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Where There is Cigarette Smoke, There is News

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Smoking rooms were in the news again this past week—in several instances. First, state lawmaker Ken Zebrowski proposed a bill that would ban smoking rooms within lodging establishments in New York. Second, Choice Hotels International announced that Comfort Inn will join Comfort Suites in implementing a 100 percent smoke-free policy beginning July 1, 2016, making Comfort the largest hotel brand in the United States to do so with more than 1,700 properties across the country. Third, Caesars Entertainment announced that 11 of its casino-resort and entertainment properties achieved LEED Equivalency (10 Gold and one Silver). The properties failed to achieve actual LEED certification because USGBC regulations prohibit properties that allow smoking from achieving LEED certification. It is hard to believe that smoking in hotels is still such an issue in 2015 but it is.

I spoke with Ken Zebrowski about his bill and he told me he was inspired to act because of his own experiences staying at hotels in New York. “I travel to Albany and mainly stay in hotels,” he says. “If I were placed anywhere near a smoking room I would start to smell smoke. When someone was smoking below me it was like someone was smoking in my room. It occurred to me that hotel staff was aware of this but could not do anything about it.”

Zebrowski says he is currently in the process of looking for a senate sponsor for his bill. “We are starting to talk to colleagues in the Assembly. Our session starts in January. “[The bill] will have to go through the Health Committee.”

Results of NYSHTA Survey

Jan Marie Chesterton, IOM, President of the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Assn. (NYSHTA), told me that her association just surveyed approximately 1,000 of its members about smoking rooms. More than 100 responded to the survey. Ninety-five percent of those who responded said their properties are already smoke free. Because the industry has come so far already, Chesterton says Zebrowski’s bill would not have much of an impact.

“This may be something the industry is taking care of itself,” Chesterton says.

Chesterton stopped short of endorsing the bill, saying, “There is always the risk of overregulating.” She added, however, that the New York State Hospitality & Tourism Assn. would like to work with Zebrowski. “We are actually not on opposite sides of the fence,” she added. A call to a representative of the Hotel Association of New York City was not returned.

Passing a law in New York would certainly quicken the industry’s progress toward a 100 percent nonsmoking environment, as compared to having no law at all. On its own our industry sometimes can move at a glacial pace. While NYSHTA learned from its survey respondents that most represent 100 percent nonsmoking hotels, the American Hotel & Lodging Assn. and STR found last year in its much larger nationwide survey that only 63 percent of hotels offer 100 percent nonsmoking rooms. So, there are still a lot of hotels with toxic smoking rooms. And, there are still a lot of travelers and workers being exposed to toxins in hotels.

A Wise Move Operationally

I commend Choice Hotels for its decision. In a press release announcing the news, Anne Smith, Vice President of Brand Strategy for Choice Hotels said, “In weighing this decision, we looked closely at guest feedback and hotel performance after Comfort Suites properties went completely smoke free in 2007 and contrasted that with findings based on similar research performed this year. We learned a lot about attitudes toward nonsmoking policies at hotels and found that, not only have preferences for smoke-free environments continued to increase, but smokers themselves are more likely to choose 100 percent smoke-free accommodations. These insights could potentially offer hoteliers operational advantages such as better room condition and cleanliness, fewer customer complaints and easier inventory management.”

Operationally, of course it makes sense to not have to worry about removing toxins from bedding, mattresses, drapery, carpet, etc. A smart move on the part of Choice Hotels and its Comfort Inn franchisees.

Caesars Entertainment’s decision to give up LEED certification, a great public relations and marketing opportunity, because it still wants to cater to smokers in its casinos, is baffling to me but I do understand their rationale—the fear of losing business to competitors. Hopefully the day will come soon when the benefits of green building far outweigh any desire to cater to folks with nicotine addiction.

Your thoughts? I can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.

Green Lodging News Adds BedVoyage as Directory Partner

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