Los Angeles International Airport Police are not living up to a promise they made that they would crack down on travelers and employees who are breaking LAX's tough anti-smoking laws, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found.
Seven months ago, the I-Team caught passengers and airport employees smoking too close to terminal and baggage claim doors -- a violation of California law. Signs on every door at LAX say, "no smoking inside the airport, or outside within 20 feet of entrances."
But day after day, NBC4 witnessed toxic second hand smoke filling nonsmoking areas because people were lighting up too close to airport doors.
"We know that any exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous, because it's cumulative," said Dr. Cary Presant, of the American Cancer Society. "There isn't a lot of ventilation because of the overhang and everything."
In July, LAX spokesman Officer Rob Pedregon told the I-Team that they "raised a concern that you've addressed to us, and we take that seriously." And, he promised that if the I-Team returned to the airport in the next three to six months, his officers will have cracked down on those who are breaking the smoking law.
But when we returned seven months later, we saw smokers lighting up too close to the terminal doors. And, we captured examples of law enforcement officers ignoring them.
Not only did these officers fail to write a ticket, but they didn't even ask these unlawful smokers to stop or at least move 20 feet from the door -- the minimum distance required by the law, the I-Team found.
In one case, an airport traffic officer walked right past a group of four smokers without saying a word. And, using a laser measuring device, the I-Team confirmed that the entire group was smoking far less than 20 feet from a baggage claim door.
During another visit, the I-Team witnessed a bike officer pull up right in front of a mother who was smoking by the door. The officer sat on his bike right next to her before riding off. Again, he didn't ask her to move away from the door or cite her for breaking the smoking law.
The nonsmokers we spoke with said they are tired of being exposed to the secondhand smoke and want Airport Police to crack down.
"After one or two warnings, give them a citation," said Bod Dunbar, of Rancho Palos Verdes, arriving on a flight at LAX. "I'm not into the smoke. It's pretty bad."
LAX spokesperson Mary Grady told the I-Team, "our officers have a lot of duties and that isn't the only thing they're doing."
But she said a solution is in the works. LAX is planning to build an elaborate people mover that will shuttle passengers from inside the smoke-free airport buildings to their cars without ever having to stand outside the terminal.
"We can remove a lot of people from the curbsides, I think you'll see a lot of this problem go away," said Grady.
But the people mover won't be completed until at least 2023. Until then, it will be up to Airport Police to crack down on illegal smoking.
4 Ways Travelers Can Avoid Secondhand Smoke
Avoid areas where smoking is common. Wait for luggage at the end of conveyor farthest from doors.
Cover your mouth and nose with a barrier, such as the neck of a shirt, sweater or jacket, when you encounter smoking.
Choose a route upwind of smokers if possible.
In a public area where smoking is taking place illegally, notify someone in authority.