Business finds 'please don't smoke' is profitable

To Lyndon Sanders, tobacco smoke is bad business. In his Dollar Inn motel in Albuquerque, N.M., the no-smoking section attracts 20 percent more customers and costs 30 percent less to clean than the smoking section.

The figures were so convincing that he is building the nonsmokers Inn in Dallas - perhaps the first US motel to ban all smoking, even the presence of tobacco, from the premises.

''Please don't smoke'' used to be a matter of courtesy. But it's becoming a slogan for profit. Increasingly, businesses are finding that catering to nonsmokers can boost revenue and cut costs.

All guests at Mr. Sanders's inn will be required to sign an agreement not to smoke. If they do, he plans to throw them out and charge a $100 cleaning fee.

''They're going to find out we mean business,'' he says. Admittedly, he dislikes tobacco smoke. But, ''I'm a businessman, too,'' he says, ''and I know (the inn) is going to make money.'' When the motel opens its doors, probably in January, Sanders expects to attract large numbers of non-smokers to the 134-room facility with the promise of clean air and a $28-a-night rate for a single room.

Muse Air in Texas is a completely no-smoking airline.

''Our maintenance people are just amazed,'' says Lamar Muse, chairman of the board of Muse Air. Since the airline began operating in July, it hasn't had to change seat covers, Mr. Muse says. Replacement of aisle runners is much less frequent than the monthly average for other airlines.

''I'm no crusader or anything like that,'' Muse says. ''I did this strictly from a marketing standpoint.'' Based upon a recent survey, 76 percent of the airline's passengers prefer the total ban on smoking.

New York Air, one of the new discount airlines, says it saves $100,000 a year in fuel costs by sending its non-smoking passengers to the back of the plane. The airline finds its non-smoking section attracts more passengers, and more weight in the back balances the plane better.

In contrast to Muse and Sanders, many businesses are reluctant to restrict smoking, even partially, for fear of offending their smoking customers, observers say.

In Arizona, for example, it took non-smokers' rights advocate Betty Carnes several years of letter writing and personal lobbying to convince Arizona banks to ban smoking in their lobbies. Earlier this year the state's largest bank initiated the ban in all of its 215 branches. Customers cannot smoke when waiting in lines and employees cannot smoke when dealing with customers. Other Arizona banks have since followed suit, says Mrs. Carnes.

Many restaurants are also finding it advantageous to put in non-smoking areas.

''Everybody likes being given the option of a non-smoking section,'' says Roger Berkowitz, an owner of Legal Seafood restaurants in the Boston area. One of the restaurants recently increased the section 5 percent.

The National Restaurant Association encourages members to voluntarily set up no-smoking areas, says the association's legislative analyst, Libby Hendrix. However, the association is against measures, currently in 12 states, that legislate non-smoking areas in restaurants.

For their part, many smokers' groups look with forgiving eye on businessses who voluntarily restrict smoking.

''That seems to be a trend,'' says Anne Browder, assistant to the president of the Tobacco Institute. ''I don't have any argument with that because as a consumer I have the right to patronize that business or not patronize it.''

But the institute does object to ''attempts to legislate, to control lifestyle'' of smokers, she says.

Preliminary figures of a study by two Seattle University professors show that smoking employees cost businesses an average $4,500 more than nonsmokers.

Although it varies widely from job to job, the primary cost is time lost on the job, says C. Patrick Fleenor, associate professor of management at Seattle's Albers School of Business. The study estimates smokers lose an average 35 minutes of work each day because of their habit.

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