Group says smoke-free law hasn't hurt Hawaii tourism
Another group counters claims that the law has caused a drop in Japanese tourism
The group that spearheaded the state's new Smoke-Free Workplaces Law is tackling one of the visitor industry's biggest worries about the law -- the extent of its effect on Japanese tourism.
The Coalition for A Tobacco-Free Hawaii plans a campaign to counter concerns that Japanese visitors are staying away because of the smoking law, which went into effect last December.
Some tour wholesalers say they've seen signs that the law is indeed causing Japanese group-travel organizers to look elsewhere.
But others who study tobacco use in Japan say Hawaii's law is in tune with changes in the hospitality industry in that country as well.
The Coalition for A Tobacco-Free Hawaii, the organization that spearheaded the state's new Smoke-Free Workplaces Law, is taking on one of the visitor industry's major concerns about the controversial measure -- its impact on Japanese tourism.
The law, which went into effect last December, has been blamed by some for the continuing decline in Japanese visitor arrivals.
While many U.S. states, as well as many cities in Japan, have passed anti-smoking legislation, the requirements in Hawaii are quite stringent. Hawaii's law requires clear designation of areas where smoking is permitted and prohibits smoking within 20 feet of doorways, windows and ventilation intakes to prevent second-hand smoke drifting into enclosed areas.
Deborah Zysman, executive director for the Coalition for A Tobacco-Free Hawaii, said her organization is planning a campaign to counter concerns that Japanese visitors are staying away due to the smoking law. It expects to present a positive-impact study to state tourism officials and legislators next year.
State Tourism Liaison Marsha Wienert, who met with the coalition during their quarterly conference yesterday at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Hotel, said that despite anecdotal comments from Japan tour wholesalers, the state has not seen any proof that the new law is behind the decline in Japanese visitor traffic since the end of 2005.
"A healthy environment can only be good for tourism -- you hear that wherever you are," Wienert said. "Continuing to provide that healthy environment will benefit everyone."
Corporations like Marriott International Inc., which has banned smoking in all of its hotel rooms, are further proof that there's a market for a clean environment, Zysman said.
While Wienert the coalition and others see mainly benefits in the law, not everyone agrees.
Akio Hoshino, senior vice president of Jalpak, said that while the legislation does not appear to have much of an impact on free and independent travelers, it is still causing declines in Hawaii's all-important group travel market. When group travel organizers find out about Hawaii's smoking restrictions they look elsewhere, he said.
"They want to make sure that all members of their group will be happy," he said.
Professor Mark Levin of the University of Hawaii's William S. Richardson School of Law, an expert on tobacco control in Japan, said there has been nothing to substantiate that Japanese tourism has dropped because of Hawaii's Smoke-Free Workplaces Law.
"The new law is a tourism-promoting measure since it makes Hawaii a more attractive and desirable location for the vast majority of Japanese people who do not smoke," Levin said.
While there is still a high smoking level among older Japanese business men, they have encountered smoking restrictions in Japan and other destinations as well, he said.
All Nippon Airways Co., Japan's second-largest airline, recently decided to make its premier resort in Okinawa non-smoking, Levin said.
"Nobody has their ear closer to the ground about what Japanese individuals and tours want for resort experiences than ANA," he said.
But Jolyn Tenn, chairwoman of the Hawaii Smokers Alliance, said the issue is much broader than just Hawaii tourism. The legislation has the potential to create economic and quality-of-life issues for Hawaii's residents as well, she said.
"I know a guy who worked in a Japanese karaoke bar and got fired when the new law went into effect," Tenn said. "Business just dropped at his establishment."
Tenn, who is an avid smoker herself, said the legislation has hurt business for many Hawaii bars and other adult venues. She said 107 out of 167 Hawaii bars she surveyed told her that they've seen a drop in business as a result of the restrictions.
The Hawaii Smokers Alliance and the Hawaii Bar Owners Association urged lawmakers to exempt bars from the law, but without success, she said.
However, Zysman said that she has gotten kudos from some Hawaii bar and club owners.
"They say that their employees are sick less and that they aren't getting burnt on the legs," she said. "Also, they haven't had to replace their furnishings nearly as often."