Smoking tradition at European trade shows in flux, ispo announces limited non-smoking pilot

Increasingly coming under fire from non-smokers as the European Union countries began to confront smoking's dangers, European trade shows have been forced to look at how they do business.
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Increasingly coming under fire from non-smokers as the European Union countries began to confront smoking's dangers, European trade shows have been forced to look at how they do business.

At the same time, without a huge international swell of anti-smoking sentiment, shows such as ispo, the OutDoor show and FIBO are only beginning to tip-toe around the topic of smoking bans, while hoping not to alienate smokers from countries where there is little or no social stigma against it.

The ispo sporting goods trade show in Munich has probably taken the biggest step so far. Show management told SNEWS® at the coming winter show Feb. 6-9 it plans to roll out a pilot program by removing ashtrays in three of 14 halls – B4, B5 and B6 -- those housing the outdoor exhibits and one with part of the ski exhibits. In addition, it will announce in its news services and put up signs "strongly recommending" attendees and exhibitors to refrain from smoking in those halls.  

The action has come partly because of an outcry by several outdoor companies whose executives are staunch anti-smokers, but ispo management also has said that "the overall mood in Germany is changing at the moment, and there are discussions going on to prohibit smoking in public facilities."

The show will place ashtrays and set up a smoking area outside the halls.

"Since the push for a smoke-free ispo has come explicitly from the outdoor exhibitors," ispo outdoor show manager Tobias Groeber told SNEWS®, "we'd like to start this project in the outdoor area. If it's accepted positively from the other areas, then we will look at spreading it successively to other halls.

"With the growing trend in Germany not to smoke in work places or other buildings or to limit where you can smoke, it make sense as a sporting goods show not to ignore requests for this."

Menno van Wyk, CEO of Montrail, called the pilot program "better than expected."

"It's a step forward," he said. "Something is better than nothing, and momentum and progress are good."

BK of Patagonia called it a positive step that will help make people more aware of health and the environment, as well as one that is in keeping with the spirit of outdoors.

"Starting is the most difficult step," said BK, "and small steps are part of the process."

Josh Macht, who has attended the ispo show for fitness manufacturer Vision Fitness, said even representatives from Vision's Taiwan parent company Johnson Health Tech have said they were amazed at the amount of smoking in the halls. Fitness halls are not part of this year's pilot project.

"I would love to see (a smoking ban) extended ispo-wide," Macht said. "We're in the health industry, and it's not healthy to smoke."

Still, Macht adds, "When in Rome, you know,…"

At the FIBO fitness and wellness show put on by Reed Expo in Essen, Germany, in the spring, a spokesman told SNEWS® that the question about smoking was "quite interesting." Mike Seidensticker said in the last few years the show has reduced dramatically the number of ashtrays it puts out in the halls.

"Our experience has been varied," he said. "Heavy smokers only in small numbers let something like (fewer ashtrays) get in their way."

All told, he said, the number of smokers has been dwindling. "Nevertheless, an out-and-out prohibition on smoking wouldn't work in our opinion since so many countries are represented at the show, and smoking or not means something very different in different nations," Seidensticker added.

The OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen in July announced a similar request for attendees to refrain from smoking, but after the first announcement in a pre-show newsletter, no signs or other reminders were visible. The effort was called "token" by attendees since show management didn't even remove ashtrays or "make any effort to change behavior," van Wyk said.

Interesting, however, is that the European Union has begun to take a hard look at smoking, with some countries installing their own strong anti-smoking laws that seem to resemble those of the United States. For example, the United Kingdom is preparing to start smoking bans in buildings, and Ireland a year ago became the first European country to prohibit smoking even in pubs.

SNEWS® View: It honestly only makes sense to make smoking a choice and not submit everyone including non-smokers to the dangers of second-hand smoke. That is especially true at shows or segments of shows that are more about health, outdoors, fitness, sports and being more aware of good health. Still it's not something, considering the European, Asian and Mediterranean traditions of smoking that can be implemented overnight. Even in the United States, it took years to change the social norms. ispo's step for the coming winter show is admirable indeed, and we hope one that not only will expand to the entire show, but will also be watched and copied by other sporting goods and outdoor shows.

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