Sunday, August 13, 2006

Waiting to inhale

Waiting to inhale
Travel becomes a drag for smokers as airports, hotels and restaurants ban cigarettes.

“Having a nonsmoking section in a restaurant is like having a non-peeing section in a swimming pool. The smoke and carcinogens do not stay with the smoker.”

Donald Potts, with the Metropolitan Healthy Communities Coalition in Kansas City, who applauds the shift to smoke-free Life used to be a whole lot easier for the smoking traveler. Puffing on the plane wasn’t a problem. Ashtrays were a mainstay in the eateries and bars of destination cities. Some public transportation still afforded the luxury of lighting up. And none of the major hotel chains had started kicking out butts.

In the last 20 years, though, travel has become more and more smoke-free. And for the smoking traveler, it’s really a drag.

“On a long flight, my favorite thing used to be drinking coffee, having a cigarette and watching the sun come up,” said Virginia Dolan, a frequent traveler from Kansas City. “It’s not the same without that cigarette.”

The lodging industry has sparked the latest trend in smoke-free travel, starting with Starwood’s Westin hotels — including the one at Crown Center — early this year. Marriott was next on board, announcing last month that all 10 of its North American brands would become smoke-free starting in September.

Not everyone is disappointed with the trend.

“People are really pleased to hear about it,” said Kathy Sudeikis, president of the American Society of Travel Agents and a vice president at All About Travel in Mission. “The disappointment is that it’s only in North America.”

Sudeikis said local travelers complain to her frequently about stale, smoky odors lingering in the drapes and linens of their nonsmoking hotel rooms. Such guest gripes helped influence Marriott’s decision, along with a shift in customer preference toward nonsmoking accommodations.

The chain also considered the U.S. Surgeon General’s June report that there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Other major hotel chains continue to offer smoking choices that match their booking patterns.

Starwood has not gone smoke-free in any of its other hotels, which include Sheraton and St. Regis.

Best Western International designates 70 percent of its rooms as nonsmoking. Hilton Family of Hotels, which includes Doubletree and Embassy Suites, allocates 85 percent to 95 percent to nonsmoking rooms.

Intercontinental Hotels Group, including Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza, requires at least 75 percent of its rooms be nonsmoking.

More destination locations are slapping up “no smoking” signs in their restaurants and bars. New York, California, Florida, Colorado, Maine and New Jersey are among them.

Donald Potts, with the Metropolitan Healthy Communities Coalition in Kansas City, applauds the shift to smoke-free in these states.

“Having a nonsmoking section in a restaurant is like having a non-peeing section in a swimming pool,” Potts said. “The smoke and carcinogens do not stay with the smoker.”

While airlines began banning smoking in the ’80s, airports have joined the ranks more recently. John F. Kennedy International in New York, Dallas/Fort Worth International and Los Angeles International are among dozens of completely smoke-free airports in the country.

Kansas City International has been smoke-free for 10 years, said spokesman Joe McBride, but within the last year, a new ordinance imposed a stricter limit. Smokers must stick to designated areas at least 30 feet from any door.

“It’s not pleasant to travel today with these limits,” Dolan said. “It’s inconvenient and nerve-racking.”

Sudeikis credits the smoke-free travel trend to a reflection of the demand.

American smokers represent about 21 percent of the population. According to the American Lung Association, the number of smokers dropped 40 percent from 1965 to 1990 and hasn’t changed much since.

“Americans want smoke-free in their traveling because that’s what they get at home,” Sudeikis said. “For nonsmokers, it’s more jarring to be in a smoky atmosphere when you’re not used to having that at home.”

Not all industry enterprises to go smoke-free have been a success, though.

In 1998, Carnival Cruise Lines created the world’s first nonsmoking cruise ship, Paradise. Poor revenues, however, caused Carnival to redeploy Paradise as a smoking ship in 2004.

“If there was a big demand for smoke-free, that cruise ship would have been a bigger business venture,” said David Kuneman of St. Louis, director of research for Smoker’s Club Inc., an online community.

But since Westin made the switch to smoke-free, Westin spokeswoman Kate Rothen said, Starwood earnings have climbed and bookings are up.


Smoking cessation while you’re on vacation?

With fewer hotels and attractions catering to smokers, vacation might be a good time to kick the habit.

“I think vacation is a great time to quit smoking,” said Carol Henderson of New Day Hypnotherapy in Overland Park. “Being in a different environment, a lot of times it’s easier.”

Henderson says smokers struggle most with giving up everyday routines. Removed from the daily grind, a smoker might be more diverted from nicotine cravings and find it easier to quit.

But Al Gatrost of the New Day Stop Smoking Clinic in Independence said it’s not always simple.

“If a person’s trigger is getting in the car and having a cigarette, then that’s going to be a problem for someone going on a drive,” Gatrost said. “But if the mind is occupied with new sights, that will help distract you from typical activity.”

The stress of traveling might trigger your smoke alarm, too, Henderson says.

She recommends relaxation tricks to her clients to combat that anxiety sans cigarettes, including breathing exercises and positive self-talk.

Gatrost advises frazzled travelers to use aromatic supplements that will reduce cravings. Both he and Henderson offer services that can be used in conjunction with vacation plans.

Gatrost added that quitting smoking will pay off.

“If someone wants to stop smoking now and invest the money they would have spent on cigarettes, they would have quite a savings account 10 years down the road,” Gatrost said. “Money they can use to buy a vacation with.”

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