Lautenberg Gratified By Smoking Ban

Posted: October 18, 1989

WASHINGTON — Congressional agreement on his proposal to ban smoking on virtually all domestic airline fights is "a milestone in the effort to protect the health of nonsmokers," Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D., N.J.) said yesterday.

The agreement, reached by Senate and House negotiators late Monday night, would ban smoking on all flights within the continental United States and any domestic flights lasting less than six hours. The ban would extend to flights to and from the U.S. territories in the Caribbean Sea.

In effect, the only U.S. flights on which smoking would be allowed are those to and from Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. territories in the Pacific Ocean, which last at least six hours.

The compromise ban, which supporters say will receive quick approval from both houses of Congress, is expected to get White House support as well. The ban will go into effect 95 days after it receives presidential approval.

"For the 70 percent of the American people who say they want to stop smoking on airline flights, this is a victory," Lautenberg told reporters yesterday. "It's a victory for all people who say they want to determine what they want to do with their health."

Lautenberg, who heads the transportation subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has been the chief sponsor of the smoking-ban legislation.

AN EX-SMOKER

A former two-pack-a-day smoker, Lautenberg said the success of his proposed smoking ban reflects a change in the attitude about cigarettes. "There's a consciousness about smoking that didn't exist before," he said.

Monday's compromise was reached as Congress considered whether to extend the experimental two-year ban on smoking on flights under two hours that was imposed in 1987. That ban was implemented after Dr. C. Everett Koop, then the surgeon general, issued a warning on the danger posed to nonsmokers exposed to cigarette smoke.

Both Lautenberg and Rep. Richard J. Durbin (D., Ill.) the House sponsor of the smoking-ban legislation, said they had received widespread public support for their effort.

A Gallup poll this summer showed that a smoking ban on planes had wide support, including the approval of 52 percent of the people polled who do smoke.

During the two years of the experimental ban, the Federal Aviation Administration reported fewer than 300 complaints from smokers.

Before the compromise, the Senate had sought to ban smoking on all domestic flights and the House backed a ban only on domestic flights lasting two hours or less.

GRAY OPPOSED SENATE PLAN

At the meeting Monday night that produced the compromise ban, Rep. William H. Gray 3d (D., Pa.) argued against the Senate position, saying House members opposed the total ban called for by the Senate.

Gray acknowledged yesterday that the Senate got "99 percent" of what it wanted, but said the compromise would have no problem passing the House. The measure is included in a massive transportation appropriations bill.

Charles Whitley, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, said he did not think Congress' action would be a precedent for more smoking restrictions.

"The airplane cabin is a unique environment," Whitley said. "You can't open the window. You're sort of a captive audience."

Whitley said the ban was not surprising coming from Congress, which he called "the most exclusive frequent flier club in the world."

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