Why Planes Still Have Ashtrays

January 17, 2019

Have you ever noticed planes still have ashtrays on board? There's a good reason why.


MALE_1: Smoking on planes.

MALE_1: It's almost unbelievable to

MALE_1: think it was once okay to light

MALE_1: up in a pressurized cabin floating

MALE_1: six miles up into the atmosphere.

MALE_2: Oh, boy, this is the life.


MALE_1: Especially in a world where bringing a bottle of

MALE_1: water through security is now banned.

MALE_1: In fact, in the US, smoking on flights wasn't

MALE_1: fully banned until the year 2000.

MALE_1: But if you look closely,

MALE_1: planes still have ashtrays.

Patrick Jones: How can that be? Well, there's a pretty good reason why.

Patrick Jones: [NOISE]

MALE_1: The first commercial flight took place

MALE_1: on January 1st, 1914.

MALE_1: Flying the 20 or so miles between

MALE_1: St. Petersburg and Tampa Florida.

Patrick Jones: That short bumpy ride was all people needed.

Patrick Jones: Investments and demand turned that

Patrick Jones: into a regularly flown route.

MALE_1: Commercial aviation had started to

MALE_1: take root and safety concerns were never far behind.

MALE_1: The Air Commerce Act of 1926 was the first attempt to

MALE_1: establish standards with regards to commercial aviation.

MALE_1: However, smoking regulation was not a part of it.


MALE_1: In the United States,

MALE_1: commercial jet travel started in

MALE_1: the late 1950s and smoking was common.

MALE_1: In fact, in some cases, it was encouraged.

MALE_1: Cigarette ads tried to

MALE_1: associate smoking with the perception

MALE_1: that airplane travel was higher class, even sexy.

MALE_3: They sure think of everything, including our Winstons.

FEMALE_1: Mm, tastes good.

MALE_3: Like a cigarette should.

Patrick Jones: But the flight attendants' union didn't see it that way.

Patrick Jones: They formally began trying to ban

Patrick Jones: smoking on all flights by the mid-1960s.

MALE_1: This coming on the back of a 1964 report from

MALE_1: the Surgeon General's office

MALE_1: highlighting the dangers of smoking.

MALE_1: The report was eye opening to

MALE_1: the American public of which 42 percent were smokers.


MALE_1: Changing attitudes and the fact

MALE_1: the Surgeon General suggested a ban on smoking in

MALE_1: public places gained the union some traction in 1971.

MALE_1: That's when some US-based carriers

MALE_1: instituted smoking sections on planes.

Patrick Jones: And that's laughable, because with the doors closed,

Patrick Jones: the inside of an airplane is a closed system.

Patrick Jones: Meaning if one person smokes, everyone's getting some.

MALE_1: In 1973, a plane flying from

MALE_1: Brazil to France went down after

MALE_1: a suspected cigarette was thrown into the garbage

MALE_1: starting a blaze that wasn't able to be put out.

MALE_1: The plane crash-landed in an onion field killing

MALE_1: 123 of the 134 people onboard.

MALE_1: A domestic flight in China suffered a similar fate in

MALE_1: 1982 when a passenger's cigarette

MALE_1: caused a fire that killed 25 people.

Patrick Jones: There are incidents like this going back as far as 1935.

MALE_1: A 2002 study conducted by

MALE_1: the United Kingdom's Civil Aviation Authority

MALE_1: shows how deadly an onboard fire can be.

MALE_1: The research found that after a fire

MALE_1: starts within a large airplane cabin,

MALE_1: pilots have 17 minutes to get on

MALE_1: the ground before the recycled smoke turns deadly.

Patrick Jones: Although serious,

Patrick Jones: thankfully, incidents where cigarettes cause

Patrick Jones: fires on planes that turn deadly are few

Patrick Jones: and far between relative to overall air traffic.

MALE_1: Banning cigarettes on planes was really more about

MALE_1: a workplace health issue of secondhand smoke.

MALE_1: The ban moved closer in 1986 when

MALE_1: the Surgeon General called

MALE_1: secondhand smoke a serious health risk.

MALE_1: That caused the National Academy of Sciences to

MALE_1: call for a ban on smoking during all domestic flights,

MALE_1: citing the health risk secondhand smoke

MALE_1: posed to those who work on board.


MALE_1: Finally, in 1988

MALE_1: Ronald Reagan signed the legislation banning smoking

MALE_1: on all domestic flights less than two hours long.

MALE_1: That was the foot in the door that

MALE_1: eventually ended smoking on all flights

MALE_1: originating from and/or arriving at US-based airports.

MALE_1: Yet we still have ashtrays on planes and that's by law.

MALE_1: Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Chapter One,

MALE_1: sub-chapter C, part 25,

MALE_1: sub-part D, section 25.853,

MALE_1: paragraph G says about planes that

MALE_1: [NOISE] lavatory must have

MALE_1: self-contained removable ashtrays located

MALE_1: conspicuously on or near

MALE_1: the entry side of each lavatory door.

MALE_1: If more than half are broken,

MALE_1: they have to be repaired within 72 hours.

Patrick Jones: Why? The answer is simple.

Patrick Jones: People still smoke on planes.

MALE_1: In fact, in May of 2018,

MALE_1: a plane had to make

MALE_1: an emergency landing in San Jose, California.

MALE_1: Police say that was due to a fire started

MALE_1: by a customer smoking a cigarette in the bathroom.

Patrick Jones: Check out any flight attendant AMA and

Patrick Jones: you'll see countless examples of people getting caught.

MALE_1: We need to have ashtrays so that

MALE_1: a smoker lighting up in the lavatory doesn't

MALE_1: get nervous about getting caught and try and

MALE_1: stick a lit cigarette in the bathroom garbage,

MALE_1: lighting the plane on fire,

MALE_1: and potentially killing everyone.

Patrick Jones: Please, please don't smoke on planes.

Patrick Jones: Everybody's already miserable as it is.

Patrick Jones: We're all just trying to get to our destination for

Patrick Jones: our 85th wedding of this year.

Patrick Jones: [MUSIC]