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April 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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What to Do with Smoking Divers

do they have a right to light up on a liveaboard?

from the April, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Subscriber Walt Brenner (Jackson, GA) copied us on a letter he wrote to Frank Van der Linde, owner of Worldwide Dive and Sail, about his trip aboard the S/Y Philippine Siren last fall, and how the smoking almost ruined it. "Smoking all over the boat and at all times, by crew and a few guests, was intolerable. The captain, whose open helm is in the dining room, smoked like a furnace. Smokers were encountered in the dive gear area, and smoke could be sensed just about everywhere else on the boat above deck. We had several meetings on this issue with the trip hostess, but it seems that without a clear management policy, there was little she could do to improve the situation. I have been on more than 25 liveaboards, and I believe this was the only one that did not have one designated smoking spot for guests and crew. I had a 'smoker's hack' during the entire trip, even coughing into my mask while underwater. Not a pleasant memory."

Tales of nonstop smoking by dive crew in the Asia Pacific are common, as are complaints about European divers lighting up without care.Like Brenner said, the majority of dive boats has smoking rules and designated smoke spots, but are they enough? We asked Undercurrent readers what they thought about smoking. Surprising to us nonsmokers, the responses show that American divers are divided on the matter.

For and Against a Smoking Ban

"I feel it's unacceptable to allow smoking on a boat that supports diving and snorkeling," says Jim Elliott (Encinitas, CA). "The times I have experienced someone smoking, it led to a miserable topside experience, and because of my sensitivity to secondhand smoke, difficulty during the initial phases of my next dive."

Fred Turoff (Philadelphia, PA) says smoking should be banned from all boats, "which would promote health and reduce offending those of us who don't smoke. Often smokers light up while chatting with other divers, not caring where the smoke blows, so I end up moving." It can get even more dangerous when a crewmember is smoking, he says. "The worst example of smoking while working a dive boat that I've seen occurred with one of the crew at Bastianos Diving Resort in Lembeh Strait several years ago. This fellow had a lit cigarette on the boat heading to a dive site, and was positioned over an open gas container. When it was pointed out, he just covered the opening with a cloth rather than extinguishing his cigarette!"

"What another person does to themselves is no business of mine, but when the by-products negatively affect me and ruin a dive trip I have travelled long distances to take part in, there is going to be trouble," says Jerre Sadler (Lakeland, FL). "I've been on a Bahamas liveaboard where the tank-filling crew smoked like an old diesel, causing the air we breathed underwater to reek of stale tobacco. I don't care where the offenders are from in the world, I will not put up with their tobacco smoke that bothers me on a dive trip."

Then there's the freedom-of-choice group, like Bill Stallone (Lakeville, MN), who says, "I do not smoke; however, there are generally spots outside on the dive boat that allow smoking. I don't see what the big deal is if someone is smoking in that area. When we charter, we all know we are going to be in a public place. As long as smoking is legal, people can and will smoke. If one doesn't want to be with smokers, he should book with a dive operation that doesn't allow smoking. I would much rather be on a boat with smokers than drunks."

Sure, there are valid points of views about individual freedom, Big Government and such, but should those really apply when one's individual freedom is a health hazard to everyone around them? Paul McFall (Cummings, GA) thinks so. "Our society is getting to the point where Big Brother is telling us what to do, what to eat, where to live, how to live, etc. I don't like it when people chew gum around me, does that mean everyone should be banned from chewing gum in the presence of other people? We once had a country devoted to individual freedom, now it is getting more like a nanny state ruled by pussies."

"If the smokers use the designated places to smoke, then leave them alone, says David Reazor (Chesterfield, MI). "Non-smokers have the right to enjoy the time on the boat and not be around smokers, but they do not have the right to prohibit smokers from smoking. I have heard non-smokers complain, be rude and state that people should not smoke, it's bad for their health, etc. Most of these happen to be Americans, the same ones who use tons of plastic that often winds up in the oceans, but if you smoke, you are killing the world." Not to mention this country's obesity problem. "I would rather rescue a thin smoker than an overweight diver."

But what if that smoker ruins your day of diving, asks Yvonne Lanelli (Alto, NM). "While diving at Bohol in the Philippines, one of the divers on my boat was a fortyish female who smoked from the time she got on the boat until she put her regulator in her mouth. After 10 minutes at 45 feet, she signaled low on air, and the divemaster had the entire group surface. As soon as she was aboard, the regulator came out and the cigarette went in. After our surface interval, we dived the second dive and again, after 10 minutes, she signaled low on air and everyone came up. I spoke to the divemaster about having to curtail our dives. He didn't reply, only shrugged and took another pull on his cigarette."

Liveaboards and Their Layouts

We asked liveaboard fleets what their smoking policies were. Clay McCardell, president of Explorer Ventures, sums it up for U.S.-owned and operated ones. "Although we do allow it on each vessel, smoking is strictly limited to an outside area chosen to minimize or eliminate its impact on other guests. We very rarely get any comments or complaints regarding this policy, from either smokers or nonsmokers. I would imagine the limited space on day boats presents different issues, but aboard a larger vessel where smoking on the stern, for example, eliminates the possibility of smoke bothering other guests -- and assuming that the area is kept clean -- we rarely have an issue. We've found that smokers are fairly good about making sure that no one present takes offense."

That may be true, but some liveaboards may be built and organized better than others to accommodate both smokers and nonsmokers. Those who hate secondhand smoke may need to research beyond the smoking policy and see the boat's dimensions and layout, says Dave Thompson (New Smyrna Beach, FL). "On liveaboards, the smoking area tends to be on the top deck. If that area is partly enclosed, it becomes inaccessible to nonsmokers, unless you like secondhand smoke. Sitting elsewhere on the upper deck, you inevitably get some whiffs of smoke, even if you're upwind."

Lin Dysinger (Wasilla, AK) says, "I have been on a small boat, where the only place where I wasn't subject to smoke was during my dive and in my cabin. I have been on boats where I was forced to enter through a smoke cloud to get to my food, to the dive deck, the sun deck and into my cabin. I have been on a boat where the one place where smoking wasn't allowed was in the dining hall, but smoking right outside the door was just fine. I have found secluded spaces only to have them found soon after by smokers. While peacefully enjoying my morning coffee it was usually interrupted by a smoker, so I would sit inside to avoid the smoke and miss out on the morning sunshine."

Eric Ressner (St. Louis, MO) remembers how half of the Okeanos Aggressor was taken by a dive group of Germans and Austrians who smoked continuously, but he suffered in silence. "The boat had a designated smokers area, aft on the upper deck, but that was about the only decent spot for sitting and relaxing outside the salon. The divers were scrupulous about adhering to the restrictions, so I can't blame them, but it did leave us wanting. Still, they were otherwise delightful companions, and we probably wouldn't have met them if the boat had a strict no-smoking policy."

That sums up the dilemma for divers. Does others' smoking ruin your entire dive trip, or is it a minor nuisance you'll suffer in order to dive the world and meet other divers? We don't know of any no-smokingallowed liveaboards so if your group really wants to get away from smokers, probably the only way to do so is to charter the entire boat. If you don't mind so much, it's still a good idea to check with the dive boat before booking about their smoking policies and designated areas (many liveaboards only ban smoking in the indoor salons, cabins and dive decks).

Dive operators should be willing to listen to and accommodate both parties, says Ray Moore (Independence, MO). "They should inform all customers what they allow or don't allow, and let the customer make the decision."

- - Vanessa Richardson

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