Marriott Goes Smoke-Free:

The Marriott hotel chain will no longer allow smoking in any of its guest rooms, according to this report. Interestingly, the decision appears to have been motivated by Marriott's concern for the bottom line.

Two decades ago, about half the company's rooms were set aside for smokers, but demand has steadily dropped, with only 5 percent of customers now requesting smoking rooms. At the same time, complaints about cigarette odor have increased, and company officials have struggled to address the issue.

Marriott, which will enforce its ban by charging violators $200 to $300, follows that of the Westin Hotels & Resorts chain, which late last year announced it was making all 77 of its properties smoke-free. Since then, business has grown stronger, said Sue Brush, a senior vice president with Westin, which is owned by Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc.

An interesting question is how this decision will affect activist campaigns to impose local smoking bans in various parts of the country. Smoking ban advocates will cite Marriott's decision as evidence that banning smoking is not bad for business. Yet in my opinion this decision is evidence that service companies are respnsive to changes in consumer preferences and demands. Marriott's decision was driven by market pressures, specifically by a recognition that it was more costly to try and accomodate both smokers and non-smokers than to go smoke-free. Similalrly, many restaurants and bars have banned or limited smoking because they would prefer to attract non-smoking patrons. The point is that if a substantial percentage of consumers want smoke-free accomodations, enough businesses should respond to satisfy that preference. And, if the rate of change is too slow for some, I would recommend than smoking-ban proponents devote their resources to pressuring firms to adopt smoking limitations, instead of lobbying for legislative smoking bans than deny a singificant portion of people (the 20 percent or so of Americans who still smoke) the opportunity to seek accomodations that meet their preferences. I quit smoking cigarettes years ago, and enjoy smoke-free restaurants, but I see no need to impose my preferences on others through legislative fiat.

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