The Surgeon General has reported that passive smoking increases the risk of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases. There is now a ban on smoking on all commercial airline flights of two hours or less within the United States. But the ban is only temporary. To help Congress decide if it should be made permanent and extended to longer flights, the National Institutes of Health recently sent nine volunteers on a series of transcontinental nonstop commercial flights so it could determine the significance of nonsmokers’ exposure to smoke on flights with smokers.
The subjects all wore personal monitors that measured nicotine in the air. They also kept track of eye irritation and other symptoms of smoke exposure and provided urine samples that were tested for a metabolic byproduct of nicotine. The subjects sat in both smoking and non-smoking sections of the planes on their flights, but the results showed that seating location made no difference: all of the subjects were exposed to measurable amounts of tobacco smoke on all flights and in some cases, the exposure rates were actually highest in the non-smoking section.
All the subjects were found to be excreting the nicotine by-product after the flights were over, showing that they were breathing in and metabolizing the nicotine in the air they were exposed to. Eye irritation and other symptoms were also related to smoke exposure. These results show, said the researchers, that nonsmokers are not truly separated from smokers on commercial airline flights and that such flights represent another contributor to the cumulative health risk “that non-smoking individuals receive from passive smoking.”
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