Few Welcome Mats for Smokers
If you think the biggest pariah in the travel industry is an overzealous airport security screener, an unsympathetic gate agent or a pilot on a delayed plane, clearly you do not travel with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in your carry-on bag.
With more states and municipalities banning smoking in public places, including airports, and more hotels adopting no-smoking policies that include bars, restaurants and guest rooms, it is getting tougher for travelers with a nicotine habit to find a place to light up.
Westin Hotels, a Starwood brand, banned smoking in its properties in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean in January 2006, a move followed by Marriott’s 10 brands last September. Dozens of independent hotels and members of other chains have also gone smoke-free.
More than 120 airports in the United States do not allow smoking anywhere indoors, according to data collected by the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights, and most car rental companies generally prohibit smoking in their vehicles.
Not everyone is jumping on the smoke-free bandwagon, however. Some hotels and airports accommodate their customers who cannot kick the habit, still a substantial proportion of the population.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about 21 percent of American adults smoke, a figure that has remained consistent in recent years.
Keeping that statistic in mind, representatives from InterContinental Hotels Group, Hilton and Hyatt said they have no plans to eliminate smoking rooms throughout their chains, though those rooms may represent as little as 1 percent of inventory.
Airports face an arguably tougher choice. For instance, Detroit Metropolitan Airport allows smoking in two bars that have been outfitted with special ventilation systems. It also allows smoking in a room inside a Northwest Airlines WorldClub, a lounge accessible only to paying members.
Michael Conway, an airport spokesman, said giving passengers designated places to smoke inside the terminal was a tough call but one that has had clear benefits. Since the smoking areas were set up, for instance, far fewer door alarms are set off by nicotine-deprived travelers looking for the quickest route outdoors.
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.
“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,” Mr. Conway said. “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,” said 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,” Mr. Shannon said.
Eric Neubauer, a sales manager who travels frequently from his home in Ohio to Britain, has another solution to the challenge of a smoke-free long-haul flight. “Any flight over six hours, I buy the smoking patches,” he said. “Then when I land I rip them off.”
Travelers with a need for nicotine, it seems, find other ways to deal with their habit. 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 said.
That probably will not come as a surprise to anyone who has rented a car with a lingering odor of stale cigarettes, or to industry executives who acknowledge that no-smoking policies can be tough to enforce.
“Once the car is out of our hands, you can’t control people’s behavior,” said Chris Payne, a spokesman for Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, which designates all its rental cars as nonsmoking vehicles, generally through stickers on the windows.
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, said John Wolf, a Marriott spokesman.
But 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, Mr. Wolf said 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,” said 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 pointed out 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,” Dr. McKenna said.