Aircrew Safety & Health – Secondhand Smoke

HIAPER research aircraft taking off

Photo courtesy of Julie Haggerty (NCAR)

Secondhand Smoke

What you need to know

Aircrew may have been exposed to secondhand smoke when smoking was allowed on aircraft. Crewmembers can still be exposed to secondhand smoke in some airports. Working in an area where you breathe secondhand smoke can increase your chances of lung cancer, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Breathing secondhand smoke during pregnancy can increase your chances of having a baby with a low birthweight. Here you can learn more about secondhand smoke and what you can do to reduce your exposure.

What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is the smoke that comes from a burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe and the smoke that a person who is smoking breathes out.

Why might aircrew be concerned about secondhand smoke?

  • We know that secondhand smoke can cause lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and nasal irritation. If a woman breathes secondhand smoke during her pregnancy, it can also cause her baby to have a low birthweight.
  • There is no safe level of secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can be harmful to your health.
  • Smoking is still allowed at some airports. You can be exposed to secondhand smoke if you spend time in or pass by areas where smoking is allowed.

Who is exposed to secondhand smoke?

  • Crewmembers that worked on aircraft when smoking was allowed. Smoking was banned on all flights within the United States through a series of laws adopted between 1988 and 1998, and on all flights to and from the United States in 2000.
  • Crewmembers that spend time in areas of an airport where smoking is allowed or that pass by these areas
  • Crewmembers can also be exposed to secondhand smoke outside of work where other people smoke

What is not known?

We don’t know all of the potential health problems secondhand smoke might cause. Some studies have suggested it may also cause some other types of cancer, asthma, worsening of asthma control, respiratory symptoms, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), and decline in lung function but we don’t know for sure. Exposure to secondhand smoke during pregnancy may cause preterm delivery.

What can be done to reduce or eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke at work?

  • Try to avoid spending time in or passing by areas where smoking is allowed.
  • It may be hard to avoid breathing secondhand smoke in airports that allow smoking. The best solution is for laws to be passed that ban smoking in airports. Talk to your elected officials about creating smoke-free airports.

For more information

Page last reviewed: May 9, 2017