The Atlanta airport is launching a plan to convert smoking rooms into cigar shops that would charge a fee to patrons who want to light up.
The plan comes as a number of other major airports have closed smoking rooms and gone smoke-free indoors.
Hartsfield-Jackson International plans to convert nine smoking rooms spread across different concourses. The cigar shops would require a minimum purchase or entry fee for those who want to smoke, according to airport documents.
Airport officials see an opportunity to gussy up the aquarium-like smoking rooms into more upscale lounges to generate revenue, while maintaining smoking areas on all of the concourses.
The airport is seeking a contractor to design and operate shops that will “offer handcrafted cigars and tobacco products” with “first-class space for customers to work, be entertained or sit back and relax in comfort while they enjoy smoking their favorite cigar, cigarettes or make a purchase of tobacco or tobacco related accessories.”
The airport hopes to open the cigar shops sometime next year.
Some bars at the Atlanta airport also sell cigars or cigarettes and allow smoking, including the Terrapin Tap House Cigar & Smoke Lounge on Concourse D, and TAP and Gordon Biersch on Concourse A. Duty free shops and airport newsstands also cell cigarettes.
Cynthia Hallett, president of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights based in Berkeley, Calif., said she thinks there are other ways for the Atlanta airport to generate revenue than establishing cigar lounges, such as by converting the smoking rooms into restaurant space.
“It seems unusual that the Atlanta airport is doing the exact opposite of what most airports are doing, which is going healthier and smoke free,” Hallett said. “You will have other passengers and workers exposed to the second-hand smoke.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2012 released results of a study that showed average air pollution levels from secondhand smoke directly outside designated smoking areas of airports are five times higher than in smoke-free airports.
Hallett’s organization says more than 600 airports are smoke-free indoors, including Chicago O’Hare and Midway, New York JFK and LaGuardia, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston Hobby and Bush Intercontinental, Washington Reagan, Orlando, Miami, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Baltimore-Washington, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Charlotte, Birmingham, Charleston. Smoking is generally permitted in outside areas.
Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy tweeted a photo of himself in front of a Hartsfield-Jackson smoking lounge making a thumbs-down sign, with the comment: “#MadMen ended, and this should too. World’s busiest airport can be its healthiest. Make #ATL airport tobacco-free!”
Hartsfield-Jackson has considered closing smoking rooms, according to spokesman Reese McCranie. But “even though smoking usage has declined, there is still a demand post security, especially by international passengers.” Most of the current smoking rooms are “heavily used,” according to the airport.
“You have an international traveler for which that is very important,” said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed.
Atlanta airport officials believe if there were no smoking rooms, passengers might smoke in restrooms or other parts of the airport.