All In   |  June 03, 2013

The Liberal Fighter: Remembering Sen. Frank Lautenberg

Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey passed away Monday morning, and Chris Hayes looks at one of his greatest victories: banning smoking on airlines. It's something that we take for granted but it happened because Senator Lautenberg was willing to fight the entrenched interests that wanted to keep smoking in every public space imaginable, regardless of who it might harm.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> the no smoking signs in airliners flying in this country may soon be lit up on all seats and all flights. the senate debated a total ban that replaces the current no smoking ban on flights less than two hours.

>> we hear about the passing of frank lautenberg and the last world war ii veteran in the united states senate . the thing that caught my attention is his fight to ban smoking on airplanes. what a perfect example of public service that was. this is what we want them to do. elect them and send them to washington and fight on our behalf for health and well being and security and dignity against interests that profit off of their misery. we look back on that tape with tom brocaw reporting on the smoking ban that is about to pass, taking people smoking on airplanes, i chuckled when i washed it. it seems incomprehensible that we would let people smoke on planes. we look back and think it was inevitable this behavior would stop. it was not at the time. to his credit he set the wheels in motion because he picked that fight.

>> separating the passengers, the nonsmoking from the smoking passengers does not separate the air they breathe.

>> you had to pick the fight then, the status quo might have lasted another 15 years. despite the public was against smoking on airplanes and surveys found fewer than 20% of the performs were smokers and even smaller preferred to sit in a smoking section. the smoking section to which senator lautenberg referred, the tobacco industry might portray like this, but is a lot more like this. row 34 non-smoking and row 35 is smoking. that was not inevitable. there was a massively entrenched wealthy interest that wanted people to smoke on planes called the tobacco lobby that does bidding in the united states senate .

>> i am interested in the farmers who are going to be and already are affected by this onslaught.

>> sticking up for the farmers. that to the association of flight attendants .

>> by the time i got off of the flight, i was very sick. my lungs were completely full and congested. my sinuses were full and blocked and my ears were blocked. i was sick for two weeks.

>> success was not inevitable when senator frank lautenberg helped write the original legislation that ban bans smoking on all flights of two hours or less and a total ban in 1987 when the law was about to expire. similarly, success was not inevitable when he raised the drinking age to 21 in all states when there was growing concern about drunk driving. some of them enactioned and more recent ones not. a time when public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of safety measures that cannot seem to pass, hooey is more relevant than ever. his finest moments represent liberalism at its best and he was an unapologetic liberal who understood how progress happens. you identify a social problem and people getting ignored and screwed and forced to suck down cancerous tobacco smoke to keep their job. you pick a fight against the folks who maintain that status quo and you relish the conflict and ga will zanize public opinion and don't allow public money to cower you away from what's right. everyone is looking back saying that was inevitable. no, it wasn't. a group of people made that happen. frank lautenberg made that happen. next time you are on a plane, take a deep breath and enjoy the victory. we'll