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Orlando: Will the Smoke Ever Clear?

Scott Vogel

By law, 80 percent of all hotel rooms in cities like Atlanta, Honolulu and Cleveland must be nonsmoking. In Philadelphia and Chicago, it's 75 percent, and in Detroit it's 70 percent. So what percentage of rooms in Orlando -- one of the world's most popular destinations for children -- are required by law to be nonsmoking?

Believe it or not, there is no law.

That's right, the city that received more than 45 million American travelers last year, a large percentage of them children, has no laws on the books mandating nonsmoking hotel rooms. That's despite the fact that 65 percent of visitors stay in them, and despite the fact that the U.S. Surgeon General has repeatedly warned against the dangers of kids inhaling second-hand smoke.

Restaurants, most bars and some hotels in Orlando are indeed smoke-free, but that was small consolation this past weekend, when I visited the town with my young son. Like many travelers, I had dutifully requested a nonsmoking room and was told by the hotel that every effort would be made to satisfy this request -- but of course there were no guarantees. Not only were we disappointed to find that there were no nonsmoking rooms available at the property (which was just a stone's throw from the Magic Kingdom), but we were assigned a room that so reeked of smoke it was unfit for smokers, much less nonsmokers. By the end of our stay, my son smelled as if he had a three-pack-a-day habit and I felt like going on the patch.

I could be wrong, but I find it galling to think that a destination so dependent on the patronage of children should be so heedless with regard to their health and comfort. The mayor and city council should be ashamed. Isn't it time -- if only for the sake of the children -- that Orlando joined cities like Austin, Cincinnati, Denver, Houston and Los Angeles in mandating at least a partial smoking ban on hotel rooms? What do you think?

By Scott Vogel |  April 22, 2008; 6:39 AM ET  | Category:  Hotels , Scott Vogel , Travel Health , Travel Trends
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Posted by: nall92 | April 22, 2008 8:59 AM

Ok, i'm a smoker and a long time smoker at that and I can't handle the smell of a smokey hotel room.

I stayed in a Days Inn, in Philly and requested a smoking room not realizing how bad it was. I went out and bought a can of lysol and febreeze and sprayed the entire room and hallway. It made it bearable, but if i had kids and DIDN't have a choice, i would definately be miffed!!

Posted by: nall92 | April 22, 2008 9:03 AM

What I want to know is, if you could not be guaranteed a non-smoking room at this particular hotel, why did you book there? Surely there are other hotels in the area, and I'm sure you would have been able to find ONE that would guarantee you the smoke-free room you wanted. What about Marriott? ALL of their hotels are smoke-free. And certainly for the comfort and health of your child, you should NOT have stayed in that hotel if it was as bad as you say!

Posted by: ? | April 22, 2008 9:05 AM

I agree, as long as other hotels do offer non-smoking rooms, this isn't a problem for the legislature. The market should be left to function properly. Next time, take your business elsewhere. Doing so is a stronger statement than whining about the lack of laws.

Posted by: M Street | April 22, 2008 10:16 AM

What I want to know is, if you could not be guaranteed a non-smoking room at this particular hotel, why did you book there?

Posted by: ? | April 22, 2008 9:05 AM

That's exactly what I was thinking. If it was so important to you, why didn't you stay in a hotel that would guarantee you a non-smoking room?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 22, 2008 10:26 AM

Thanks, all of you, for your comments. To be quite frank, it was a matter of economics. While it is the case that there are indeed some Orlando hotels with a percentage of smoke-free rooms, there are not nearly as many in the mid-price (read affordable) range. And I don't think access to nonsmoking rooms should be a function of how much hotel a person can afford.

