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Archive for July, 2006

Marriott Hotels Ban Smoking In Rooms

July 21st, 2006 at 01:26 am


Marriott International Inc., the nation's largest hotel chain, said yesterday that it will ban smoking in its nearly 400,000 hotel rooms in the United States and Canada, casting the decision as less about public health and more about taking care of 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.

David Webb of Huntsville, Tex., was smoking yesterday outside of a Ritz-Carlton in the District, where he was staying. He said he requests nonsmoking rooms because he "cannot stand the smell of old smoke in rooms." He smokes outside, and said a smoke-free environment was an incentive to stay at a Marriott property.

Airlines banned smoking on their flights only after the federal government passed a law requiring such bans in the 1990s. Restaurants and bars are increasingly becoming smoke-free zones, now that more than 2,200 municipalities have smoking restrictions. Marriott executives said there was no government involvement in their decision to end smoking throughout their more than 2,300 hotels.

The Bethesda firm, which had been reserving 10 percent of its rooms for smokers, said the decision was most closely tied to guest satisfaction.

"Complaints about smoking is one of the biggest complaints we have," said Steve Lampa, the company's senior vice president of rooms operations and quality assurance. "Clearly there will be some guests who smoke that won't agree with this decision and may decide to move elsewhere. We don't think there will be a negative financial impact."

Marriott executives considered Westin's positive experience with its ban when making their decision, the company said. Executives also said they were influenced by the reported dangers of secondhand smoke, including a recent surgeon general's report on the subject.

Several industry observers think there is a good chance other major hotel chains will follow Marriott's move. About 21 percent of the U.S. population smokes.

"This tips the hotel industry so now virtually every hotel will have to go nonsmoking," said Edward Watkins, editor of Lodging Hospitality, a leading trade publication. "Marriott is the leader of the pack. Once they do it, every company will have to do that. They just have so many hotels. It's a matter of competitive pressure."

Public health and anti-smoking advocates cheered the move as a key victory in their attempts to eliminate exposure to secondhand smoke.

Frances Stillman, co-director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control at Johns Hopkins University, said Marriott's decision was particularly important for public health advocates' efforts to shake off arguments by the tobacco industry that smoking bans are bad for business.

"This decision is proving that it doesn't hurt business to ban smoking," said Stillman, who is on the faculty of the university's Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Finally, the economic argument and the public health argument are coming together. Companies are realizing that public health is good for business."

Smoking-rights advocates were not pleased.

"We believe it is discrimination, and we are not going to recommend to our members that they stay at a Marriott-branded hotel," said Thomas Briant, executive director of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, which represents tobacco manufacturers, distributors and retail outlets.

Several dozen hotels, mostly boutiques, followed Westin and banned smoking last year. So did individual owners of about 50 Marriott-branded hotels, factoring into Marriott's sweeping ban.

Executives at the company had been trying to solve smoking complaints for the past couple of years, according to Lampa. The company tried more frequent cleanings. They tried high-tech air-treatment machines, air deodorants and further segmenting the smoking rooms.

"None of which was 100 percent effective," Lampa said. "It's been pretty frustrating. We thought we could crack this nut."

Ultimately, Marriott executives concluded that the only way to eliminate the problem was to eliminate smoking.

"I think this is an appropriate response, and it clearly shows leadership on the part of the company," said Thomas J. Baltimore, the president of Bethesda's RLJ Development LLC, one of the largest franchisees of Marriott hotels. "I think from a customer perspective, it will be widely well received, and I would think it would have minimal impact on demand for them."

Marriott said the ban will begin in September, after the company cleans the smoking rooms. Guests will be informed of the policy -- and potential penalty fee -- during check-in. The ban does not extend to Marriott's approximately 500 other properties outside the United States and Canada.

"I don't know how it will affect Marriott's business," said Steve Morrison of Wheeling, W.Va., who was staying at a Marriott in the District. "It makes me want to stay there more."

