Airbnb, similar rentals may draw smokers as hotels butt out

Nonsmokers who use these services like like Airbnb should always ask if smoking is prohibited and how the ban is enforced, researchers say.

Smoking-permitted lodging tended to be less expensive than smoke-free homes

Availability of smoke-friendly accommodations varied across Canada, researchers found.

People using peer-to-peer services like Airbnb, which link potential guests to hosts offering space in their homes, can find plenty of smoking-friendly lodging in some cities, according to a recent Canadian study.

In Canada and the U.S., many major hotel chains have banned smoking, and several states prohibit smoking in all hotels. Hotels have increasingly gone smoke-free over the last 10 years. This is good for the staff who work in hotels and for guests, said lead author Ryan Kennedy, an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

When it comes to regulating peer-to-peer accommodation services, the public health concern of smoke exposure should be a consideration, he and his colleagues write in the journal Tobacco Control.

Nonsmokers who use these services "should always ask if smoking is prohibited, how smoking bans are monitored and enforced, how long smoking has been prohibited, and where smokers are allowed to smoke, said Georg Matt, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University who studies smoking restrictions but wasn't involved in Kennedy's research.

In April 2016, the study team searched Airbnb listings in 12 Canadian cities across all provinces. They looked for various types of lodging available in June, including private rooms and entire homes or apartments, noting whether smoking was permitted and also the price of the rooms.

Availability of smoke-friendly accommodations varied widely, and smoking-permitted lodging tended to be less expensive than smoke-free homes.

In Regina, Fredericton and Charlottetown, no listings permitted smoking. In five cities — Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa and St. John's — less than 10 per cent of listings allowed guests to smoke. In larger cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, the proportion of smoking-allowed rooms was much greater, making up 18 per cent, 45 per cent and 69 per cent of listings, respectively.

While some cities listed similar prices for smoking or non-smoking rooms, others had a significant price gap.

Vancouver's was the biggest — the average cost to rent a smoke-free private room for one night was $128, while the cost of a private room that allowed smoking was $62.

The team also looked at the reviews section of each listing and noted that hosts often commented on exactly where smoking was allowed. Most specified that smoking was only allowed outside.

A few guest reviews included negative comments about smoke smell or cigarette butts in the home.

But overall, the researchers note, Airbnb users do not commonly discuss tobacco smoke issues in the online reviews for smoking-permitted venues, suggesting guests and hosts are largely working out expectations around tobacco use.

 The Airbnb platform does not give guests the option to choose smoke-free rooms and cannot guarantee that listings are smoke-free, Matt said. For nonsmoking guests, concerns include exposure to third-hand smoke toxicants left behind by previous guests that have accumulated in carpets, walls, pillows, upholstery, etc.,Matt said by email.

For Airbnb guests — if you want to stay in a smoke-free environment be sure to ask the host explicitly if smoking ever takes place inside, Kennedy advised in an email. For Airbnb hosts — in most markets, not permitting smoking is associated with higher average prices and more bookings, he added.