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Smoking ban starts soon on U.S. flights

"No Smoking" signs flash on permanently for millions of passengers on U.S. airlines next Sunday when lighting up becomes illegal on nearly every domestic American flight. Die-hard smokers can try nicotine gum, pills or will-power _ suggestions that may or may not be all that helpful _ but come Feb. 25 puffing will be banned by law on all flights within the United States except those very few that last six hours or longer to or from Hawaii or Alaska.

That takes in about two dozen of the nearly 18,000 runs airlines make daily between American cities. And even some of those flights will be made non-smoking by decision of the airline involved.

Smoking will still be allowed on foreign-carrier flights to or from the United States and U.S. airline flights abroad, but foreign airlines will have to observe the smoke-free law on flights between U.S. cities.

The expanded no-smoking law was passed by Congress in November, fairly easily and after little debate.

It replaced a 1988 smoking ban on flights of two hours or less, which had stirred some bitter debate on Capitol Hill and strong opposition from tobacco interests.

Flights to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are included in the broader new ban and some airlines are also extending it voluntarily to their foreign routes to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.

Opponents of the ban warned that smokers might try to sneak cigarettes in lavatories, creating a fire danger. But airliner lavatories now have smoke detectors and flight attendants say they will be watching for violators.

Members of the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA) have been wearing buttons reading, "Smoke-free skies, healthier lives."

"We don't expect problems as long as people are informed," said AFA's Cindy Yeast. "Most passengers want this."