Smoking ban set for 31 Bob Evans locations

July 21st, 2006 at 01:20 am


Bob Evans Restaurants will ban smoking at 31 locations in southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky beginning Monday, July 31. The public company decided to ban smoking because of customer complaints and the U.S. Surgeon General's finding that secondhand smoke is unhealthy, Mike Thompson, company vice president and regional director, said Monday.

"We are trying to protect our employees and our customers. Sales is not the primary issue. It's about customer satisfaction," he said.
Bob Evans, founded in Gallipolis, as a trucker's diner that featured sausage, is now based in Columbus. It has 589 Bob Evans and 104 Mimi's Café restaurants nationwide and employs 50,810 people across the country.

The move was greeted with praise by local anti-smoking advocates such as Ahron Leichtman, director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition on Smoking and Health and opponent of cigarette smoking who is working for a statewide ballot initiative to make all bars, restaurants, workplaces and public places smoke-free.

"It is long overdue," said Leichtman, who has crusaded against public smoking since 1969.

The 31 restaurants cover a wide geographic area, from Hillsboro and Wilmington in rural Ohio to the north, through suburban Cincinnati and into Northern Kentucky. The Chillicothe sites are not yet impacted, according to company officials.

"What I don't understand is why they didn't do this years ago because Bob Evans caters to families," Leichtman said.

Besides restaurants, Bob Evans Farms Inc. also is a leading producer and distributor of pork sausage and other convenience foods.

U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona last month found nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 percent to 30 percent, and their risk of lung cancer increases by 20 percent to 30 percent.

Most people want smoking kept out of restaurants, according to county-by-county results from SmokeFreeOhio, a campaign to gather petitions for a November ballot initiative to ban smoking from public places in Ohio.

SmokeFreeOhio surveyed Ohio residents in October 2005 and found 74 percent of people would eat out more often if smoking was banned from restaurants.

"We hear from people over and over again that they do not want to breathe-in smoke while they're eating," said Shelly Kiser, campaign communications director for SmokeFreeOhio.

La Plata Passes Ban on Smoking

July 21st, 2006 at 01:12 am


The La Plata Town Council passed an ordinance Tuesday night that bans smoking in and around the town's restaurants and bars, a measure that is more stringent than the smoking ban that went into effect for Charles County last month.

The La Plata measure drew fire from some in the business community who say a smoking ban could hurt their revenue. About 40 residents attended Tuesday's council meeting, and several of them offered emphatic comments, fueling a 90-minute discussion of the ordinance. But with four affirmative votes -- Mayor Gene Ambrogio abstained -- the five-member council adopted the ban on smoking, which will go into effect Oct. 15 in the Charles County seat.

The council decided to hammer out the details of the ban, particularly those regarding enforcement, in separate working group meetings, and members said they are still open to suggestions from business owners and residents. But the basic structure was adopted for the ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and public places as well as within 20 feet of public entrances to commercial establishments.

The Charles County ban prohibits smoking in restaurants and outdoor facilities that are operated by the county, such as parks. Establishments such as bars where a majority of revenue is beverage-based are exempted from the ban.

The La Plata law is intended to keep people from smoking inside and at the entrance of public places. The ordinance was not designed to harm the business community or discriminate against people who smoke, said Ward 2 council member C. Keith Back, who introduced the measure. The council pledged Tuesday to retool the specific language of the ordinance if necessary so it does not unduly harm businesses.

"The intention is not to take away anyone's right to smoke," Back said. "They can smoke on their own property or 20 feet away from the entrance. The point is to protect the patrons and employees who are inside the restaurant or bar from secondhand smoke."

Council members promised an extensive campaign to educate residents and visitors about the smoking ban.

The comments of those who addressed the council at Tuesday's meeting varied, but most were critical of the proposal. Business owners raised questions about enforcement and worried that they would be responsible for policing their establishments. Council members said such issues would be resolved in the working groups they plan to convene.

