We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

An alleged result of banning smoking on aircraft

“One curious and unintended consequence of the aeroplane ban [on smoking] was that airlines began to save money by changing the air in the cabin less frequently. Traditionally, this was done every two minutes and old air was never recirculated, but with no tobacco smoke to draw attention to the quality of air, the carriers reduced air changes to once every twenty minutes. This led to a musty aroma on board and, according to a report in The Lancet, contributed to the appearance of Deep Vein Thrombosis, a disease unknown in airline passengers until the 1990s.”

Page 163 of Velvet Glove, Iron Fist: A history of anti-smoking. By Christopher Snowdon.

Entirely selfishly, I am delighted that I travel in a smoke-free airline industry, although it is a shame that this change came about through the coercion of the state and not in reaction to consumer choice via a market. After all, there are many irritations involved in flying that might be amenable to a market solution, if it was available, such as screaming young children or patronising and idiotic flight attendants.

17 comments to An alleged result of banning smoking on aircraft

  • Richard Thomas

    I would like a market solution to all the security claptrap.

  • Jon

    A smoke free airline industry would not have ever come about in reaction to consumer choice. What probably would have eventually come about is a mixture of smoke free planes and planes with smoking sections; as pubs would be if there wasn’t a smoking ban. I don’t like screaming children either, but I’m not demanding an entirely child-free airline industry.

  • Sigivald

    I am exceedingly dubious about that assertion – that carriers “reduced flow” themselves, or that they have any motive to – or that it really causes DVT, which is far more strongly associated with sitting still for a long damn time and dehydration.

    Especially since there is basically zero cost to air recirculation – the compression and flow is provided by the engines automatically; it’s not like they can turn the compressor stage of the jet off.

    The change in circulation appears to be by the manufacturers of the planes, as a side effect of a more efficient mode of operation of the jets themselves [turbofan vs. old turbojet], and looks to pre-date bans on smoking onboard.

    Recirculation is there, true – but when you’re constantly adding in new air and only recirculating 50% of the flow, you’re not making for a “musty aroma”, let alone a significant change in oxygen concentration – reducing that would be “Really Bad”, because the pilots are breathing the same air.

    Even a movie-level Evil-and-Stupid Corporation wouldn’t risk a crash to save incredibly marginal amounts of money on notional gains to fuel economy from a little less compressor scavenging.

    (If such musty aromas exist, they’d be because of bad cabin cleaning. Never noticed a “musty” smelling aircraft myself, but I’m willing to believe they occasionally happen. I just refuse to ascribe them to recirculation without better evidence.)

    (I’d love to know what Lancet study he’s referring to – certainly a quick search finds various studies which do not attempt to blame air circulation for DVT incidence. [Above not in the Lancet but referenced by a likely Lancet report.]

    Personal pet peeve: Referencing “a report in a journal” without a specific bloody reference. Does Snowden provide a reference not included in the cite?)

  • I seem to recall this getting a mention on QI. Not that that proves anything.

  • F0ul

    While I agree that the airlines are switching off the air – I don’t think its related to smoking.

    Unlike Sigivald, I am aware of the laws of physics. There is no such thing as free power. Running the compressor off the engine, is going to drain at least a few percent from the fuel economy of a plane. Its just the same as driving with your air con reduces your mpg.
    Lets call it 1%. That is 1% of your fuel costs that you can save over your entire fleet. British Airways spent £3Bn on fuel in 2009. So, the hypothetical saving is £30M for one company per annum.

    However, the fact that DVT and planes are related has been known since the 50’s. It used to be known as economy class syndrome, until it started happening in business class!

    Yes, smoking does offer a number of health benefits (Mostly on the brain in old age) , but I don’t think this one counts! ;)

  • nemesis

    “because the pilots are breathing the same air.”
    My understanding is that the flight deck gets the fresher air first to prevent any possible fume contamination from the cabins. As an ex “patronising and idiotic flight attendant” I always tried to take my breaks on the flight deck as the air was noticably fresher than the cabins.

