FILE -- The Smoking Lounge in the main terminal building at Denver International Airport.
FILE -- The Smoking Lounge in the main terminal building at Denver International Airport. (Ann Schrader, Denver Post file photo)

Five major U.S. airports including Denver International have unhealthy levels of secondhand tobacco smoke, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

A study by the Atlanta-based CDC showed that five of the nation's 29 largest airports subject travelers and workers to measurable levels of particulates from smoking lounges.

The other 24 major airports have total bans on smoking.

The study measured secondhand smoke inside designated smoking lounges and outside the lounges where nonsmokers were inhaling ambient fumes at the five airports.

It concluded that, on average, people sitting near or walking past smoking lounges are exposed to particulate levels five times higher than airports with smoking prohibitions.

"The findings in (Tuesday's) report further confirm that ventilated smoking rooms and designated smoking areas are not effective," said Tim McAfee, director of the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health. "Prohibiting smoking in all indoor areas is the only effective way to fully eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke."

In reporting the results, the CDC declined to identify each airport's individual measurements. As a result, it was impossible to determine if DIA's incidence of secondhand smoke was higher or lower than the other four airports'.

DIA has three smoking lounges. Two of them — one in the terminal and one on the B Concourse — are scheduled to close by the end of the year. A third on Concourse C will remain open through 2018 by terms of a concessionaire's lease. A fourth smoking lounge on the A Concourse closed in September under a plan by Denver officials to phase out the smoking areas.

In addition to DIA, airports with smoking lounges that were analyzed in the study included Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Washington Dulles, McCarran International in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City International.

Air samples were taken in October by CDC researchers inside smoking lounges, 3 feet outside the doors of lounges, and in various airport terminal and concourse locations away from smoking lounges.

The results were then compared with similar-sized airports that ban smoking.

The study showed that smoke particulate levels were high in each of the airports' smoking lounges, even though most are ventilated in an attempt to remove secondhand smoke.

Particulate levels immediately outside of the lounges were measured as high at three airports and relatively low at two airports.

CDC epidemiologist Brian King said it is standard procedure for the agency to not match specific results with the identity of tested locations. He refused to say which airports had the worst and best smoke readings.

King said the aggregated results show that smoking lounges are harmful to airport travelers and workers, whether they use the lounges or not.

"We support the conclusions of the study," said Jill Bednarek, a secondhand smoke specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "It shows that you can't enclose smoke. You can't (completely) ventilate it and contain it."

DIA spokeswoman Laura Coale said the airport is phasing out the smoking lounges "because we are committed to improving the health and safety of everyone that passes through the airport, especially the employees who work in these locations."

Harry Spetnagel, a self-described "on and off smoker" who occasionally uses the DIA smoking lounges, said he is unimpressed with the CDC study and the concerns of "neurotic tobacco-phobes."

"I'm more concerned about the smell of the diesel buses and our brown cloud," he said.

Steve Raabe: 303-954-1948, sraabe@denverpost.com or twitter.com/steveraabedp


Smoking lounges and secondhand smoke

In addition to DIA, airports with smoking lounges that were analyzed in the study included Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Washington Dulles, McCarran International in Las Vegas and Salt Lake City International. The study concluded that on average, people sitting near or walking past smoking lounges are exposed to particulate levels five times higher than airports with smoking prohibitions.