Kathleen Quade, 49, of La Plata said she does not mind an ordinance to ban smoking in restaurants but thinks a ban in bars is too much.

"You're taking away the rights of individuals. Smoking is legal. Smoking tobacco is legal," she said. "Once you are in that adult age bracket, you have a right to choose whether you go into that establishment. And as a business owner, you have the right to decide whether you are a smoke-free establishment."

Some La Plata restaurants, which were not included in the countywide ban, already started smoking bans of their own. Outback Steakhouse, at Route 301 and Port Tobacco Road, instituted a ban so that it would have the same smoking policy as its sister restaurant in Waldorf.

"It seems to be working out for us," manager Ben Hoffmaster said. "We've had a very good turnout from our clientele. There have been very, very little complaints about it. A lot of praise in the fact that we have chosen to go nonsmoking."

Smoking bans in Charles seemed improbable not too long ago. For nearly three centuries, tobacco was Southern Maryland's premier cash crop. Tobacco once drove the economy in the tri-county area, which produced about 80 percent of the state's tobacco harvest.

But scientists have found secondhand smoke to be a leading cause of cancer. A recent Johns Hopkins University study commissioned by the American Cancer Society found that secondhand smoke costs Maryland $600 million a year in health care and lost wages due to illness.

Jurisdictions across the nation have instituted smoking bans in the past few years. At least 14 states have banned smoking in public places, although state lawmakers in Annapolis and Richmond rejected statewide bans this year.

In addition to Charles, several jurisdictions in the Washington region already have smoking bans. Montgomery, Prince George's and Talbot counties prohibit smoking in eating and drinking establishments. Howard County's ban on smoking in restaurants and bars will go into effect next month. In the District, smoking is banned in restaurant dining rooms, and the ban will be extended to bars, nightclubs and the bar areas of restaurants in January.

Missing Brunel cigar sparks row

July 21st, 2006 at 01:04 am


The sculptor behind a life-size statue of Isambard Kingdom Brunel has denied he left out his cigar because of political correctness.

The bronze statue, at Brunel University in Uxbridge, west London, shows the engineer in his iconic top hat.

Anthony Stones said he had included the cigar as well in smaller models, but it looked wrong on the final statue.

"It's a minor prop. If a genius like Brunel needs a cigar, that's pretty sad really," he told the BBC.

The sculpture went up at the university on 6 July, to mark the bicentenary of Brunel's birth.

'Extremely pleased'

At the time Alan Bennett, the deputy director of the university's arts centre, said staff were "extremely pleased" with the result. He added that Mr Stones had gone to a lot of trouble to properly research the subject.

But there have been a few raised eyebrows at the decision not to include a cigar, when the engineer had a 40-a-day habit.

He even had a special carriage designed, capable of carrying 500 cigars and his drawing board.

Pro-smoking group Forest has said: "What next? Will Sherlock Holmes surrender his pipe? Will Sir Winston Churchill [also] be robbed of his cigar?"

It has been suggested that the cigar was left out because of fears students might snap it off.

But Mr Stones, a former president of the Society of Portrait Sculptors, said it was a purely asthetic decision, as it looked fine on the small scale models but strange on the full size statue.

"It trivialised the whole thing and it just didn't work, so I left it out," he told the BBC News website.

"If you look at statues of other famous cigar smokers, I can't think of a statue of Churchill with a cigar."

He added: "I was very pleased when I saw it unveiled at Uxbridge several weeks ago. It had vitality and equivalence to real life."

Robert Hulse, the curator at the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, south-east London, was among those at the unveiling.

He said: "I liked it. Like everyone there is a bit of a surprise when you think - will he have a cigar or won't he?

"It's unmistakeably him. It doesn't have a cigar, but it does have that square-shouldered, 'don't worry, I will build it for you' attitude. It's pugnacious and no-nonsense."

