In what could become a major hassle for air travelers who smoke, the Homeland Security Department will ban all cigarette lighters beyond airport checkpoints beginning Feb. 15.
The Intelligence Reform Bill that President Bush signed Dec. 17 orders the Transportation Security Administration to review its banned-items list and to prohibit passengers from carrying butane lighters aboard planes. Legislation stipulates that the ban must be in place in 60 days.
''We are reviewing the necessary changes that the Transportation Security Administration will need to make based on the new intelligence legislation,'' TSA spokeswoman Andrea McCauley said.
The TSA may also expand the banned-items list to include matches, aviation industry sources have said. No decision has been made, according to one TSA official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
But if a ban is enacted, it isn't clear how screeners would detect matches, short of a time-consuming physical search.
In 2003, former TSA head James Loy determined that two lighters and four books of matches were ''an acceptable level of risk'' to balance security and customer service. But over the next year, Loy's decision was criticized as too lax.
After all, two U.S. senators argued last year, would-be terrorist Richard Reid was one match strike away from igniting explosives in the heel of his shoe aboard a Paris-to-Miami flight.
Other industry observers have said it is disheartening that the TSA and Congress still must tinker with a security problem brought to light in December 2001, rather than focusing on larger issues such as air cargo security or general aviation security.
''You can point to bureaucracy, point to what you like,'' said David Forbes, president of Colorado-based aviation logistics and government security analysts BoydForbes. ''Once you learn a lesson, you apply it. After three years and a huge taxpayers' investment, we have gained virtually zero.''
And some question how effectively a ban on lighters, and particularly on matches, could be implemented.
''In some cases it may be difficult to enforce,'' said David Stempler, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Air Travelers Association. ''Many won't show up on X-rays.''
Some airports -- Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta and Denver, for example -- have smoking lounges or areas that could be equipped with lighters similar to car lighters, Stempler said.
But more likely is that airport areas beyond the security checkpoints will become de facto nonsmoking zones, officials said. Some airports, including Dallas/Fort Worth, ban smoking everywhere inside the terminals.