The Senate voted overwhelmingly today to premanently ban smoking aboard all domestic airline flights, crushing the opposition of tobacco-state lawmakers and their allies.
"This is a victory for the majority of airline passengers who don't want to breathe other people's cigarette smoke," said Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.), the sponsor of the legislation.
Senators adopted the anti-smoking language on a voice vote after first cutting off debate meant to stall the measure, 77 to 21, and rejecting a bid to kill it on procedural grounds, 65 to 34.
The ban was included as an amendment to an $11.9-billion, 1990 appropriations bill for the Transportation Department and related agencies that was headed for easy passage.
Last Chance for Modifications
The last chance for tobacco-state senators to modify the anti-smoking stand will come with a Senate-House conference set up to negotiate all differences in the underlying money bill. The House voted only to make permanent the current ban against smoking on flights of two hours or less, which had been due to expire in April.
The prohibition passed by the Senate not only would cover all domestic flights of U.S. carriers but also foreign airlines that fly between U.S. cities.
Today's crucial vote to impose debate-limiting cloture--adopted after tobacco-state senators threatened a filibuster to stall the bill--was 17 votes more than the 60 required. It was cast without discussion.
"We're closing in on the day when the air will be cleared in all airline cabins in the United States," Lautenberg declared.
Tobacco interests say there is no proof that cigarette smoke endangers nonsmokers and argue that there are plenty of other chemicals in recirculated aircraft cabin air.
Opponents of the total ban said the rights of smokers were being ignored because they are now in the minority.
"I wonder how the rights of the minority in this case can be protected," Sen. Wendell H. Ford (D-Ky.) said during the debate.
"I thought that is what this place (America) was all about," Ford, a smoker, added. "The majority governs, but the minority's rights are protected under the majority governing."
Ford said it would be difficult for smokers to go without cigarettes for the four or five hours--plus additional hours in the plane but on the ground--required for transcontinental flights.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.) launched the final attempt to kill the ban, arguing unsuccessfully that the appropriations measure was not the proper place for such action.
His point of order was upheld by Sen. Alan J. Dixon (D-Ill.), the presiding officer at the moment. But that stand was overruled by the Senate.
Hollings accused Lautenberg of "government by ambush" in putting the smoking ban on the transportation money bill.
"Are we going to be a body of ambush, chicanery and fraud, or are we going to adhere to process and have the issue heard?" Hollings asked.