He said the row had started because a schoolbook had been published by Heinemann in early 2005 in which a cigar had been airbrushed out of the front cover photograph.

"It's all gone a bit daft," he added.

Ohio should follow the surgeon general

July 21st, 2006 at 12:57 am


You've probably taken your family to a restaurant and requested to sit in the non-smoking section. After all, neither you nor your spouse smoke and you don't want your children inhaling those noxious fumes.
But, invariably, the second-hand smoke wafts into the non-smoking section.
Everyone at the table eats their meal quickly, avoiding spending too much time breathing the air fellow diners have poisoned.
U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona threw more fire on the debate over second-hand smoke by reporting in late June that it is harmful to anyone.
Many would argue that announcement only confirms what Americans have known for several years.
He also called on states to adopt laws that ban smoking in public places.
The insidious nature of second-hand smoke makes it a worthy goal to protect the health of Ohioans in public places.
His plea comes as Ohio could be one of the battlegrounds in November in the ongoing squabble over indoor clean air policies. Both sides already have groups lined up to plead their case on a ballot issue.
The group SmokeFreeOhio is attempting to collect enough signatures to qualify the issue for the November ballot. It's uncertain now if that will happen. Eighteen states have adopted laws that invoke some restrictions on smoking in public places - with some outright bans at businesses and inside public places. Ohio only has communities or counties that have made indoor public places smoke-free.
Those communities were right to do so, and Ohio lawmakers should follow their lead.

Trying to save money
The Geauga County Department on Aging has identified a sensible way to help taxpayers with its home maintenance and farm market programs.
These programs will use means testing through November, requiring senior citizens to show proof of their income level. Otherwise, some seniors could pay for more than just materials for a project to install a ramp, railing or tub bars. They also could pay for part of the food received from the farm market.
We hope this proves successful and will continue long-term. Every government agency - at any level - spends taxpayer dollars.
And government must find ways to stretch the dollars it collects from us.

City’s role should be to enforce the law

July 21st, 2006 at 12:44 am


When does a state law not matter? Apparently when local officials do not feel like enforcing it.

That seems to be the case in the matter of a Durango bar whose management does not wish to abide by Colorado's recently enacted statewide smoking ban. A lawyer for the bar's owners offered an imaginative argument claiming that the establishment is exempt from the law, and the city essentially shrugged and said "OK."

It is a decision that usurps the role of the courts and flies in the face of the expressed will of the state Legislature.

The operators of Orio's Roadhouse, in the 600 block of Main Avenue, have not enforced the smoking ban. An attorney and an accountant representing the bar met with Durango's city manager, Bob Ledger, and argued that Orio's need not comply with the ban because it falls under an exemption that allows smoking in "cigar-tobacco" bars.

That provision was meant to grandfather in a half dozen or so cigar bars - all along the Front Range - whose owners have invested in large, expensive humidors that they then rent to patrons for cigar storage. To meet the definition of a cigar bar, an establishment must show that at least 5 percent of its gross income comes from "the on-site sale of tobacco products and the rental of on-site humidors." Those humidors must also have been in place by Dec. 31, 2005. No new cigar bars are allowed.

Orio's books apparently show that at least 5 percent of its gross income comes from tobacco sales. On that basis Ledger decided it was exempt. He then sent a memo to Durango Chief of Police Al Bell advising him that Orio's met the requirements for the exemption.

But what about a humidor? Orio's lawyer explained that away by saying that the "and" in "the on-site sale of tobacco products and the rental of on-site humidors" in the language of the law does not really mean "and." Instead, he says "and" really means "either, or, or a combination of both."

Ledger seems to have accepted that reasoning. His memo to Bell explains the exemption solely in terms of tobacco sales.

But the merits of the exemption notwithstanding, the question is why Ledger or anyone else at the city felt the need to get involved in the first place. It is not the city manager's role to interpret state law; we have courts for that. All the city needed to do was issue a citation and let Orio's lawyer present his argument about what "and" means to a judge.

