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Smoking Policies and Secondhand Smoke in Hotel Rooms

Institution: San Diego State University Research Foundation
Investigator(s): Georg Matt, Ph.D.
Award Cycle: 2008 (Cycle 17) Grant #: 17RT-0162H Award: $522,544
Subject Area: Public Health, Public Policy, and Economics
Award Type: Research Project Awards

Initial Award Abstract
California law allows hotels and motels to designate up to 65% of guestrooms as smoker rooms. Very little is currently known about how hotels use this exemption from the smoke-free workplace law. There is also no research on whether designated smoker guestroom policies protect nonsmoking guests and housekeeping workers from secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure. Based on existing studies of apartment buildings, restaurants, and bars, we know that tobacco smoke can drift to nearby rooms through hallways, windows, and leaks between rooms. Since smoker rooms are meant for smokers, the repeated and frequent smoking in these rooms allows toxic SHS components to build up on surfaces and in dust. This lingering SHS can often be noticed as an unpleasant odor of stale tobacco smoke upon entering a smoker room or floor in a hotel.

The proposed study will be the first to examine smoking policies in hotels. Several upscale hotel chains recently opted to become 100% smoke-free (e.g., Westin, Marriot, Disney). However, few budget and economy hotels have done so. This study will conduct telephone interviews with 375 general managers of hotel properties in California to determine how many are smoke-free, how smoking policies are communicated to guests and employees, and how policies are monitored and enforced. This will also be the first study to examine whether tobacco used in designated smoker rooms leads to SHS pollution in nonsmoker rooms and SHS exposure of nonsmoking hotel guests and employees. To examine these questions, we will study 70 guestrooms in 40 hotels in San Diego to determine levels of SHS pollution in smoker and nonsmoker rooms and SHS exposure of nonsmoking guests and housekeeping workers.

This study has important public health and policy implications. Findings will help to explain how California hotels are dealing with tobacco use on their properties and if existing practices are effective in protecting nonsmokers. Findings can inform future policies to achieve smoke-free indoor spaces. This study will also contribute to the scientific understanding of lingering SHS, the transfer of SHS within a building, and the exposure of nonsmokers to lingering SHS.