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Smoking Ban Can Benefit Bottom Line

Twenty-four percent of Americans over the age of 18 smoke cigarettes, down from 42 percent three decades ago. Increasing numbers of restaurants and hotels are discovering that posting "no smoking" signs is good for business.

The Comfort Inn Midtown in New York City has joined a growing list of hotels nationwide that are advertising themselves as "totally smoke free."

Vijay Dandapani, the head of Apple Core Hotels, which owns the Comfort Inn, says it is cheaper to operate a hotel that bans smoking. "I would venture to say as much as five to seven percent cheaper," he said, "when you add the cost of labor and materials that goes into cleaning a room that has been smoked in."

There are other financial benefits. Mr. Dandapani believes demand for smoke-free lodging is so great, especially among wealthier consumers, he will soon be able to raise room rates. "I would be more hesitant if I were operating in, say, Rome, Italy. Italians are inveterate smokers. The United States is a very non-smoker-friendly country. I have gotten unsolicited mail from around the country saying that they are so pleased to hear of this and they will stay in our hotel," said the innkeeper.

U.S. anti-smoking activist John Banzaf says Americans' attitudes on smoking have changed gradually during the past 30 years. In 1972, the first non-smoking sections were set up on commercial airplanes.

Then, he said, in the 1980s, when studies indicated inhaling second-hand smoke could harm non-smokers, smoke-free areas began proliferating in offices, hotels, and restaurants. "What happens when you ban smoking as a restaurant?" he said. "There have now been a number of careful studies which look at the taxable revenues - what really happened - and they have found no significant decrease when restaurants go non-smoking."

Today, the United States has more non-smoking restraints than any other country, and he says, as a result, a smaller percentage of smokers. "Restrictions on smoking protect non-smokers," said Mr. Banzaf. "They save an awful lot of money. They deter smoking. And we are now seeing that they are widely accepted, things we could not have believed would happen 10 years ago [that] now we take for granted."

Mr. Banzaf is hopeful that more businesses will take those factors into consideration in the future.