ENSURING that public places are completely smoke-free is one of the most important strategies recommended by WHO to reduce smoking.

Airports are perhaps the most public of all places. Most good airports like Heathrow, Chicago O’Hare International Airport, New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, Melbourne and Sydney airports are completely smoke-free. The other day I had to spend a few hours at the domestic lounge at Benazir International Airport, Islamabad, and during this time I noticed dozens of passengers smoking openly while waiting for their flights to start boarding.

The fact that tobacco smoke toxins can freely move from one part of the lounge to another, especially in closed airconditioned environments like airports, seemed to have escaped them and, as a result, the entire domestic departure lounge had an unbearable smell of tobacco; even the toilets of the departure lounge were full of tobacco smoke.

Research on secondhand smoking (SHS) has unequivocally established that tobacco consumption and exposure to its smoke can result in disability, disease and death. SHS is a proven risk factor for lung cancer, heart attack, asthma, pneumonia as well as several other diseases.

When I complained to Civil Aviation Authority officials, they did try to stop the smokers from flouting the smoking ban at airports but failed. One of the smokers shouted: “I will smoke here and no one can stop me”. After this outburst, the CAA staff quietly disappeared from the scene leaving the non-smoking passengers at the mercy of the smokers.

Why is our CAA staff so helpless in enforcing the ban against smoking? Perhaps, more unfortunate is that those openly smoking at airports here in Pakistan would not dare smoke at other international airports because in those countries laws are enforced and strict action taken against violators. According to our law, anyone violating the ban on smoking in public places faces a fine ranging from Rs1,000 to 100,000.

Smokers have right to smoke but they have no right to harm the health of non-smokers.

What I can’t understand is that when smokers can refrain from smoking for 20 hours and longer during long-haul flights, why can’t they hang on for another half an hour while waiting to board the plane.

The CAA is responsible for providing safe environment to all passengers at airports. They should ensure that no one is allowed to smoke inside terminal buildings in line with the existing laws of the country. Special smoke detecting alarms should be placed inside toilets and those found guilty must be punished.

For those who wish to smoke, smoking areas should be made outside passenger terminals and be located away from doors and other high-traffic pedestrian areas to minimise risk to others. Once a person enters a terminal building, smoking should not be allowed at any cost.

DR JAVAID KHAN
Professor of Medicine
AKU
Karachi

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