Avis Budget says smoking in its rental cars will set you back a whopping $250

Nonsmokers who travel often find themselves frustrated once they unlock the car they've just rented at the airport. After a few hours of lounges, gates, and airborne cabins mercifully free of secondhand smoke, travelers slide behind the wheel and wonder how nobody at the rental agency has noticed that the interior smells like a Las Vegas casino.

Fans of fresh-smelling car interiors, rejoice: Two of the biggest players in the rental-car business are banning smoking in their fleets, starting next month, and will impose a $250 cleaning fee for anyone who chooses to light up in that freshly scrubbed Ford Fusion or Dodge Caravan.
Avis Rent A Car and Budget Rent A Car, both units of Avis Budget Group (CAR), will prohibit smoking in vehicles rented in the U.S. and Canada effective Oct. 1 -- an industry first, says USA Today. "We receive more customer requests for smoke-free vehicles than any other 'special request,'" said Larry De Shon, executive vice president for operations. The new policy is being put in place with customers' comfort in mind, he said. Employees and contractors, too, will be banned from smoking in the companies' fleets.

But how will it be enforced? What prevents a rental customer from simply driving around with the windows wide open while puffing away like the Marlboro Man? Avis Budget says it's implementing inspection procedures to determine tobacco odor or residue, whose presence will result in the cleaning fee. It takes considerably longer to clean a car when you must remove tobacco smells or film, Avis Budget says, and the car must be pulled from the fleet until it smells good.

Other rental-car companies seek to limit smoking but don't ban it outright. Enterprise GP Holdings (EPE), which operates Enterprise, Alamo and National, restricts smoking at many locations.

Naturally, pro-smoking groups are not amused. Gary Nolan of the Smoker's Club told USA Today, "It's disappointing, but it's their private property." Nolan, a smoker and a Budget Rent A Car loyalist, says Avis Budget has lost his business.

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