Airport Police Promise Secondhand Smoke Crackdown at LAX

Tough anti-smoking laws are being ignored by airport police and law enforcement agencies, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found

LAX police are promising a crackdown on smokers at the airport who ignore a no smoking law designed to protect travelers from toxic clouds of smoke.

The move is a result of an NBC4 I-Team report.

"You've raised a concern that you've addressed to us, and we take that seriously," said LAX Police Spokesman Officer Rob Pedregon.

A toxic cloud of secondhand smoke is greeting travelers at Los Angeles International Airport -- one of the world's busiest -- because tough anti-smoking laws are being ignored by airport police and law enforcement agencies, an NBC4 I-Team investigation has found.

"It hits you right when you first walk in, and you're waiting for your bags," complained Carol Baker after arriving at LAX on a flight from Dallas with her family. "We have our grandchildren with us, and it's not a good situation."

LA's anti-smoking ordinance states there's no smoking inside any public buildings, such as airports, and no smoking within 20 feet of entrances. But the I-Team found airport police, TSA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection often do nothing to enforce this law even when smokers illegally light up right in front of them.

The I-Team's Joel Grover took his tape measure to LAX and measured how far smokers were lighting up from entrances. He continually caught travelers, flight attendants, TSA agents, and airport workers smoking right next to airport doors, right in front of "no smoking" signs,  in violation of the law.

The problem is that when people smoke too close to the terminal doors, the toxic  fumes go right back into the buildings, where travelers are often forced to inhale those fumes for 30 minutes or more while waiting for their luggage.

"There is no safe level of secondhand smoke," said  Dr. Cary Presant of the American Cancer Society, after visiting some smoky terminals at LAX with the NBC4 I-Team. "We know that any exposure to second hand smoke is dangerous because it's cumulative. It causes lung cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer."

The I-Team found that many people, especially LAX workers, knowingly ignore the smoking laws. We spotted a baggage handler puffing away next to a door with a sign saying smoking is forbidden 20 feet from that door.

"I see them (the signs) all the time. They're all around the airport," said the baggage handler, who wouldn't give her name.

When asked, on-camera, why she was ignoring the smoking law, she replied, "Get me off the camera."

She finished her cigarette, and tossed the burning butt on the ground right in front of an entrance.

The Airport Authority says it's the job of LAX Police to stop and cite smokers illegally lighting up at the airport. But day after day, the I-Team saw LAX cops standing next to smokers who were breaking the law, and doing nothing to stop them.

Grover approached a group of four officers chatting beside a man smoking next to a door and asked, "Who's enforcing the smoking laws at LAX?"

They scattered and walked off without answering the question.

"That's absolutely a concern," says Pedregon, referring to officers not enforcing the smoking law. "If it's a danger to the public, that's something we should absolutely try to address on a daily basis."

Police have the power to issue citations, starting at $100, to smokers who illegally light up at the airport and won't put out their cigarettes. But when asked how many citations they've issued to illegal smokers at LAX, Officer Pedregon said they don't keep track of that.

LAX Police did say, as a result of the I-Team's report, they're going to get tougher and start enforcing the smoking law.

Since the I-team brought this issue to the attention of LAX Police, Officer Pedregon tells NBC4 that his department has issued a memo to LAX employees about the no smoking rules. He said LAX Police Officers are also being reminded to be on the lookout for people breaking the smoking law and that a work crew is making sure the "no smoking" signage is correct and that ashtrays are set at the correct distance from the doors.

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.
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