  • Christopher Snowdon

    The reduction in cabin air quality since the 1970s has been fairly well documented ( http://www.donaldson.com/en/aircraft/support/datalibrary/072618.pdf ) and there is little doubt that this is a result of airlines trying to save money. I don’t have the Lancet article to hand but it was quite well reported at the time (eg. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1512577/DVT-caused-by-poor-air-quality-in-jets-say-scientists.html). Although DVT has been known about since the ’50s, it is only recently that it has been linked to air quality rather than lack of physical movement.

    One reason the airlines were able to save money in this way was that without smoke as a visible clue, the lack of fresh air was less apparent to passengers. This helps explain why airlines put up little resistance to smoking bans ( http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1449191 )

    Brian’s right to say that this very issue has come up on QI (on more than one occasion).

  • Charlie

    I recall that episode of QI too. Looking up the transcript Steven Fry stated the airlines saved up to 6% of their fuel costs recycling the cabin air.

    But this could be all for naught, as I recall another episode of QI where once the best medical minds in the world were convinced that a tobacco smoke enema would revive drowning victims. So much so that they had the devices (no pun intended) located in rescue stations along the Thames, like they have with life preservers today.

  • Buzz Buzz

    Now that I think about it, I seem to recall that Hitler and Stalin were interested in saving money, too – just like these airlines!

    (Sadly, the more you excerpt from this Snowdon fellow’s book, the more he comes across as a deranged anti-anti-smoking crank who relies very lightly on facts or logic and very heavily on insinuation and innuendo to make his case. Thus far his claims are not doing a very good job of standing up to even the gentlest scrutiny.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Buzz Buzz, the author of this book is far from being a “crank” with some sort of monomania about anti-smoking fanatics. He seems to be well aware – as is shown in the book – of the less than stellar reputation and tactics of the tobacco industry, which comes in for plenty of stick.

    Nor is he dismissive of arguments about the links between smoking and various illnesses. No, what the book is about is showing how anti-smokers have, in some cases, stepped way beyond the bounds of what is legitimate concern for health to pursue a puritanical, authortarian agenda and an outrageous contempt for property rights, for example. You cannot deny that this is not a serious issue.

    I once heard it said that there is one thing worse than smoking: anti-smokers. Reading this book confirmed that suspicion.

    The 416-page book (of which a good chunk is made up of footnotes) is far from being about “innuendo”. There are just far too many sources, too many quotes, from anti-smokers and groups – that can be easily referenced and Googled – to avoid drawing the conclusion that the anti-smoking lobby has gone beyond legitimate public concern to something else.

  • Buzz Buzz

    Johnathan, you are the one who chose to showcase these particular portions of Snowdon’s book in your posts.

    The previous excerpt you posted was merely an extended argumentum ad Hitlerum, weakly premised on some painfully inaccurate “painstaking details”.

    The excerpt in this post eschews the explicit comparison of the anti-smoking crusaders to a genocidal dictator in favor of some nebulously sinister innuendo that they were somehow in cahoots with the airlines. But pretty much every objective statement made in this extract is simply wrong.

    “One curious and unintended consequence of the aeroplane ban [on smoking] was that airlines began to save money by changing the air in the cabin less frequently.
    (The aforementioned nebulously sinister innuendo.)

    Traditionally, this was done every two minutes and old air was never recirculated, but with no tobacco smoke to draw attention to the quality of air, the carriers reduced air changes to once every twenty minutes.
    This is incorrect.

    This led to a musty aroma on board
    This is incorrect.

    and, according to a report in The Lancet, contributed to the appearance of Deep Vein Thrombosis,
    This is incorrect. (Specifically, the insinuation of direct causality is incorrect; I’ll stipulate that the The Lancet has at some point in the last four decades published a report which discusses DVT.)

    a disease unknown in airline passengers until the 1990s.
    This is incorrect.

    Perhaps the rest of his book is less histrionic and better researched than the snippets you’ve chosen to share thus far, but what you’ve posted so far has just been poor quality demagoguery.

