Seabourn the latest cruise line to ban in-room smoking

By Tom Stieghorst
The smoking lamp has just about gone out for passengers who want to light up in their cabin.

Seabourn Cruises, the last major holdout among U.S. cruise lines, announced that starting next February, it will longer allow smoking in staterooms on its six ships.

Passengers will still be able to smoke on verandas, with some exceptions, and in designated public areas on deck and on terraces.

The policy was changed, spokesman Bruce Good said, “based on feedback from Seabourn’s guests and travel professional partners and to better align us with consumer trends.”

Seabourn was just about the only North American cruise line that still allowed in-cabin tobacco use.

The trend to curb smoking mirrors restrictions on land in the U.S., where the habit has declined and concerns about the effects of secondhand smoke have increased.

About 18% of the adult U.S. population smoked last year, down from 45% in the early 1950s.

Maurice Zarmati, a longtime Carnival Cruise Lines executive and currently senior global consultant to Costa Cruises, recalled that at one time, smoking was completely unrestricted on ships.

“It was overwhelmingly up to the individual,” Zarmati said.

Today, in the U.S., the tables are turned, and nonsmokers are increasingly dictating the smoking regime on ships. The move to ban smoking in cabins gained momentum in 2011 when Carnival, Princess and Holland America Line all outlawed it.

Now the battleground has moved to the balconies, where Disney Cruise Line and Cunard Line have become the latest to enact a smoking ban. Disney’s new constraints start Nov. 15.

Cunard is waiting until after its 2014 world cruises. Next year, effective on Queen Victoria from April 28, and on Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth from May 9, balcony smoking will be banned.

“This change .. means that all passengers will be able to enjoy full use of their private balconies, without the effect of drifting smoke” from a nearby balcony, Cunard said in a statement.

There isn’t a consensus yet. Balcony smoking is still allowed on Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, the three biggest players.

Smoking rules began to change in the 1980s. As on land, smoking at sea was first restricted in the dining rooms, which were divided into smoking and nonsmoking sections.

Carnival Cruise Lines took a big leap forward in 1997 when it made one ship, the Carnival Paradise, completely smoke-free. That lasted five years, but pricing lagged other ships of its class.

“If you throw a party and not that many people come, you have to throw a different party,” Carnival Cruise Lines’ then-president Bob Dickinson said at the time.

Today, the practice is to keep most areas smoke-free, but have a few open deck spots or spaces in some bars and casinos reserved for smoking.

This works even in Europe, Zarmati said. Few smokers will refuse to cruise if they have some venue for their habit, he said.

“There are some, but I have to think the percentages are small,” he said.

Even so, some of the most promising new markets for cruise lines are countries like Japan and Korea, where smoking rates are much higher than in the U.S.

A Princess Cruises spokeswoman said there had been no accommodations made for a series of Japan cruises on the Sun Princess this summer.

China has the most smokers of any country, about 350 million. If that market takes off, it could be a challenge for Western cruise firms.

“It would be interesting to understand how the Chinese operators handle it, or how they handle the nonsmokers,” Zarmati said.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 
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