One of the last bastions for travelers who smoke - their hotel rooms - is disappearing rapidly.
Hotels, motels and other lodgings are following the trend of airlines and passenger-train operators by banning smoking throughout their premises. Some are doing it voluntarily, as public awareness about the health dangers of secondhand smoke grows. Others are being forced by a growing number of state and local laws.
More than 12,900 lodgings serving the public in the USA are now smoke-free throughout, a USA TODAY analysis of data from AAA, the American Automobile Association, finds. That's nearly 4,600 more than in November 2008, when USA TODAY first analyzed AAA data.
"The smoke-free hotel trend has finally caught up with the rest of the movement," says Bronson Frick, associate director of the Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights. "Airlines went smoke-free in 1990, and California was the first state to enact a strong smoke-free law that included restaurants and bars in 1994. It took the hotel industry until 2006 to catch on that there was public demand and support for smoke-free hotels."
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Though the number of smoke-free hotels is growing, the percentage of adults who smoke cigarettes has not declined since 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. About one of every five adults - 46.6 million - smokes cigarettes.
Four of every 10 non-smokers - 88 million people - were exposed to cigarette smoke during 2007-2008, the CDC says. Among other health problems, smoking causes cancer, heart attacks and stroke, and exposure to secondhand smoke causes cancer and heart disease in non-smoking adults and respiratory infections and more severe asthma in children, the agency says.
Many travelers concerned about secondhand smoke welcome the smoke-free trend at hotels.
"I am highly allergic to cigarette smoke and cannot even be on the same floor with smokers," says Suzanne Franka of Austin, who works in the health care industry and spent about 150 nights in hotels last year. "I have to hold my breath as I walk by the smoking areas outside the hotels and wish that they would move them far away from the hotel entrances."
But smokers such as Bruce Arnold of Fort Wayne, Ind., hate to see one of their last refuges for smoking disappear. Arnold says he annually averaged about 160 nights at Marriott hotels but stopped staying at the chain's domestic hotels after they adopted smoke-free policies.
"A dinner in a non-smoking restaurant is an hour and a short walk to the sidewalk," says Arnold, who works in the vending industry and travels up to four nights per week. "A hotel is 12-plus hours and frequently a long walk to go stand outside."
True measure of the trend
The number of smoke-free lodgings in the USA is undoubtedly higher than 12,900. A growing number of state and local governments have recently passed laws restricting smoking in hotels and other public places. And AAA, which annually inspects lodgings and has the most extensive list of smoke-free ones, approves and rates only about 31,000 lodgings. The American Hotel & Lodging Association says, however, that there are 50,800 lodgings of 15 or more rooms throughout the country. Many lodgings not rated by AAA are likely to be smoke-free, says AAA's Michael Petrone.
Other actions, such as court cases, also may make smoking a vestige in hotels. In January, for instance, a Nebraska District Court judge ruled that exemptions to the state's smoking ban for cigar bars, tobacco stores and hotels are unconstitutional. The ruling is being appealed. But if it stands, Nebraska may join Michigan and Wisconsin, where new laws last year require all hotels to be smoke-free.
Push began in 2006
The no-smoking trend in hotels caught fire in 2006, and it came voluntarily in many instances.
Westin Hotels & Resorts said it was responding to guests' demands for a healthy environment and became the first chain to go smoke-free at its U.S. hotels. Marriott, the nation's largest hotel company, made nearly all its more than 2,500 U.S. hotels smoke-free several months later. Marriott subsidiary The Ritz-Carlton, Walt Disney, Sheraton, Comfort Suites and a few other chains followed with all smoke-free U.S. hotels.
"We will continue to see either properties go entirely smoke-free or increase non-smoking rooms not only in the United States but around the world," says Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.
Hyatt Hotels & Resorts - which has two smoke-free brands, Hyatt Place and Hyatt Summerfield Suites - agrees.
"We think the trend will continue," says company spokeswoman Lori Alexander. "As we see more and more travelers request non-smoking rooms, the demand for smoking rooms is dwindling."
Hyatt and many other chains continue to reserve some rooms for smokers at many U.S. hotels, and chains that declare they're 100% smoke-free in the USA continue to have rooms available for smokers at their hotels abroad.
Seventeen of Hyatt's 129 full-service hotels and resorts in North America are smoke-free, and 99% of the rooms in most others are non-smoking, Alexander says.
California leads the charge
According to USA TODAY's analysis of American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation data, 27 states - four more than in November 2008 - have laws specifying the minimum percentage of non-smoking rooms that must be in hotels.
Most of the 27 states specify that 75% or 80% of rooms must be non-smoking.
Laws requiring a certain percentage of smoke-free hotel rooms - sometimes as much as 100% - are also in effect in 729 cities and counties, the data show. In November 2008, 534 cities and counties had such laws.
California has more cities and counties - 122 - with laws restricting smoking in hotel rooms than any other state. Massachusetts has 75 cities and counties with such laws, and Illinois has the third-highest number, 71.
California also has the most smoke-free lodgings - 1,575, a 51% increase over the number in November 2008, according to AAA data. Florida and Texas follow, respectively, with 798 and 743.
Frick, of the non-smokers' rights group, says the number of smoke-free lodgings in foreign countries is also growing, particularly at smaller properties. He says it's "disappointing" that chains with smoke-free policies in the USA do not have the same policies abroad.
"They are aware of the health hazards of toxic air to their staff and guests," Frick says. "The lack of consistent policy also makes it impossible for business travelers to book smoke-free travel and meetings based on brand."
Wyndham Hotels and Resorts implemented a smoke-free policy three years ago at its nearly 100 North American hotels, but the policy does not apply to its hotels elsewhere.
"We continue to offer non-smoking guestrooms in all hotels located outside of North America but will allow international properties to accommodate local laws, cultures and preferences when deciding to implement the smoke-free hotel policy," says Evy Apostolatos, spokeswoman for Wyndham Hotel Group, which has 12 hotel brands.
Frequent business traveler Al Bischoff approves the smoke-free trend in hotels everywhere, because people "should not be subjected to smoke" or its smell. He says hotel rooms that have been used by smokers are "disgusting" and he purposely books smoke-free hotels.
"Smoking is a health and cleanliness issue," says Bischoff, a consultant from Hilton Head, S.C.
Sick of the stench
Christopher Monesky, a frequent business traveler from Atlanta, says, "There is nothing worse than walking into your temporary home and being walloped by the stench of smoke.
"Even with the sheets washed," says Monesky, an airline industry analyst, "the smell lingers in the carpets and furniture."
Franka, the business traveler from Austin, says she knows many business travelers who smoke in non-smoking rooms and "think it's OK as long as they stand by an open window."
Such travelers risk being charged a $150 to $500 cleaning fee that's assessed by many hotels.
Some smokers readily agree something stinks about having a room that's been smoked in.
Doug Gillikin of Lafayette, La., who works in the millwork industry and stayed at hotels more than 150 nights last year, says he smokes outside hotels and prefers they be smoke-free. He chooses non-smoking rooms over smoking ones in hotels that offer a choice.
Why? "The smell is terrible," Gillikin says.