Starting today, it's illegal to light up a cigarette on any domestic airline flight of six hours or less. Bad news for smokers, good news for airline crews and frequent flyers who, a recent Transportation Department study says, face an increased risk of premature death from exposure to other peoples' smoke. The new law augments the ban on cigarette smoking aboard shorter domestic flights first enacted in 1987; pipe and cigar smoking was prohibited some time earlier. Little by little--but steadily--the idea that smoke-free zones are beneficial to public health is gaining acceptance.
Tobacco companies, to be sure, continue to fight most efforts to discourage smoking. They have a powerful incentive: Sales of cigarettes, cigars and pipe tobacco are a $40-billion a year business. That's a lot of money, but it's still much less than the $52 billion a year that the Department of Health and Human Services says smoking costs the nation in medical expenses and lost productivity. HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan puts the annual per capita cost of smoking-related diseases at $221, mostly for increased health care and higher insurance costs. The cost in California alone comes to $5.8 billion. That's $1.2 billion more than the proposed 1991 budgets for the entire University of California and California State University systems.