Time for hoteliers to "butt" in on e-cigarettes

The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) boasted the largest show floor in its history featuring more than 3,200 exhibitors. It was a sight to see, with a lot of improvements on things we have been hearing about in the industry for quite a while. For example, robots have made some marriages with interactive signs, 3D printers were a big rage and, of course, apps were everywhere. I will talk about this in detail in my next column.

But one product that really stood out to me was the proliferation of e-cigarette vendors, and users, which seemed to me like they were everywhere. While CES might be a place for hot trends to rise one year and fizzle the next, the growth in sales of the e-cigarette will likely make it a habit that’s here to stay. Many large tobacco companies seem to think so as they transition into this market, including: R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Altria (think Marlboro). What this signaled to me is that the hospitality industry should take notice, as we are likely to see a rise in use in our lobbies and restaurants.

The technology used for e-cigs is vaporizing; where, powered by batteries, a nicotine solution is heated up and what is emitted is a water vapor. This byproduct is not seen as detrimental as traditional cigarettes are to one’s health and the surrounding environment. And, because I saw it everywhere when I was in Las Vegas, including interior public spaces, I was curious about how hotels are addressing use.

It did not surprise me that when I looked further into hotel-usage policies, I discovered that they are largely still undefined. There aren’t many blanket policies established by hotel companies. Instead, I found individual hotels give the thumbs up or down to this trend.

Like I mentioned before, the impact of e-cigs is still being explored, both socially and health-wise. The FDA does not regulate these devices, but they are on its radar. In addition, e-cigs are not restricted under most municipal smoking policies, and so can largely be used in places where cigarette smoking is prohibited. Plus, the physical effects of using an e-cig are still unanswered: there are as many studies that say it is harmful to one’s health as those that say it is not.

What stands out is that this is still currently largely unregulated, and as hoteliers, we must consider how it impacts our public spaces.

So, the question must be asked, when developing a policy, what type of environment is your hotel looking to promote? There’s no doubt that “vaping” is gaining traction and allowing it would be seen as a positive to users—especially since there aren’t many public laws disallowing it. On the flip side, you might consider it as a way to promote a healthy environment, which is a popular outlook in many cultures. I would say this is especially true because the health impact of e-cigs is still an unknown quantity.

I don’t expect the regulation of e-cigs to be on the frontier for long. Evidence to this was what I witnessed at CES last month. In December the New York City Council banned the use of e-cigs in spaces where traditional tobacco products are banned. I expect other cities to follow. In the meantime, hoteliers should consider how to address the issue before it clouds up their lobbies.

If you or your company has a policy on e-cigarettes, I’d love to share them. Please tweet it to @frankwolfe.