Smoking On Cruise Ships – A Hot Topic

Smoking on cruise ships is a very “hot” topic in the cruise industry at the moment. The argument over whether smoking should be allowed in certain areas is “igniting” spirits on both sides. Smokers and nonsmokers alike are “smoking” with passion. Terrible puns aside, smoking is a serious issue and today I wanted to help clarify a few points on the smoking topic. Well, here goes nothing.

Many cruisers ask why cruise lines are banning smoking specifically on balconies. The ban on balcony smoking has been around for a while now, but found only on a few lines. One of the first major cruise lines to ban balcony smoking was Princess, which had very good cause to do so. This cliffhanger leads us into reason 1.

Star Princess fire. photo: Cruise Law News

Star Princess fire. photo: Cruise Law News

1) It’s a safety issue. From a safety standpoint, a cigarette can be a very dangerous conduit for fire. This scary reality came to life on the Star Princess in 2006. On 23 March 2006, around 1 am, 1 careless guest left a lit cigarette on their balcony. Unfortunately, the cigarette continued to burn and eventually a fire sprouted, igniting the balcony on fire. The fire soon spread to surrounding balconies, engulfing a large section of the starboard side. Guests were mustered and prepared for evacuation via lifeboats. Luckily, the fire was eventually extinguished and the ship proceeded to Ocho Rios to disembark guests. Sadly, this fire left one guest dead, multiple injured, and around 100 cabins destroyed. All of this from one cigarette left unattended. Princess soon after installed sprinklers on all balconies and banned smoking from cabin balconies. This scary fire began the crack down on balcony smoking. Not only were cruise lines concerned about a cigarette being left out, but cigarettes that may be blown back onboard if they were thrown off the side of the ship. Soon, the Star Princess fire became the poster child for the ban on balcony smoking.

The second cause for the cruise line’s ban can be linked to health risks from guests inhaling secondhand smoke. This will bring us into reason 2.

2) It’s a health issue. While many people complain about the smell from a cigarette, the real danger is the deadly effects it can have on a secondhand smoker. Research from the CDC and the American Cancer Society have shown that exposure to secondhand smoke can cause a 20-30% increase for a secondhand smoker to develop lung cancer. Second hand smoke has also been linked to heart disease in secondhand smokers. Many cruisers can come into contact with this secondhand smoke on their balconies if another cruiser nearby happens to be smoking. This obvious health concern was another reason for the cruise lines to crack down on balcony smoking.

While many people may argue for or against the reasons of banning balcony smoking, they are what they are. Instead of focusing on the reasons why balcony smoking has been banned, many cruisers have become advocates for smoker’s rights. Many suggestions have circulated around, but I wanted to further explain the most popular suggestion that has become public. Ready? Here we go!

100_3845Cruise lines should allow smoking on port side balconies, while designating the starboard side as non smoking. While this suggestion sounds practical in theory, the economics fall flat. Using the latest statistics on adult smokers in the US, research shows that only about 19% of US adults smoke. While not completely accurate, but close enough, if this 19% is applied to a 3,000 guest ship, only around 600 guests would actually be smokers. Therefore, many balconies would go unsold on the port side, due to the low number of smokers actually sailing on the ship. Cruise lines would begin losing extraordinary amount of money on staterooms alone. Plus, the deficit in cruisers would cause huge declines in onboard revenue sailings. Like I said, practical in theory, but unsustainable economically.

Finally, I want to address one statement continuously made that is just inaccurate.

Cruise lines will go out of business due to smoking guests not sailing either in balcony cabins or not at all.

This is completely false. Smoking is on the decline today and the vast majority of the population no longer smokes. There will always be another cruiser willing to fill a cabin given up by another guest. While many smoking advocates cite the failure of the Carnival “Smoke Free” Paradise, you have to keep in mind that the Paradise sailed in times where smoking was much more widespread than today. Based on the national percentage of smokers, the majority of cruisers would deductively be non smoking. So, I don’t think the cruise lines are looking at a huge decline in bookings.

Smoking will continue to be a “hot” topic in the cruise industry with advocates speaking for both sides of the debate. Please feel free to share your thoughts below, but please be respectful to your fellow cruisers. We are all on the same boat together.



Mike Faust

Mike Faust is an avid world traveler, often found traversing city streets in Asia and Europe rather than his home city of Boca Raton. Mike has touched down in 39 countries, set sail on 35 cruises, and flown over 400,000 lifetime miles.