Sunday, August 14, 2011

Smoking on Cruise Ships - Let's Be Realistic

Preface:  I am essentially a non-smoker. I hate to smell smoke when I eat or enjoy a nice glass of wine. I find it offensive when I walk out of my office or a restaurant and need to negotiate around, and smell, smokers. I also hate it when someone else's smoke permiates my clothes. But I do, on limited occassions, enjoy a cigar...so I understand both sides of the following argument. 

Now, the article!

As cruise lines tighten their smoking policies, those on "no smoking" side of the issue seem to be getting more aggressive.  And this aggressive approach is akin to a "zero tolerance" policy...a policy that is generally used in "public" areas where people really do not have a choice whether to be there or not.

There are times that "zero tolerance" is acceptable, but when the argument is based purely on theory it sounds just silly.  What do I mean by this?  It is simple:  The ones that are the most militant about a cruise line's smoking policy are almost always the ones that have never been on the cruise line or ship in question.  It is as if they demand that the cruise line change what works for their overall clientele because that individual may want to cruise on one of its ships...one time at the right price and on a particular itinerary if a particular category of cabin or suite (possible only in a specific location is available).

Unfortunately, these militants overstate, find one person willing to validate (whether true or not) their position and, as a result, a very false sense of what actually happens on a particular cruise ship in relation to smoking is exaggerated beyond any sense of reality.  A valuable discussion so that people can make informed decisions becomes, almost every time, a manifesto on smoking.  I say, "ENOUGH!"  (And, by the way, a good travel agent will be able to tell you the actual state of affairs on a particular ship...because if your travel agent gives you the wrong information...)

I do not want to discuss the detriments of smoking as we all know them, whether we are smokers or non-smokers.  I do not want to discuss the demographics of smokers (young/less educated and older folks are the two most significant groups).  I do not want to discuss the fact that the mass market lines seem to have guests (regardless of smoking policies) arrested for marijuana possession in Bermuda or returning to the United States pretty much every week.  Nor do I want to discuss that some people smoke in undesignated areas of mass market, premium, "ultra premium" and luxury ships (even on allegedly smoke-free lines).

No, what I want to discuss is why the discussion almost invariable focuses on the "theory" of smokers ruining the enjoyment of non-smokers in an outside area about the size of a very large American backyard with a constant breeze when, in actual fact, the effect (smell, smoke, etc.) is actually fairly limited and thus avoidable. 

I observe that if you will not go to a friend's or relative's house because they smoke in their backyard (but not in the house), then you have - justified by physics or not - made your decision.  You will not visit your friend's house, so why would you even consider going on a cruise that permits smoking anywhere?    

It is axiomatic that a cruise line that allows smoking anywhere is not going to be acceptable to you.  Period.  Full Stop.  End of Discussion.  So why go on about it?  It is your right and your decision.  It might even be the correct one (as the effects of second-hand smoke have become more clear).  So just cross Cruise Line X off your list and move on.  Cruise Line X is not going to change its smoking policy for you...You know, the person that has never been on one of its ships.  It is going to cater to its past guests...and when those past guests become less smoke tolerant (and that is the case on all cruise lines) the rules will change. 

Speaking of the change in rules, it was not long ago that smoking was pretty much permitted everywhere.  Then it was in only certain sections of every room, including the dining room.  Then it was restricted further (virtually all lines do not permit smoking in their restaurants).

I do agree, however, that the present rule of allowing smoking on the starboard side of any particular room is a nice theory, but not terribly effective for most people who are smoke intolerant.  But...listen to this...there are actually people that are willing to tolerate some smoke so that they can socialize with their smoking friends; friends that might even walk over to the starboard side to smoke and then go portside to sit and chat with their non-smoking/smoke tolerant friends.  Yes, those folks have desires for their cruise too.

Now, does every cruise line offer this amenity?  You know:  A lounge that allows for smokers and smoke tolerant smokers to gather and enjoy themselves in nice, comfortable, air conditioned areas rather than Option A (nowhere on the ship) or Option B (somewhere on an outside deck...possibly overlooking the stern.  No. For those who would enjoy that amenity, cruise lines that are "smoke free" are not for them.  They cross them off their list; they don't go militant.

Another perspective:  Cruise ships are filled with public and private spaces.  There are spaces I like, some not so much and others I simply have no use for.  I could care less about a space that I would never use.  So it gets me wondering why it is that say Seabourn's Observation Lounge being used for smoking the starboard side is so troublesome, or Churchill's on the Queen Mary 2 or the Connoisseur Club or Starlight Lounge on Regent Seven Seas or various lounges on the Silversea cruise ships or...are so offensive to some.  Just don't use those spaces.  (Heck, if you don't use the spa are you upset by the guy that sweats excessively and smells bad when he works out?  Didn't think so.)

Oh, but then the tricky one:  Balconies.  Oh, what to do?  Here are the facts: 

- The vast majority of cruisers do not smoke. 
- The vast majority of smokers are not chain smokers.
- The vast majority of smokers do not smoke where they are not supposed to.
- The vast majority of smokers are respectful of non-smokers. 
- The vast majority of smokers do not spend time on their balconies chain smoking (whether permitted or not). 

Now, let's take these facts and place them into reality:  The chance of you sitting on your balcony and having an issue with a neighbor smoking is between slim and none...even if smoking is permitted on the cruise line.  And here is a thought:  Can you guess where most people cheat on non-smoking lines?  Balconies!  Might logic be that you have pretty much an equal or greater chance of a smoke wafting onto your balcony on a non-smoking cruise line?

So, having gone through all of this, what is the point?  Seriously, what is the point?

The point is that you can obsess over a cruise line's smoking policy or you can be pragmatic about it.  There are less people smoking and more smokers being understanding of the effects of their habit/vice.  As demographics and social consciousness change, so do cruise lines' rules towards smoking and other issues.  But each line has its own "flavor".  If you believe you will never like vanilla than don't try it...but stop complaining that vanilla is not chocolate.  And remember that some people want to know if it is French Vanilla, Vanilla Bean or whatever.  Your demands that vanilla be chocolate does nothing to assist them or change the physics of the situation.

If you are absolute in your approach to a cruise, or any aspect of a cruise, it is your right.  But as much as "that" smoker may bother you so too might not having your water glass filled or a lounge table not being cleared or...and then you start, as I wrote back in 2009, The List

Cruising is supposed to be an enjoyable experience.  I try to be sure you know what the truth is so that you can spend your time enjoying the process from selecting your cruise through taking it.  Hopefully this will give you a bit of perspective when it comes to the issue of smoking.

What do you think?  Voice your opinion on The Gold Standard Forum.