Durbin, Public Health Organizations Mark 25th Anniversary of Smoke-Free Commercial Flights

Senator Calls for Additional Regulation of E-cigarettes as Next Step in Fight Against Big Tobacco

CHICAGO – U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today held a news conference highlighting the 25th anniversary of his landmark legislation to ban smoking on commercial airline flights. The law gave airline crews the freedom to do their jobs without compromising their health and airline passengers the chance to travel for business or pleasure without inhaling secondhand smoke with every breath. 

Durbin authored and secured the enactment of the 1987 legislation banning smoking on short-distance commercial airline flights and the 1989 legislation extending the ban to nearly all domestic flights. The law, which went into effect on February 25, 1990, triggered the beginning of a new era of sensible smoking regulation in America - and became a tipping point in the country.

“We all know someone who’s been affected by tobacco and my family is no exception.  When I was 14 years old, my father died of lung cancer at the age of 53.  I’m proud to have authored this law, which in many ways marked the start of a smoke-free movement that saw great success in the next couple of years.  People started asking: if secondhand smoke wasn’t safe on airplanes - why is it safe in public buildings, schools, hospitals or restaurants?  The answer is simple – it’s not,” Durbin said. “But today, big tobacco is pushing products like e-cigarettes that release appealing fruit and candy-flavored vapors using the same tactics they used decades ago to enlist a new generation of smokers.  And it's working.  The percentage of young people who have tried e-cigarettes has more than doubled in recent years. That's why I've called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expand and assert its regulatory authority over e-cigarettes.  With the right commitment we can spare millions of Americans from the deadly epidemic of tobacco use and its effects - just as we did 25 years ago.”

“Smokefree skies was a turning point in the fight to protect everyone from secondhand smoke. It empowered workers and citizens everywhere to stand up for their right to breathe clean air,” said American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer.  “We have travelled far. Yes, the public can now fly smokefree, but still too many are exposed to secondhand smoke where they live, work and gather. The American Lung Association won’t stop until everyone can breathe smokefree air.”

“Smoke-free air travel has transformed the flying experience for people living with lung disease—and for everyone who flies, including flight attendants,” said Joel Africk, President and CEO of Respiratory Health Association.  “Thanks to Senator Durbin’s actions 25 years ago, air travelers are free to travel without being exposed to harmful secondhand smoke.” 

In 1987, the United States House of Representatives passed Durbin’s amendment to the Federal Aviation Act, making domestic flights of two hours or less smoke-free. The bill was signed by President Reagan in 1988. This led to the law making all domestic flights of six hours or less smoke-free. A decade later, Durbin passed legislation that banned all smoking on international flights taking off or landing in the United States.

While today all major airlines voluntarily ban on smoking on flights to include the use of e-cigarettes, Durbin has recently taken several steps to finalize the federal ban on e-cigarettes on airplanes. In June, Durbin, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and others sent a letter to the Department of Transportation (DOT) urging the ban of e-cigarettes on airplanes to protect passengers from secondhand smoke. Durbin introduced an amendment to the FY 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill to require DOT to finalize the rule regarding the use of electronic cigarettes on aircraft within 90 days of enactment of the appropriations bill. Numerous organizations, including the American Lung Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, and the American Academy of Family Physicians, endorsed Durbin’s amendment to clarify the ban on e-cigarette use on airplanes. Durbin is also pushing for the Food and Drug Administration to finalize their regulations for e-cigarettes by April.