The Smoking Gun
Date: 15-09-2015
With hotel guests across the world becoming sensitive about indoor air quality – especially when it comes to smoking - hotels too must take into account the importance and solutions to the ever-green debate of smoking vs. non-smoking rooms, observes Pamini Hemaprabha, Executive Housekeeper and Rooms Specialist, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates. 
Earlier this year, under the antitobacco law, the UAE Ministry of Health imposed a ban on smoking in public areas and indoor spaces. Moreover, establishments were asked to not provide smoking rooms, ashtrays and the likes in their premises, and no-smoking signs were made mandatory. Despite this, health experts have claimed that smoking habits have been on the rise in the country, attributing it to the growing popularity of sheesha.


Third-hand smoke

While we have all heard about passive or second-hand smoke, not much is known about third-hand smoke. Extensive research has been carried out on this concept, which is the long-term pollution of indoor environments with carpets, furniture, curtains, mattresses, wallpaper, and even drywall becoming reservoirs of tobacco toxicants long after the last cigarette has been extinguished. In fact, studies have shown that places like airports that allow smoking rooms or designated smoking spots in airport restaurants, still expose their non-smoking travelers and employees to surprisingly high levels of cigarette smoke. And, a 2002 study found that these toxic brews can reemit back into the air and recombine to form harmful chemical compunds that remain at high levels long after smoking has stopped occurring.
One of the largest pools of victims is formed by hotel guests. While beautiful, swanky, 5-star hotels across the UAE and international have to mandatorily allot some rooms for non-smoking patrons, in the UAE, the average proportion of smoking to non-smoking rooms remains 70:30. Research has found that tobacco smoke cannot be confined to a hotel room but may spread to adjacent and other non-smoking rooms, hallways, ventilation systems, windows and even utility ducts. Despite immense care taken by the housekeeping teams across hotels, it has been seen that the public remains largely ignorant of third-hand smoke. A study published in Tobacco Control – an international peer review journal – some time ago, found that hotels that have a partial smoking ban have two times higher nicotine levels on their hotel room surfaces than hotels with a complete smoking ban. The researchers studied the air quality and nicotine residue on the surfaces of smoking and non-smoking rooms in 30 hotels with partial smoking bans and 10 hotels with total smoking bans in California. They also took urine and finger swipe samples from non-smoking participants who spent the night in the hotels to assess their exposure to nicotine.
Not surprisingly, levels of nicotine in the air were much higher in smoking than in non-smoking rooms, but levels in non-smoking rooms in hotels with partial bans were still 40 per cent higher than in hotels with complete bans. The non-smokers who stayed in hotels with partial bans also had higher levels of nicotine and tobacco byproducts such as cotinine in their urine and finger residue samples. Rooms that previously housed smokers retained traces of nicotine and other potential cancer-causing compounds (third-hand exposure) that were up to 35 times higher than levels found in hotels that enforced a complete ban on smoking.

The solution

Public health experts say that the only effective way to clear the air will be to eliminate indoor smoking altogether. While the obvious suggestion is that non-smokers choose hotels with complete smoking bans, the list of such establishments is minimal to say the least. So, far news reports suggest that specific Westin and Marriott properties in the U.S. and Canada have introduced a nosmoking policy since a while now. However, in the peak season, we are sometimes compelled to allow smoking patrons to occupy nonsmoking rooms. Therein lies the dilemma – what if the patron does smoke in the non-smoking room? While it may seem like a minor issue, the sensitivity to air pollution – both public and indoors – in the average patron, might prove this to be a cause of concern. It has been noted, in the UAE and internationally, that smokers who use non-smoking rooms, despite being warned about the room being for non-smokers, do continue to smoke in their rooms. Several hotels, especially abroad, also impose a penalty on such guests; however, sometimes guests dispute the charges and if charged on their credit card, get it reversed.
American Lawyer, Professor, Author, Keynote Speaker and Entrepreneur, Stephen Barth has, in a news report, suggested that must ask guests who are checking in to sign a document – or a new clause on an existing checkin document – that makes it clear that smoking cigarettes in a room and disposing used cigarettes in the hotel room trash can is banned and can result in additional charges.
Another option is for the housekeeping team to take matters into their hands. We can invest in devices that are now creeping into the market. For instance, a company FreshAir Sensors from New Hampshire, USA, has created a sophisticated smoke detection unit that can be hand held or fixed to a wall and send out Wi-Fi alerts as to when tobacco or marijuana smoke is detected. The company plans to launch two versions of this device – one later this year – and the other in 2016. The battery-powered, handheld unit communicates with the central system by Bluetooth connection to an Android phone. The other unit is a plug-in device that covers over and replaces a standard two-plug power outlet. It attaches via tamper-resistant screws, draws its own power from one outlet and provides a pass-through power outlet from the second. A wearable unit, too, will be launched to detect in real time nicotine from secondhand cigarette smoke or components of marijuana smoke. It records smoking events to internal memory so that a permanent record of time-stamped smoking events is retrievable.
This not only helps us detect tobacco smoke but allows us to assess a room before it is allotted to a nonsmoking guest.
The dilemma is not so much one if hotels are clear in their outlook – if they are looking for a casual revenue stream to boost business, then penalizing guests makes no sense, neither does investing in a device. However, if they are looking at preventing damage to their hotel rooms and reputation – policies regarding smoking vs. non-smoking must be strictly put in place.
Pamini Hemaprabha, Executive Housekeeper and Regional Rooms Specialist MENA, Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates

A professionally qualified Hotel Management graduate from India, Pamini Hemaprabha is a housekeeper with 11 years of hotel experience gained with international leading groups of Five Star hotels. Having worked in India, Egypt & UAE, Pamini has managed to nurture innovation in the field of housekeeping. She is currently employed with Kempinski Hotel Mall of Emirates as an Executive Housekeeper, Regional Rooms Specialist for the region Middle East Africa & Master Trainer for Housekeeping Essentials Worldwide for Kempinski Group of hotels.