where many passengers have short layovers, airport spokeswoman Bianca Shreeve said. Offering designated, ventilated rooms where they can light up cuts the risk that they’ll find a way to sneak a smoke somewhere else inside the building, she said. Smoke-free airports still report finding cigarette butts inside, Shreeve said.

“The bottom line is that smoking is a pretty powerful addiction, and providing a place for smokers to smoke gives us the ability to control it, and that’s beneficial for the traveling public in general,” Shreeve said.

Scott Barton, the chairman of the Utah Tobacco-Free Alliance, said a recent study from the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation found more airports are moving away from smoking spaces.

According to the foundation, more than 600 U.S. airports - including busy, major airports in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York - are smoke-free.

The foundation also found that of the country’s 35 busiest airports, Salt Lake City is among eight that still allow smoking indoors in special lounges or smoking rooms. The others are: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport; Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport; Denver International Airport; McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas; Miami International Airport; Washington Dulles International Airport; and Nashville International Airport.

Barton also points to a 2012 study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found that pollution levels in the air outside smoking rooms were five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports.

But Shreeve said the CDC study did not take into account Salt Lake City’s existing air pollution challenges and averaged data from all airports. She said a 2013 city study looked at pollution levels outside smoking rooms and in remote terminal areas and found no difference.

Barton and other health care providers have met with airport officials and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker to push for cutting the smoking rooms out of renovation plans.

Art Raymond, a spokesman for Salt Lake City’s mayor, told the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1Pn4KrX) that city officials considered the arguments from anti-smoking groups, but they decided the rooms acknowledge the reality that some passengers smoke and the rooms are in the best interest of all travelers.

Texas resident Joshua Lewis, who used a smoking room at Salt Lake City International Airport on a recent trip, said he appreciated the space because flying can be challenging for smokers.

Lewis said he nearly missed a flight in Minneapolis once when he had to exit the building to light up a cigarette and then pass through a security checkpoint.

As a former smoker, Maggie Podunovich of Colorado said she understands what it feels like to need to light up when you have a smoking habit, but she still thinks the airport shouldn’t accommodate it.

“I’m not condemning anybody,” Podunovich said. “I just don’t want to be around it.”

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Information from: Deseret News, http://www.deseretnews.com

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