Zagat Restaurant Survey Provides More Evidence that New York City’s Smoke-Free Law Is Not Hurting Business

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Oct. 21 2003

Washington, DC — Opponents of smoke-free workplace laws want to make New York City a poster child for their arguments that smoke-free is bad for business. But the facts keep getting in the way. Impartial economic data and public opinion surveys consistently show that New York City’s new smoke-free law has not harmed business and may in fact be providing an economic boost for the city’s hospitality industry.

The latest evidence comes from Zagat, which provides restaurant and leisure guides for locations around the world and is one of the most respected authorities on the hospitality industry. The just-released 2004 Zagat New York City Restaurant Survey of nearly 30,000 New York restaurant-goers found that 23 percent of respondents said they are eating out more often because of the city’s smoke-free workplace law, which includes restaurants and bars, while only four percent said they are eating out less. Zagat surveyed 29,361 New York City restaurant-goers from May through mid-July, after the smoking ban went into effect at the end of March.

Contrary to pessimistic predictions by opponents of the smoke-free law, Zagat is extremely upbeat about prospects for New York City’s restaurant business. The survey finds that New York restaurant-goers are eating out and spending more than they were two years ago and restaurant openings are far outpacing closings. Zagat’s press release concludes, “The city’s recent smoking ban, far from curbing restaurant traffic, has given it a major lift. Meanwhile, openings are perking up, closings dropping, and service complaints continue to trend downward… What’s not to feel good about?”

Zagat’s findings add to the growing evidence from economic data and public opinion surveys that New York City’s smoke-free law has not hurt business.

  • State employment statistics show the city’s restaurants and bars added more jobs in the three months after the smoke-free law took effect than in the same period a year earlier.
  • Hotel occupancy rates and other tourism indicators are on the upswing and the city’s hotel revenues in July increased for the first time in nearly three years, the business journal Crain’s reported in August.
  • Several polls have shown strong public support for the city’s smoke-free law. A poll released in September by public health groups found that New York City voters supported the new law by a margin of 70 to 27 percent.

The available data make clear why the public, policy makers and the media should treat with skepticism the claims of economic doom and gloom being made by opponents of smoke-free laws in New York City and across the country. Every time one of these laws is implemented, opponents try to generate negative news coverage and headlines based on anecdotal, unrepresentative evidence of economic harm, with the goal of weakening or repealing the laws and heading them off elsewhere. As is happening now in New York City, these claims of economic harm have been discredited time and again by impartial economic data and consumer behavior.

New York City’s experience is consistent with numerous independent, objective and peer-reviewed studies of smoke-free restaurant laws around the country, which show that there is no long-term negative impact on restaurant sales or employment from smoke-free laws. The impact appears to be neutral at worse and even slightly positive. The best data available comes from California, which in 1998 became the first state to include bars in a smoke-free law. Restaurant and bar sales grew at a faster rate after the law took effect, while employment continued to grow at about the same rate. Today, California’s law is overwhelmingly popular with bar owners, employees and the public.

The evidence is clear that while secondhand smoke harms health, smoke-free laws do not harm business. It is time for every state and community to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including 69 known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, benzene, and radioactive polonium 210. It is a scientifically proven cause of serious health problems, including lung cancer, heart disease and chronic lung ailments such lung cancer and asthma. A study issued last year by the International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization concluded, “Nonsmokers are exposed to the same carcinogens as active smokers. Even the typical levels of passive exposure have been shown to cause lung cancer" among people who have never smoked. Studies have shown that secondhand smoke is responsible nationally for thousands of deaths each year. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are especially vulnerable, suffering more asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and other ailments.

Five states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and New York – have now enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke-free laws. In Florida, all workplaces, with the exception of some stand-alone bars, are now smoke-free as a result of a constitutional amendment approved by 71 percent of voters last year. Other jurisdictions that have recently enacted strong smoke-free policies include Boston, Dallas, Albuquerque, Bloomington, IN, Pueblo, CO, Lexington, KY, and Montgomery County, MD. Altogether, such laws now protect more than a quarter of the U.S. population – more than 70 million people.

 

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