Orlando’s Smoking Policy Could Deter Convention Business

The central Florida city, a popular convention site, allows for smoking in local bars and designated hotel rooms, and that’s not sitting well with the American Heart Association.

After wrapping up its 2015 Scientific Sessions conference last week in Orlando, the American Heart Association said it might not return to the Florida city.

At issue are Orlando’s smoking policies. Beginning July 1, 2017, AHA will not meet in destinations that do not have smoke-free workplace laws, Fred Shea, senior vice president of convention sales and services at Visit Orlando, told a local news outlet.

The city may be in a bit of a bind, though. Smoking laws in Florida are regulated by the state, so cities and counties cannot enact tougher policies than those already in place. Current Florida law allows for smoking in standalone bars and designated guest rooms in public lodgings.

“Smoking is prohibited by Florida law in the vast majority of indoor workplaces,” George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando, wrote in an email to Associations Now. “However, approximately 3 percent of Florida bars have received permits to allow smoking. While this prevents Florida from being classified as a 100 percent smoke-free state, it does not in any way reduce the commitment that Orlando’s tourism community and the Orange County Convention Center have to providing smoke-free environments and exceeding our clients’ every need.”

Orlando convention-area business leaders “touched” on the issue at a steering committee meeting late last month, according to the Orlando Business Journal. They acknowledged that the city’s smoking policies could be a future problem given that medical-related conferences such as AHA’s can generate millions of dollars in revenue and attract tens of thousands of attendees. The committee members did not say whether they would directly address the issue, however.

Earlier this year, AHA applauded the New Orleans City Council after it passed an ordinance prohibiting smoking in bars, restaurants, and casinos.

“This is one of the strongest smoke-free laws in the nation,” American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement at the time the ordinance passed. “It sends a clear message to other states and communities that it is time to protect all workers and the public from secondhand smoke—a major risk factor for heart disease.”

Other associations, such as the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, have adopted policies that require conferences and meetings be held in smoke-free locations.

In its official policy, for example, ASTHO stated that it would aim to hold all of its meetings in smoke-free states or cities, and if that’s not possible, the group said it would hold the meeting in a smoke-free facility. “By doing so, ASTHO demonstrates its mission of supporting sound public health policy and supports those states, cities, and businesses that have enacted smoke-free legislation.”


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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