2010/12/21 P-D OpEd: “Lambert finally quits smoking”

The title of the OpEd in the print version of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (below) is “Lambert finally kicks the habit.” It still works, except that for most smokers, smoking is an addiction and not a habit, but why quibble?

I’m grateful to the Post-Dispatch for printing it and allowing me and my coauthor, Dr. Michael Givel, to describe some of the events of the last 17 years, although the 750 word limit meant condensing a lot, and leaving out many details of this battle for smoke-free air in a major transportation venue.

Like the grueling 7 years MoGASP spent pursuing an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint against Lambert airport, omitting details like the 10-page Appeal in August, 1996, prepared by Mr. Billy Williams of GASP of Texas, following the dismissal of the complaint the previous month. The Appeal was finally settled in favor of Lambert airport after their installation of the smoking rooms over GASP’s objections, even though by that time we had obtained scientific evidence that they didn’t work at containing secondhand smoke.

Ms. Dorothy Graham of Oakland, CA, and repeat victim of SHS exposure from Lambert Airport's smoking rooms

Also ignored was testimony from Ms. Dorothy Graham, a highly smoke-sensitive airline passenger from Oakland, California, who had been sickened on two successive years when changing flights at Lambert.

She wrote Missouri GASP about how it had ruined her subsequent vacations in Virginia, saying she would never fly though Lambert airport ever again. Her detailed letter and reminder of our tests of an airport smoking room were faxed to St. Louis City administration on September 6, 2000. Lambert airport director at the time, Col. Leonard Griggs, merely dismissed her complaint in his written reply of September 29, 2000, in which he wrote:

““First, let me assure you that maintaining a tobacco smoke-free environment outside of the smoking lounges at Lambert is a top priority. The number one mission of the Lambert team is to provide for the safety of all users of the Airport.” 

Griggs concluded by stating that the smoking rooms were working as intended, ignoring GASP’s evidence to the contrary.

So following is the print version of the OpEd, titled:

Lambert finally kicks the habit
Clean Air
Ending the anachronistic St. Louis airport smoking lounges shows that healthy progress finally wins.

Martin Pion

Dr. Michael Givel

By Martin Pion and Michael Givel | 7 Comments | Posted: Tuesday, December 21, 2010 12:00 am

Lambert-St. Louis International Airport will become smoke-free on Jan. 2, thanks to smoke-free air ordinances in St. Louis and St. Louis County, which voters overwhelmingly approved with Proposition N in November 2009.

The Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution’s airport campaign began in earnest in 1993 when it supported a bill in the St. Louis County Council to make Lambert smoke-free. It was defeated following behind-the-scenes collusion between then-County Council committee chair, John Shear, and the Tobacco Institute, the tobacco industry’s lobbying arm.

Damning evidence of tobacco industry efforts to ensure continued smoking in major American airports, including Lambert, was detailed in a 1990 document titled “Airport Strategy Plan,” discovered by political science professor Michael Givel during an extensive search of formerly secret Tobacco Institute documents made public following a Minnesota state lawsuit. (The document was featured in a Post-Dispatch editorial “Tobacco: Smoking Gun” on July 16, 2000, and in a 2000 scholarly report by Drs. Michael Givel and Stanton Glantz, “The Public Health Undermined: The Tobacco Industry’s Legacy in Missouri in the 1990s.“)

The Airport Strategy Plan’s primary goal was to accommodate smokers, including a tactic used even today by opponents of smoke-free air laws: “Promote the recognition that effective ventilation, air filtration/cleaning technology is the main issue in indoor air quality, not smoking restrictions or bans.”

After the defeat in the county, GASP pursued a federal Americans with Disabilities Act discrimination complaint against Lambert on behalf of two smoke-sensitive individuals, one an asthmatic from St. Louis. That led to a meeting between GASP and the Lambert Airport director in December 1994. The director said he was leaning toward making the airport smoke-free.

William Fronick, Lambert Airport

However, in a subsequent meeting with Airport Architectural Manager William Fronick, GASP was informed that instead the airport was going to install seven smoking rooms exhausted outside, at a cost reported later as $450,000. GASP warned Fronick that the smoking rooms wouldn’t work because secondhand smoke would diffuse out the open doorway and into adjoining areas, but this was ignored.

After the first smoking lounges were opened in early 1997, Fronick made an astonishing observation to a Post-Dispatch reporter:

You could see the blue haze inside, but nothing came out of the door,” he said. “We assume if you can’t see it, it’s not there.

Fronick’s logic, that toxins and carcinogens that are invisible don’t exist, is patently absurd.

In late 1993 and early 1994, GASP conducted a covert nicotine monitor test near a smoking room in Lambert and had similar tests conducted in smoke-free Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for comparison. The Lambert test proved significant amounts of secondhand smoke were escaping out the open doorway, and that smoking around airport entrances also was contributing.

Colin Nichols, Lambert airport passenger, July 1998

The following year, those results were featured in a News Channel 5 Cover Story, which included a comment by a British passenger waiting near a smoking room:

I call it a death box. It looks like a sort of living coffin.

Exposure to the secondhand smoke near the smoking lounges increased the risk of heart disease and lung cancer.

The estimated risk for lung cancer from the secondhand smoke one of the smoking lounges, based on nicotine level, was 60 times greater than for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulated human carcinogens, GASP president Martin Pion then told the television interviewer.

Reporter Linton Johnson (L) & James Repace

James Repace, a former EPA indoor-air quality scientist and now an internationally recognized consultant on secondhand smoke, told the reporter that chronic exposure to secondhand smoke levels outside the smoking lounges posed a heart disease mortality risk to nearby airport workers that was 600 times greater than federal “acceptable” risk level of 1 death per 1 million exposed population per working lifetime.

Repace concluded, “If I were working there I would make a complaint to my management that I was being exposed to toxic waste.

In March 2004, our peer-reviewed paper “Airport smoking rooms don’t work” was published in the scientific journal, Tobacco Control. The paper included a nicotine-monitor smoking room measurement by Environmental Solutions in St. Louis, confirming GASP’s earlier result.

In response, Lambert quietly removed the smoking room tested in the paper but continued to defend the rest whenever threatened by legislation.

Now, the new ordinances will bring this sorry chapter to a close. They are a major victory for everyone who frequents Lambert and shows how persistent activism in the public interest can prevail against Big Tobacco.

Martin Pion, B.Sc., is president of the Missouri Group Against Smoking Pollution (GASP) Inc. and Michael Givel, Ph.D., is an associate professor of political science, Policy Studies Organization, at the University of Oklahoma.

3 responses to “2010/12/21 P-D OpEd: “Lambert finally quits smoking”

  1. Your neighbors and your community are proud to have you as a friend and neighbor. Your untiring work has created a mighty community benefit.

  2. The report Lambert Airport commissioned suggested painting the walls of the lounges to prevent the psychosomatic reactions travelers such as Ms. Dorothy Graham reported.

    • Mr. Hannegan: Once again you are attempting to find any reason to blame, other than secondhand smoke exposure, to explain the reaction of someone who is very smoke-sensitive. You don’t even know her medical diagnosis, yet you seek to redirect the issue. This is classic tobacco industry behavior:
      ‘‘Doubt is our product,’’ proclaimed an interna tobacco industry document in 1969. ‘‘Spread doubt over strong scientific evidence and the public won’t know what to believe.’’

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