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Holiday blues

Tuesday April 3, 2012

How would you feel if you were denied alcohol or coffee on holiday? Rose Whiteley explains how difficult it has become for a smoker looking to relax and get away from it all.

Those of us who smoke have had a fair bit to say about the devastating effect the smoking ban has had on our social lives. Going out to the pub or a restaurant is now only worthwhile if a) the weather is decent and b) the establishment provides somewhere at least marginally comfortable to be able to smoke. Most of the time, many of us don’t bother anymore; we socialise at home, instead, or not at all.

I seem to have read much less about the difficulties smoking bans create when trying to book a holiday. I’m a pretty light smoker by most measures – I usually like one after lunch and a couple in the evening, particularly if I have a glass of wine; my partner doesn’t smoke at all. And yet the whole business of booking a holiday has become fraught, even for a moderate smoker like me.

Before you attack my selfishness, dear reader, let me be absolutely clear that those who dislike cigarette smoke should always have their own pleasant spaces where they are not bothered by other peoples’ smoke. I do think there were far too few places where smoking was not allowed in the past, which I fear has led to the current backlash. Each side’s preferences should and could have been taken into account, and could be now. But instead, the pendulum has swung so far the other way that going away from home has become difficult and bothersome, instead of something to look forward to.

So what have hotels of the UK served up for me so far? True, a small number of hotels still provide smoking rooms. But they are few and far between, and when I’m on holiday, I don’t want to have a cigarette sitting on my own in the bedroom, like Billie-no-mates. I want to be able to enjoy a social and pleasant setting (this is a holiday, after all).

So far this has translated into a goodly number of car parks (once, memorably, the ‘smoking area’ was about 200 yards away from the building and offered no shelter at all. It was pouring with rain). One Gatwick hotel only allowed smoking practically on the runway where the wind howled constantly even on a summer’s afternoon.

Ditto another seaside hotel where the “terrace bar” closely resembled a wind tunnel. When I’ve found a hotel that allows smoking somewhere near where I was hitherto enjoying a meal and drink, and even provides a modicum of shelter or warmth, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot … although, in truth, it’s still a pretty miserable experience.

Although the UK smoking ban did not require holiday residences to be non-smoking, it’s even harder to find a self-catering or holiday camp-type holidays where smoking is allowed. Centre Parcs bans smoking almost everywhere on the site – somewhat inconvenient for a site-based holiday.

The only place I have found that advertises smoker-friendly holiday cottages to rent is Sykes Cottages. Thank you Sykes. There are currently 158 cottages listed for the whole of the UK. This seems incredible when there are 12 million smokers in the UK. What are all the other smokers doing for holidays? I spent many hours last week trying to find suitable hotel or self-catering accommodation in the Channel or Scilly Isles, eventually giving up.

Taking a holiday in the UK, then, has become pretty much not worth the investment in time and trouble, and frequently leads to disappointment. But what are the alternatives? Happily, many warm-weather resorts do have nice outside smoking areas; but who can afford to always go on holiday somewhere with guaranteed good weather?

Short-haul holidays eg to mainland Europe are only feasible in summer, and during the other three seasons, a long-haul destination is needed, which is frequently not wanted or affordable. Even then, enquiries have to be made in advance with the hotel to check whether there is a suitable smoking area, and fingers have to be crossed that the person providing the information was being accurate. It’s a bit too late to find out when you get there that the only smoking option is standing by the bins at the back of the hotel.

Holidays which involve cruising or train journeys do of course have their own challenges, and many cruise companies are becoming more and more intolerant, in response no doubt to intolerant holiday makers who, not content with having 90 per cent of the ship no-smoking, demand 100% compliance with their preferences.

And what of holidays in other climes? I would love to go to Norway or the northern parts of the US, for example, but a recent holiday to Switzerland, though lovely, taught me that popping out for a cigarette when it’s 20 below zero is no one’s idea of fun.
Holidays for me have therefore become the very opposite of what they are intended to be: stressful and anxiety-provoking, to the point where I dread my partner saying, “Where are we going to go on holiday next?” And he of course is penalised by having his holiday options severely curtailed through no fault of his own other than being in relationship with someone who smokes little more than a packet of cigarettes a week.

Finally, if you’re reading this thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s only for a week or two” I would ask you to imagine how you would feel if you like to drink say alcohol, or coffee, and going on holiday meant you could only do that nice, relaxing thing while standing outside in a car park or on the road, in all weathers. Does that give you the holiday vibe? I thought not.

*Nominate your favourite smoker-friendly destinations – click here: http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/blog/2012/4/2/wanted-information-about-smoker-friendly-holiday-destination.html

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