Nicotine-Hungry Travelers Can Lighten Up

by Ann Samuel on Sep 26 2007 6:38 PM

Smoking travelers are finding it tough indeed to indulge in their favorite vice.

More and more American states and municipalities are banning smoking in public places, including airports, and more hotels are adopting no-smoking policies that include bars,restaurants, etc.

Westin Hotels, a Starwood brand, banned smoking in its properties in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean in January 2006, a move that was followed by Marriott’s 10 brands last September. Dozens of independent hotels and members of other chains have also joined the smoke-free zone.

According to data collected by the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, more than 120 airports in the United States do not allow smoking anywhere indoors, and most car rental companies generally prohibit smoking in their vehicles.

However, there are still some hotels and airports that accommodate their customers who cannot help lighting up. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC, around 21 percent of American adults smoke, a figure that has remained consistent in recent years. It could be that representatives from InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton and Hyatt are conscious of that statistic. They have no plans to eliminate smoking rooms throughout their chains, though those rooms may represent as little as 1 percent of inventory.

Airports have it tougher. For instance, Detroit Metropolitan Airport allows smoking in two bars that have been outfitted with special ventilation systems. Michael Conway, an airport spokesman, said giving passengers designated places to smoke inside the terminal has had clear benefits. Since the smoking areas were set up, for instance, nicotine-deprived travelers looking for the quickest route outdoors set off far fewer door alarms.

It has also reduced reports of smoking in restrooms, and the need to re-screen connecting passengers who dash out to the curb to smoke between flights. Avers Conway: 'People who need to have a cigarette are going to find a place to smoke, and they’re going to be smoking in places you don’t want them. 'This way, we’ve got the smokers controlled.'

In fact, many smokers say they would prefer to light up in designated areas rather than violate a no-smoking policy. 'Personally, I don’t like going in rental cars that are nonsmoking or hotel rooms that are nonsmoking because you annoy people,' says Larry Shannon, an engineering consultant based in Buffalo, who has smoked since he was 6 years old. Despite Marriott’s smoking ban, he is still a platinum guest with the chain, opting to indulge his habit outside. (Marriott hotels have smoking areas at least 25 feet away from the main entrance.) He also says he heads outside if there is time during airport layovers. 'You go check the security line, and if it looks like it’s going to be a couple minutes, you dash out,' Shannon adds.

Some have other brighter ideas. Says Eric Neubauer, a sales manager who travels frequently from his home in Ohio to Britain:'Any flight over six hours, I buy the smoking patches. 'Then when I land I rip them off', he adds. Some travelers with a need for nicotine, feel that rules are meant to be broken, or at least bent. Wayne Hubbard, a management consultant based near Austin, Texas, smoked on the balcony outside his room during an extended stay at a Marriott Residence Inn after the no-smoking policy went into effect. He also has a solution to the lack of lighters in most rental cars. 'I carry my own little cigarette lighter in my briefcase that I plug into the power socket,' he says.

Companies sometimes charge extra cleaning fees when customers violate no-smoking policies, but this can lead to angry travelers claiming they were improperly charged. Marriott, for instance, assesses a $250 'room recovery fee' if housekeeping and management determine a guest has smoked in a nonsmoking room, based on cigarette odors, butts or burns, says John Wolf, a Marriott spokesman. Yet, complaints on travel message boards claim the hotel’s 'smoking police' have mistaken clothing odors or the presence of cigarettes in the room as a violation of the ban, a debate that can be difficult to settle definitively.

Nevertheless, Wolf says Marriott’s no-smoking policy has not hurt business, and has reduced complaints related to smoking, one of the main sources of guest discontent. Ultimately, industry executives and medical experts point to the health of nonsmoking travelers and workers as the main justification for these bans. 'There’s no level of secondhand smoke exposure that can be declared to be safe,' points out Matthew McKenna, director of the C.D.C.’s office on smoking and health, noting that airline unions led the push to eliminate smoking on planes. He also explains that research measuring the effects of no-smoking policies in restaurants and bars has shown these policies are not bad for the bottom line. 'The studies that are not funded by the tobacco industry very clearly demonstrate that there’s no economic impact, no decrease in business,' McKenna reports.