How an Association Survey Led to the Airline Smoking Ban

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Airline passengers on all U.S. airlines and most international ones too take it for granted that they will enjoy a totally smoke-free flight.

That wasn’t always the case. Smoking used to be ubiquitous on airplanes, and people who didn’t want to breathe in that secondhand smoke had little recourse.

What many respiratory therapists today may not know, though, is that their AARC played an integral role in advocating for the smoke-free skies we all enjoy today.

State societies rally to the cause

It all started back in the late 1980s, when the Association enlisted the support of its state societies to conduct a survey in major airports in the U.S. asking flyers to share their thoughts and opinions on a potential ban on smoking on airplanes.

Sixty-four percent of the 33,242 passengers surveyed indicated they would support such a ban. The results of that survey, which were released during a special press conference in November of 1987, helped convince Congress to pass an initial ban on smoking on flights of two hours or less in 1988.

The AARC could’ve rested on its laurels, but it didn’t. Leaders followed up with a second survey in 1989 showing 92.8% of nonsmokers — and 58.1% of smokers as well — approved of the new law.

Those statistics helped to pave the way for a ban on smoking on flights of six hours or less in 1990 and they also figured into subsequent bans, which continued to increase restrictions on in-flight smoking until 2000, when smoking was banned entirely on all flights originating or ending in the U.S.

The tipping point

Sam Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC, who was AARC executive director when the Association was fighting for clean air on airplanes, he summed it up like this in a quote from 2020: “I believe the survey results were the tipping point, and if it wasn’t for AARC, our state societies, and our individual member volunteers stationing themselves at approximately 90 airports, it would not have happened. That’s the epitome of advocacy.”

So the next time you enjoy a smoke-free flight, you can be proud to know your professional organization had a major hand in making it happen.

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