Cogent arguments can be made to the effect that a smoking ban is unneeded, unwise, a violation of property rights or an infringement of personal liberty. The Legislature heard them all. It then - rightly - decided that the dangers inherent in public smoking outweighed those considerations.

Those who disagree are free to challenge the law in court. For a more lasting fix, they can carry their outrage to the polls and pick lawmakers more to their liking. Or, if they are really upset, they can start putting together their own ballot measure to overturn the ban.

But there is no "I don't want to" exemption to the smoking ban or any other state law. And the city manager has no business aiding an attempt to establish one.

Blue Cross to Refund Nonsmoking Policyholders Who Inadvertently Paid Tobacco-Us

July 21st, 2006 at 12:36 am


Blue Cross and Blue Shield of
Minnesota (Blue Cross) has announced a new policy to issue refunds to
nonsmoking individual policyholders who, although eligible, have not been
paying tobacco-free premium rates.
"Blue Cross has done more to promote smoking cessation and prevent
tobacco use than any other health plan nationally," said Richard Neuner,
senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "This new policy is
directly related to our commitment to promote and reward healthy behaviors.
We want to make sure that our members who don't use tobacco are rewarded in
any way that we can."
Approximately 12 percent of individual policyholders and five percent
of Medicare Supplement policyholders currently pay the standard or
tobacco-user premium rate -- roughly consistent with overall rates of
tobacco use among Blue Cross members. Individual Blue Cross policyholders
are eligible for tobacco-free rates, which are lower, if they have been
tobacco-free for at least 24 months. For Medicare Supplement policies, 36
tobacco-free months are required, recognizing the long-term negative health
effects of tobacco use.
If individual and Medicare Supplement policyholders find that they
inadvertently checked the wrong tobacco use status box on their policy
application, or have not informed Blue Cross that they have quit using
tobacco, all they have to do is call Blue Cross for details on a potential
Blue Cross has offered a tobacco-free rate since 1983 when we
introduced AwareCare insurance products for individuals. Earlier policies
did not offer this discount. Employers who provide group coverage make the
determination on their own whether to consider tobacco use status in
employees' contributions to their health care coverage. Blue Cross
currently insures 227,000 persons in the individual and Medicare Supplement
Individual and Medicare Supplement policyholders who do not smoke or
chew tobacco and think they might qualify for a refund can call Blue Cross
toll-free for more information at 1 (888) 878-0137.
Like most other insurance industries -- health, life, auto -- Blue
Cross offers discounted rates on individual and Medicare Supplement
policies for people who don't use tobacco. Smoking is the leading cause of
preventable death and smokers overall tend to have higher health care
costs. Each year, smoking kills 5,600 Minnesotans and is responsible for
nearly $2 billion ($1.98 million) in excess medical care expenditures (Blue
Cross Center for Tobacco Reduction and Health Improvement 2005 study of MN
Department of Health data.)
"To make sure our premiums are accurate, we regularly remind people of
the tobacco-free rates," Neuner said. "It's on the application form, in
materials we send out upon enrollment and in annual policy renewal letters.
The renewal materials have also regularly included a chart showing the
standard and tobacco-free premium rates. Two years ago, we added a note to
billing statements, as well, indicating whether members are charged the
standard or tobacco-free rate."
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, with headquarters in the St.
Paul suburb of Eagan, was chartered in 1933 as Minnesota's first health
plan and continues to carry out its charter mission today: to promote a
wider, more economical and timely availability of health services for the
people of Minnesota. A not-for-profit, taxable organization, Blue Cross is
the largest health plan based in Minnesota, covering 2.7 million members in
Minnesota and nationally through its health plans or plans administered by
its affiliated companies. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is an
independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association,
headquartered in Chicago. Go to http://www.bluecrossmn.com to learn more
about Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota