Nonsmokers who travel by bus between states may get relief from a plan currently being developed by the Interstate Commerce Commission.
Two proposals are under consideration:
--Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), a national nonprofit scientific and educational organization concerned with the rights of nonsmokers, wants smoking banned on all buses, as regulated by the ICC.
--The American Bus Assn. (ABA) and the United Bus Owners of America (UBOA) also want to prohibit smoking, but want to exempt chartered buses. These two organizations contend that the decision to permit or prohibit smoking on charters should be left to the group or company that charters the bus.
"The tour organizer should have the flexibility to promote the tour as smoking or nonsmoking," said George Snyder Jr., executive vice president and chief operating officer of the ABA. "They can also leave it up to the customers."
While the ICC has tentatively gone along with the ASH proposal, it is now seeking comments from the public on the issue.
The ICC's current rules, which only affect bus companies on scheduled interstate routes and not charter or motor-coach tour operators, permit companies to designate up to 30% of their bus capacities to smokers. The smoking area has to be in the rear of the vehicle.
Some states prohibit smoking on nonchartered intercity buses. In California, state law forbids smoking on all scheduled public bus transportation, including municipal bus service.
"If the state laws are stricter than the federal laws, then the bus company has to follow the state regulation," said Al Brown, an ICC spokesman in Washington, D.C. "Our rules are the minimum."
ASH, ABA and UBOA point to the trend for nonsmoking rules in transportation, such as banning smoking on all domestic flights of six hours or less. They contend that the ICC's policy of merely limiting smoking on buses is outdated in light of current medical data.
Moreover, the ASH said that the risks from the concentration of tobacco smoke are even more compelling on buses than aircraft, due to a generally greater number of smokers on buses and the inferior ventilation systems on buses as compared to planes.
Under the ASH proposal, carriers would have to post no-smoking signs in all buses, terminals and other places where tickets are sold, and bus drivers would have to make no-smoking announcements to passengers.
The proposal would also prohibit the carrying of lighted smoking materials. "This is a fine line covering those people who carry lit cigars and pipes aboard buses without smoking them," Brown said.
Greyhound, the only bus company serving the entire country and which claims to control about 80% of the interstate and intrastate bus service nationwide, had designated the last three rows of its buses as smoking areas when smoking was allowed by state law.
But as of last June, Greyhound established a nationwide no-smoking policy on all of its regular route service, according to Liz Dunn, a Greyhound spokeswoman.
Public response also had a major impact on Greyhound's decision to switch to a no-smoking policy. "Our research showed that only 22% of our passengers smoked, compared to 29% of the public at large," Dunn said.
Last year, motor-coach tour operators belonging to the National Tour Assn. carried about 56 million passengers on various chartered services in North America.
Many tour operators already forbid or limit smoking on vehicles, although both the ABA and UBOA belive that, on charters, the decision to have a smoking or nonsmoking bus should be left up to the charter company.
"We haven't taken a formal position on this issue," said Hank Phillips, executive director of the National Tour Assn., which includes many motor-coach tour operators among its membership.
"But we believe that the majority of our members favor leaving the decision about smoking up to the individual company or charterer."
Said Albert Schmid, president of Santa Monica-based Far West Travel Corp.: "Our policy is not to allow smoking on our motor-coach tours, which we began several years ago as a result of the impetus of the no-smoking movement.
"We make stops every hour to two hours, which gives smokers a chance to smoke," added Schmid, whose company offers domestic motor-coach tours. "No smoking on the bus is asked for on a voluntary basis, but compliance hasn't been a problem for us. However, there could be enforcement problems coming from a total ban. What do you do if someone starts smoking?"
Both Domenico Tours and Tauck Tours, major motor-coach tour operators, said that they had no-smoking policies on their packages.
You can send your comments on whether a new rule about smoking on interstate buses should cover all buses--chartered or not--by the Thursday deadline to the Office of the Secretary, Case Control Branch, MC-194, Interstate Commerce Commission, 12th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20423.