Posted by: Scott Vogel | April 22, 2008 10:45 AM

Scott, I was completely surprised that Orlando doesn't have some laws about non-smoking hotel rooms especially considering the fact that places like Cleveland and Detroit (which are not exactly big tourist destinations) do.
I don't know why the posters are giving you grief for booking in a hotel where a non-smoking room is not guaranteed. Based on my extensive travels, I have never been assigned a smoking room when I requested a non-smoking room, even when the hotel says that non-smoking requests are not guaranteed. It was certainly logical for you to assume that, statistically, you would be assigned a non-smoking room. And, as you stated, we can't all afford the Marriott.
I believe that it is the responsibility of the government to step in on health and safety issues when businesses and individuals can't or won't take the responsibility themselves. This looks like a perfect example for such intervention.

Posted by: Smoke Free | April 22, 2008 11:10 AM

was it the only empty room in the entire hotel? If I had stepped into a room that stank that badly I would have been right back at the front desk demanding another room. Or if they were part of chain I would have asked them to find me a non-smoking room at a nearby member of their chain. Tell them you have allergies and cannot be in a smoking room. as long as you are nice about it they shouldn't grumble too much about accommodating you. At the very least I would be writing a letter now to the company requesting my money back.

Posted by: Glenn | April 22, 2008 11:24 AM

This is how a free market works: you ask to be guaranteed a non-smoking room when you make the reservation, and if they say they can't do it, then you tell them you won't stay there. When enough people do this, the hotel will start offering more smoke-free rooms and guarantee them to customers.

The bottom line is you willingly chose to stay in a room that you found unacceptable, so you don't have a right to complain about it. You had other options and did not exercise them.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 22, 2008 11:53 AM

I'm with Glenn (though I do agree - price range shouldn't limit whether or not your room is smoke free. I've stayed in plenty of economy hotels that reserve some smoke-free rooms).

Scott - repeat after me: "I'm sorry, that's just not acceptable." Now say it nicely but firmly to the front desk the next time you get a room that's actually unacceptable.

I bet there was a room somewhere in the hotel that didn't completely reek of cigarette smoke. But you have to insist on having it. Even the nicest hotels will try and fit you wherever it's convenient for the hotel, not for you.

(On a recent trip to SF Hilton, the first front-desk agent we encountered tried to put us in one of those tiny rooms you know they reserve for overflow emergencies - you could barely walk around either side of the double bed it was so small. The agent had insisted there simply wasn't a room to fulfill the reservation for a king room we'd made six months previously with numerous Hilton Honors points. A trip back down to the front desk using that magic phrase with a different agent got us that king room with a downtown view without any fuss whatsoever.)

Unless there's some sort of major emergency that strands the multitudes in town (hurricane, snow storm, etc.), there is ALWAYS a room that fits your needs.

Posted by: Chasmsoaur | April 22, 2008 12:15 PM

Somewhat ironic considering that Florida banned smoking in restaurants long before it was banned in DC and MD restaurants.

Posted by: Dan | April 22, 2008 2:02 PM

Time to outlaw smoking alltogether. There is no safe amount of second hand smoke, and if you end up staying in a smoking area or near a smoking area, you will be inhaling smoke, which can have a myriad of insalubrious effects on you, not to mention children.

Posted by: db | April 22, 2008 7:53 PM

Out of the smokers I know, none smoke in their house. They go outside, and most of them ask for non-smoking rooms at hotels.
So who are the smoking rooms serving? If 80% of rooms in certain cities are nonsmoking, does that mean 20% of people want smoking rooms? This seems like a high percentage.

Posted by: AC | April 23, 2008 4:13 PM

I work in the hotel. You can only request a non-smoking room. You will get it if one is available. Hotel always tries to honor your request. It is very hard to get the smoke odor from the rooms, specially carpet and drapes since you can not wash them like you do linen and spreads. Since there is more demand for non-smoking rooms, more and more hotels are going to be 100% smoke-free. Hotels also have started charging $100+ for violating the hotel policy of not smoking in the hotel rooms.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 9:42 PM

supply and demand will prevail. the last thing we need are more laws

Posted by: jim | April 24, 2008 7:57 PM

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