Outdoor Trade Shows

Time to ban smoking in ispo halls? Debate continues across the pond

Despite being a sports trade show -- and the largest and most international at that -- ispo is in Europe and many Europeans look at smoking a little differently than Americans. Forbid smoking? Mon Dieu! Mein Gott! Ach du lieber!

With Summer ispo around the corner, if you’re headed that way, steel yourself and your lungs for another cigarette smoke-filled week.

Despite being a sports trade show — and the largest and most international at that — ispo is in Europe and many Europeans look at smoking a little differently than Americans. Forbid smoking? Mon Dieu! Mein Gott! Ach du lieber!

All of the halls — whether skateboard, fitness, fashion or outdoor — are fully equipped with ashtrays and many attendees and exhibitors alike light up and wander the aisles and booths with cigarette in hand and smoke tailing around and behind them. Many Europeans are simply accustomed to it as a more ingrained part of their culture and can’t understand the debate, they told SNEWS in an informal survey done recently. Some exhibiting Americans said they are ready to leap out of booths, grab the smokes out of passers-by hands, and stomp them out.

“This is the 21st century. Talking about massive denial,” Montrail CEO Menno Van Wyk told SNEWS after Winter ispo in February. “I’m tired of the denial and the excuses. Ispo’s building should be smoke-free.”

Van Wyk is perhaps one of the more vocal opponents of smoking and wastes no time wherever he is — Europe included — speaking up against it. At the winter show, he removed all ashtrays from his booth’s vicinity. Fortunately for him, his booth was on an aisle facing a door and, for the run of the show, he and his neighboring exhibitor had an unspoken ongoing duel: Van Wyk opened the door for fresh non-smoky air, his neighbor closed it. Back and forth it went for four days.

But ispo management has to walk a fine line down the middle, trying to balance the customs of Americans, many of whom are used to smoking bans even in bars and more of whom don’t smoke, and Europeans and Asians who feel smoking is a cultural right and many of whom won’t think twice about lighting up without even asking.

For the summer ispo show, ispo management will make no changes in policy, said Tobias Groeber, director of several sports segments, including outdoor, running, fitness and bike. But the debate is one they are aware of.

“The issue is familiar to us and we will attempt in the near future to figure out something that will work for both sides,” Groeber told SNEWS. “That could mean limiting smoking in the halls in some way, but right now things haven’t moved as far in that direction in Europe as it has in America.

“Generally more and more people here also want to limit smoking,” Groeber said. “The wellness/fitness movement in Europe is increasing in strength, and more and more of the public is aware of it. A compromise would make sense: Not totally prohibit smoking, but limiting it to certain areas, perhaps outside, and not allow it in the halls themselves.

Despite ispo management eyeing compromises as the show grows stronger and more international, some see the entire debate as stuff and nonsense from nutty Americans — even other Americans.

“I can’t believe this is an issue,” said Peter Sachs, general manager, Lowa Boots LLC, “In Germany the rules regarding smoking indoors at public functions are much different than they are here in the US. Basta. That is how it is.

“I personally do not like smoking. I hate to go to those shows and wear a nice wool sweater because it comes home smelling like an ashtray,” Sachs added. “But, it is not my position to tell the Germans they can’t smoke in their booth or in their show. That is the custom in Germany and if you want to do business there or in many other places in the world, there are things you will have to put up with including smoking in trade shows. Of course if you don’t wish to be a buyer or seller, stay home. The Germans will not miss more arrogant Americans telling them what to do, being the world’s policeman or conscience on yet another issue.”

Other Europeans may not approve, but also go with what’s custom in the country where they are guest, such as George Crawford-Smith, sales and development director for Bridgedale of Ireland: “Personally I don’t approve of smoking in business meetings including at trade shows. However, when it happens I tolerate it. Bridgedale staff who smoke go outside.”

But others also look toward compromises as a wave of the future.

“I think that the individual exhibiting companies should be able to request that people not smoke in their booths or possibly request that they be located in designated smoke-free areas within each hall,” said Isis’s co-founder Poppy Gall, who was at ispo for the first time as a winner of a BrandNew award and (literally) breathed a sigh of relief to be back in the US in a smoke-free environment. “I think that European countries should come to terms with the long term health care implications and expenses caused by the smoking habit.”

Bernd Wodarz, sales manager for Germany-based Mammut, said that the company doesn’t encourage smoking in the booth, and he likes the idea of limiting smoking to certain areas in the halls. However, he added, some nationalities may have a hard time doing without the nicotine, particularly while doing business.

Another American exhibiting at ispo was less tactful in his distaste of smoking: “Someone has to get the Europeans to understand that smoking stinks. Phillip Morris has a better PR and marketing team in Europe than here, that’s for sure.”

SNEWS View: We think that although the show is in Germany that if it wants to truly accommodate all attending nations, a compromise is in order. That could mean, as ispo management says it may consider, limiting smoking to common walkways and outside and prohibiting it in the exhibitor halls. If airlines can prohibit smoking on some very long flights, then asking someone to do without for an hour or two and asking them to step outside when they are nicotine-starved shouldn’t be too much to ask. We ourselves at the winter show would walk down halls, see a cloud of smoke in our path and hold our breath until we were through it. Nevertheless, we still came home with suitcases, clothing, and even paperwork that reeked of cigarette smoke.