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Where There's Smoke, There's Ire : Rules: Smoking has become greatly restricted on most domestic flights, on buses and in a number of hotels. Still, many people are defying the rules and lighting up.

July 07, 1991|PETER S. GREENBERG

Want to light up a cigarette during a flight within the continental United States? Forget it. How about on a non-chartered bus trip? You're out of luck. In some cities, Singapore among them, there are nonsmoking taxicabs. Many airport shuttle services are no-smoking. And a growing number of hotels have not only designated nonsmoking rooms or entire nonsmoking floors, but some hotels have banned smoking altogether.

The news from the smoking front is good if you're a nonsmoker.

If you're a smoker, you've probably been forced to find creative--and in some cases illegal--ways to beat the growing nonsmoking restrictions, both in the air and on the ground.

Not surprisingly, smoking foes smell total victory.

"This is like a political campaign where smoking is the incumbent and we need to unseat it," says Ahron Leichtman. "We're very close."

Leichtman, who founded a group called Citizens Against Tobacco Smoke (now known as Citizens for a Tobacco-free Society), also owns Cincinnati-based Smokefree Travel Services, perhaps the only U.S. travel firm that specifically books smoke-free meetings, conventions and ground transportation. (For more information, call 513-677-6666.)

"With luck," says Leichtman, "the ashtray is going the way of the spittoon."

Under current U.S. regulations, which went into effect Feb. 25, 1990, smoking is prohibited on all scheduled flights within the United States of six hours or less in duration. Violations of the smoking ban are punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 per infraction. And anyone tampering with a smoke detector can be fined up to $2,000.

And last year, the Interstate Commerce Commission voted to ban smoking on all regularly scheduled interstate bus service. Charter bus service is exempt.

There are some exceptions to the airline nonsmoking rules in the United States: an estimated 24 flights that last more than six hours. This particularly applies to many flights to and from Alaska and Hawaii.

But the strict regulations haven't kept smokers from trying to light up on the majority of flights that ban smoking.

Says American Airlines spokesman Marty Hieres, "The violators fall into two categories: those who light up because they are habitual smokers and will put it out when told to, and those who want a cigarette and will do whatever they have to do to have it."

At first, after some airlines installed battery-operated smoke detectors in lavatories, a number of smokers disconnected the batteries. Then, when airlines began installing more sophisticated hard-wired detection units, some smokers would use plastic shower caps to cover them while smoking.

On one American Airlines flight between Seattle and Dallas, a passenger told flight attendants that he needed to smoke "for health reasons," according to the reports.

He said that if he didn't get a chance to smoke a cigarette, he would become so nervous and agitated that he would become physically violent. The flight attendants reported this to the pilot, who calmly explained to the would-be smoker that if he did smoke a cigarette, the police would be at the arrival gate in Dallas "to help you with your condition." The passenger got the message and refrained from lighting up.

Last March, a passenger on USAir Flight 695 from Philadelphia to Las Vegas became abusive when the flight crew told him he couldn't smoke. The plane made an unscheduled stop in Indianapolis, and Sam Tirone, a Las Vegas car salesman, was arrested by the FBI on charges of assaulting and intimidating flight crew members.

"We think most smokers are trying to be considerate," says Thomas Lauria, spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, the Washington-based lobbying group for the tobacco industry. "These incidents are regrettable."

"The (airline) industry is no longer trying to resist nonsmoking sections," Lauria adds. "It makes sense to accommodate the majority of the population that doesn't smoke, but smokers need to feel comfortable, too."

The proof of that statement may be in the financial clout still wielded by smokers.

Earlier last year, Virgin Atlantic Airways announced that it was dedicating one of its daily London-to-Newark, N.J., flights as totally nonsmoking. Less than a year later it canceled the program.

"We just didn't get the response we thought we'd get," says Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman Lori Levin.

Northwest, the first major airline that banned smoking on all U.S. flights before it became federally mandated, isn't exactly rushing to implement similar no-smoking rules on its European or Asian flights.

"We have no plans to disallow smoking on our overseas routes," says Northwest spokeswoman Christy Clapp. "The needs of the international passenger tend to be different. Stating it simply, they smoke more."

But not all carriers are following Northwest's cue.

Last October, Air Canada, which had banned smoking on all of its North American flights, became the first airline in the world to offer smoke-free flights between North America and Europe.

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