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Landmark Airline Smoking Ban Author Dies at 89

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June 3, 2013

The co-author of the landmark legislation to ban cigarette smoking on flights of two hours or less has passed away. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) died on Monday at age 89, making him the oldest member of the Senate and the last World War II veteran serving in that body.

What many RTs today may not know, however, is Sen. Lautenberg’s landmark legislation has roots deep within the AARC. The AARC supported the ban back in the late 1980s by enlisting the support of chartered affiliates across the nation, who sent their members out to the nation’s airports to survey the flying public about smoking on commercial airline flights and their willingness to support a ban. Sixty-four percent of the 33,242 airline passengers surveyed indicated they would support such a ban.

The results of that survey were released to the nation during Thanksgiving week of 1987. The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Lautenberg and in the House by then Representative Dick Durbin (D-IL), calling for a smoking ban on flights of two hours or less. It was passed by Congress and signed into law in 1988.

The AARC followed up with a second survey in 1989 showing 92.8% of nonsmokers and 58.1% of smokers approved of the law. We again worked with Sen. Lautenberg and Rep. Durbin to gradually strengthen the law over the years so that now smoking is banned on all flights originating or ending in the U.S. This initiative inspired a massive change banning smoking on most airlines worldwide.

“Senator Lautenberg was a champion for all lung heath. He, along with then Congressman Durbin, partnered with AARC to bring about the smoking ban on commercial airline flights,” says Tom Kallstrom, MBA, RRT, FAARC, AARC executive director.

Sam Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC, who was executive director at the time noted that that AARC awarded Senator Lautenberg the Hudson Award for Cardiopulmonary Public Health in 1989 in recognition of his profound contributions to lung health.

In addition to his work on the airline smoking ban, Sen. Lautenberg authored a number of other laws protecting the public’s health, including landmark drunk driving laws and a law empowering the public to learn which pollutants were being released into their neighborhoods.

According to his website, Sen. Lautenberg was the son of immigrants who grew up in Paterson, NJ. After enlisting in the Army at age 18 and serving in Europe during World War II, he graduated from Columbia University and founded Automatic Data Processing before leaving the business world to pursue a career in public service.

In failing health, he had announced plans not to seek another term in February, but committed himself to reforming U.S. chemical safety laws, improving gun safety laws, and providing federal resources for New Jersey to rebuild from Superstorm Sandy during his last two years in office. He was making progress on all three fronts when he died, most recently with a bipartisan breakthrough on modernizing the Toxic Substances Control Act.