  • Regional

    Docker replied to Regional
    Sun 30 Oct 11 (03:38pm)
    Traditionally, this was done every two minutes and old air was never recirculated, but with no tobacco smoke to draw attention to the quality of air, the carriers reduced air changes to once every twenty minutes.

    Sorry, but that’s absolute BS.

    The Air Cycle Machines which pressurize, condition, and filter the air in aircraft cabins run continuosly. The rates at which they cycle the air are driven by cabin pressure, not some airline adjustable timer. No such timer exists nor, given the function of the system, could it.

    Any reduced expense of the no smoking rules come from not having to change the filters as often.

    While we are bursting bubbles, “musty air” has exactly ZILCH to do with Deep Vein Thrombosis

    “Oh my goodness, the Lancet is full of crap but happy to soil it’s reputation on an agenda yet again?” Please say it isn’t so!

    Geez, the disinformation has to stop somewhere

  • Paul Marks

    I have never smoked, but I like the smell of a pipe – or a cigar.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Buzz Buzz writes:

    “Johnathan, you are the one who chose to showcase these particular portions of Snowdon’s book in your posts. The previous excerpt you posted was merely an extended argumentum ad Hitlerum, weakly premised on some painfully inaccurate “painstaking details”. ”

    I chose the first quote because I think it is useful to point out how one of the most infamous tyrannies on earth chose, at a difficult time for its military fortunes, to focus so much energy on something like smoking. Sure, this does not mean that anti-smoker = Adolf Hitler; what it does suggest, though, is that the often authortarian approach to smoking has some infamous examples. I’ll admit I chose the example as it had shock value, but then again, that is not a bad thing if it illustrates an issue. It may irritate you and others to be reminded of this fact. Too bad.

    “Traditionally, this was done every two minutes and old air was never recirculated, but with no tobacco smoke to draw attention to the quality of air, the carriers reduced air changes to once every twenty minutes. This is incorrect.

    Says who? Seriously, cite some evidence to say that this is plain wrong. I’d genuinely like to know.

    This led to a musty aroma on board. This is incorrect.

    Again, says who? Are you saying the source quoted or the other material the author has linked to on this thread are wrong?

    and, according to a report in The Lancet, contributed to the appearance of Deep Vein Thrombosis, This is incorrect. (Specifically, the insinuation of direct causality is incorrect; I’ll stipulate that the The Lancet has at some point in the last four decades published a report which discusses DVT.)

    You may be correct to challenge this, but then again, I have no idea when DVT first appeared as a serious health issue. I first used to read about it about 20 years ago, and around that time, of course, governments began to seriously crack down on smoking on planes. I have no idea whether the two factors are connected or not. Here is a quite good link to DVT issues.(Link)

    For what it is worth, a current problem is how people can often go down with colds and other infections after long flights. This is something the airline industry, and other industries, should perhaps devote more time on, given the health issues concerned (avian flu, etc).

  • Buzz Buzz

    [Comment deleted, user banned. Although JP felt like just giving you a gentle warning, the management feels your gratuitous rudeness far exceeds acceptable levels for this blog and thus... get stuffed. Not a request.]

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Buzz Buzz, the moderation system is not necessarily triggered by too many links.

    I know how to use Google and other search engines, so spare the rudeness.

    I simply asked you to back up one of your points. You did not do so. I am more than willing to be corrected about such things, and I asked – entirely civilly I might add – that you do so with some evidence. But instead, you responded by calling me names, such as “fanatic”.

    I am sure you are perfectly decent fellow but your electronic “manner” is awful. Tone it down or get lost.

  • Tam

    Regional,

    The Air Cycle Machines which pressurize, condition, and filter the air in aircraft cabins run continuosly. The rates at which they cycle the air are driven by cabin pressure, not some airline adjustable timer. No such timer exists nor, given the function of the system, could it.

    While not offering an opinion on the DVT thing one way or another, the frequency of cabin air changes is easily calculated by comparing the flow rate of the HVAC system in cubic feet per minute to the volume of the a/c cabin in cubic feet. No timers necessary.