Smoke-free hotels: A breath of fresh air

Op-ed: Md. should pass legislation making it illegal to smoke in hotel rooms.

Staybridge Suites in Baltimore. La Quinta Inn in Glen Burnie. Best Western Braddock Inn in La Vale. Hampton Inn in Frederick. Extended Stay America in Annapolis. Homewood Suites in Columbia. Quality Inn in Jessup.

At first glance, that list may look like nothing more than a mashup of random hotels and motels throughout Maryland, but there is a common thread: Each of these places appears on a TripAdvisor list called The 10 Best Maryland Hotels with Smoking Rooms.

Most of us probably take it for granted that, in our state, smoking in places like public office buildings or restaurants has long been a thing of the past. For that, we can thank Maryland's landmark Clean Indoor Air Act, enacted a decade ago, which prohibits smoking in virtually all indoor workplaces — including all indoor spaces open to the public, like lobby areas in hotels and motels.

As comprehensive and effective as the law is, however, there's always room for improvement. For example, one of the exceptions in the law allows hotels and motels to permit smoking in up to 25 percent of their guest rooms.

Montgomery County Del. Andrew Platt has introduced legislation to change that. His bill would simply remove the 25 percent exception, and thus ensure that every guest room in every hotel and motel across our state is smoke-free. The General Assembly should pass this bill, and Gov. Hogan should sign it, because smoking still costs Maryland dearly with respect to our health and the economy, particularly in places like Baltimore where smoking rates exceed the state average significantly.

According to statistics compiled by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in Maryland:

•Smoking is directly responsible for $2.7 billion in annual health care costs;

•Smoking costs our companies and businesses another $2.2 billion in annual productivity losses;

•And secondhand smoke exposures leads to an additional $116.3 million in annual health care costs.

Making all hotel and motel guest rooms smoke-free will have a direct impact on those figures.

Hotel and motel guests and employees will no longer be exposed to the harmful effects of third-hand smoke — the residual, carcinogenic components of tobacco smoke that can linger on carpets, walls and other room surfaces long after smoking has actually occurred.

Hotel and motel management and employers will no longer have to bear the costs associated with heavy cleaning or even room damage resulting from cigarette smoke or risk losing customers who refuse to stay in smoking establishments.

And the state, whose reputation for being a leader in improving health and promoting tobacco-free policies, will get a further boost for marketing and tourism opportunities, along with a healthier workforce.

A number of hotels and motel chains have already decided on their own to have 100 percent smoke-free guest rooms, including Marriott, headquartered in Bethesda, as well as Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites, major brands for Choice Hotels, which is headquartered in Rockville. Marriott, which went 100 percent smoke-free in 2006, notes on its website that the policy is supported by the majority of its guests.

In recent years, five states and more than 170 municipalities across the country have enacted laws ensuring that all hotel and motel guest rooms are 100 percent smoke-free. I urge our lawmakers in Annapolis to add Maryland to that list this session. Let's provide a clean breath of fresh air for all those who come to enjoy what our great state has to offer.

Adam Zimmerman is an anti-smoking advocate who lives in Rockville. His email is zimadam@gmail.com.

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