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Marriott: No Room for Smokers
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 8/8/2006

WASHINGTON (NNPA) – Alejandro Herrera, a 42-year-old home improvement specialist who frequently travels for his job will not be staying in a Marriott any time soon. A chain smoker, the sheet metal mechanic gasped when learning of the hotel’s new smoke free policy. “Why are they going to do that to us?”

Actually, Herrera knows all too well the dangers of tobacco. He started smoking at 9 years old while walking home from the store back home in Havana, Cuba, where he would sneak a few from the packs that he would buy for his mother.

Thirty-three years and three attempts to quit later, he stands on a Washington, D.C. street torn between two arguments. He defends his right to smoke while grieving the death of his mother. At 73, she died of a heart attack only seven months ago, partially caused by complications of smoking.

Still, he would like to have the option of smoking in his hotel room.

It is the dangers of smoking – moreover of secondhand smoke from the tobacco use of others - that has caused the Marriott chain of 2,300 hotels in North America and corporate-owned apartments to become 100 percent smoke-free by October 15, making it the largest hotel chain so-far to go totally smoke free.

The no-smoking ban extends to the company’s 16 brands, including Ritz-Carlton, Courtyard by Marriott, Residence Inn and Fairfield Inn.

At this point, Marriott is limiting its no-smoking policy to North America and not the other 500 properties owned around the world.

“Marriott is going smoke free after receiving consumer requests. The decision is based on consumer demand as well as customer complaints about secondhand smoke. We have a very sophisticated guest satisfaction system,” says Stephanie Hampton, spokeswoman for Marriott International, based in the Washington, D.C. area.

Hampton says after monitoring the reservations of Marriott guests, it was concluded that “Ninety-five percent of all reservations were for smoke-free rooms…And, one of the top complaints is that a guest asks for a smoke-free room and not get it,” she says.

The Marriott policy affects all guest rooms, restaurants, lounges, meeting rooms, public spaces, and employee work areas of the hotels, according to a statement released by the corporation.

Hampton says smokers will be allowed shelters away from the buildings that will be designated for their use.

“This is the broadest implementation in the industry of smoke free,” Hampton says.

The move by Marriott is winning applause from anti-tobacco advocates. That includes the American Legacy Foundation, which assisted Westin Hotels, a much smaller chain of 77 hotels, to go completely smoke free last year.

“We obviously hope it is a trend that is just beginning,” says Legacy spokeswoman Julie Cartwright.

“The surgeon general has said there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. Certainly, we applaud the Marriott for doing this and we hope others will follow their lead.”

Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona declared in a report released in June that even designated non-smoking areas such as in restaurants and bars are still unsafe for others under the same roof.

''Smoke-free environments are the only approach that protects nonsmokers from the dangers of secondhand smoke,'' Carmona said at a June 27 press conference.

“The science is clear: secondhand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.”

The surgeon general’s report states that health effects of exposure to secondhand smoke in adults increases a string of potential health hazards, including:

· Increased risk of lung cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent. Secondhand smoke also causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year.

· “Nonsmoking adults exposed to second-hand smoke increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent. The evidence indicates that even brief secondhand smoke exposures can have immediate adverse effects on the cardiovascular system. Secondhand smoke causes tens of thousands of heart disease deaths each year among U.S. nonsmokers.”

· Respiratory conditions in children: Acute respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, respiratory symptoms such as cough, phlegm, wheezing, and breathlessness, more frequent and severe asthma attacks, slowing of lung growth, and ear infections have all been proven to be results of exposure to secondhand smoke in children.

· A cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Infants who die from SIDS tend to have higher concentration of nicotine in their lungs and higher levels of continue (a biological marker for secondhand smoke exposure) than infants who die from other causes.

Still, habitual smokers stand by their right to partake of tobacco products.

“As long as they’ve got tobacco plants, people are going to smoke it,” says William McFadden, 45, a friend of Herrera’s who says he has also smoked since childhood.

“Which ever way you choose to go [die], you go.”

Though the Marriott and the Westin will not accommodate people’s smoking habits, most other hotel chains will.

“We continue to offer guests a choice,” says Kendra Walker, spokeswoman for Hilton Hotels Corporation of its 500 Hiltons worldwide.

“The brands generally offer five to 15 percent on average of rooms that enable guests to smoke.”

While the Omni’s 40 hotels also give guests a choice of smoking or non-smoking rooms, they acknowledge that laws have forced them to prohibit smoking in some public parts of the hotels.

“Smoking has been banned by either city ordinance or state law in 31 Omni Hotels' bars and or restaurants since 1998. Of these, seven went into effect in 2005 and four in 2006,” says Ann Tramer on behalf of Omni Hotels.

“This is only for the bars and restaurants within the Omni Hotels properties. Omni Hotels does not have a policy regarding the hotel rooms aside from assigning smoking and non-smoking rooms.”

Cigarette smoking accounts for 440,000 deaths, or nearly 1 of every 5 deaths, each year in the United States, according to the Atlanta-based Center for Disease Control. About 45,000 African-Americans die from tobacco-related deaths each year.

If current smoking patterns of African-Americans continue, an estimated 1.6 million Black people currently under the age of 18 will become regular smokers, and about 500,000 of them will eventually die of a smoking-related disease, the CDC estimates.

Smokers often speak defiantly about their rights to light up despite the imminent danger. Herrera says his cigarettes give him calm when he is upset or depressed. Of his three times quitting over three decades, he says the longest he’s ever gone is eight months. Contemplating the odds against him, born out by the death of his mother, he suddenly softens his position, thinking of his wife and five children.

“I tell them not to smoke,” he says. “Because they never told us that.”

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