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New Data from Florida and Montgomery County, MD, Add to Evidence that Smoke-Free Laws Do Not Hurt Business

Statement of Matthew L. Myers President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 28, 2004

Washington, DC — New data released today about the economic impact of smoke-free indoor workplace laws in Montgomery County, Maryland, and Florida add to the growing evidence that smoke-free laws do not hurt the restaurant and bar business. In Montgomery County, state and county data show that restaurant industry tax revenue increased by seven percent in the six months after the county’s smoke-free law took effect October 9, 2003 compared to the same period a year earlier, and alcohol sales increased nearly 4.5 percent. The county law covers all indoor workplaces, including restaurants and bars. In Florida, a study by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida found that the statewide smoke-free law, which took effect July 1, 2003, has not hurt sales or employment in the hotel, restaurant and tourism industries.

The latest evidence that going smoke-free doesn’t hurt business underscores why the public, policy makers and the media should treat with skepticism the claims of economic doom and gloom made by opponents of smoke-free laws. Opponents of such laws try to generate negative headlines based on anecdotal, unrepresentative evidence of economic harm, with the goal of weakening or repealing the laws and heading them off elsewhere. These claims of economic harm have been discredited time and again by impartial economic data.

These findings are consistent with previously released economic data from New York City, El Paso, and a growing number of other smoke-free states and communities across the country, all of which show that smoke-free laws at worst have a neutral impact on the restaurant and bar business and may even have a positive impact. The evidence is clear that smoke-free laws protect the public’s right to breathe clean air, free from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke, without harming business. There is simply no excuse for policymakers not to enact comprehensive smoke-free workplace laws in every state and community.

Independent, objective and peer-reviewed studies of smoke-free restaurant laws around the country show there is no long-term negative impact on restaurant sales or employment from these laws. A series of studies published in the January 1999 issue of the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice found that sales tax data from 81 localities in six states consistently demonstrated that ordinances restricting smoking in restaurants had no effect on revenues. A 2003 study published in the journal Tobacco Control examined the credibility of the smoke-free economic analyses that have been done in recent years. Its authors found that every study that found a smoke-free policy had a negative economic impact either lacked independence from the tobacco industry and/or objective measures. Conversely, the studies that showed no adverse economic impact from smoke-free policies were funded independently, used objective measures and were peer-reviewed.

These findings are corroborated by the recent experiences of smoke-free states and communities:

New York City: A comprehensive report released March 30, 2004, on the one-year anniversary of the city’s smoke-free law that covers restaurants and bars, found that business receipts and employment increased for restaurants and bars after the law took effect, as did the number of liquor licenses. The report found that business tax receipts for the city’s restaurants and bars increased 8.7 percent in the 10 months after the law took effect. In addition, Zagat’s annual survey of New York City restaurant goers found that 96 percent are eating out as much or more since the law took effect. Zagat’s conclusion: “the city’s recent smoking ban, far from curbing restaurant traffic, has given it a major lift.”

El Paso, Texas: A study released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in February 2004 found that El Paso’s smoke-free policy, which includes restaurants and bars, did not affect restaurant and bar revenue after it took effect January 2, 2002. The CDC and the Texas Department of Health analyzed sales tax and mixed-beverage tax data in the 12 years before and the year after the effective date of the law. Their analysis found no statistically significant changes in overall restaurant and bar revenues, bar liquor sales, or restaurant and bar revenue as a percentage of total revenue.

Delaware: Delaware’s smoke-free law, which includes restaurants and bars, took effect November 27, 2002. According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant business was up in Delaware in 2003, the first full year of the state’s smoke-free law. The association estimated business would be up 5.7 percent in Delaware from 2002 to 2003, outpacing surrounding states and the nation as a whole. State statistics show an increase in the number of restaurant licenses from 3,291 to 3,323 between November 2002 and October 2003, while tavern/taproom licenses rose from 102 to 106.

California: The most extensive evidence of the economic impact of smoke-free laws comes from California, which was the first state to enact a comprehensive law (covering restaurants in 1995 and extended to bars in 1998). From 1997 to 2001, taxable annual sales for restaurants and bars in California increased from $28.2 billion to $36.8 billion, according to state statistics. This 30.4 percent increase outpaced the 18.9 percent increase in taxable annual sales from 1993 to 1997, before bars became smoke-free. Employment in California bars and restaurants increased by 12.5 percent from 1997 to 2002, the same percentage as from 1992 to 1997, according to the state. Altogether, California bar and restaurants had 107,000 more employees in 2002 compared to 1997.

Smoke-free is good for health. 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 as bronchitis and asthma. Experts at the CDC recently warned persons with heart disease to avoid settings where smoking is allowed because of the risk that even short-term exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger heart attacks. A 2002 study 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 are especially vulnerable to other people’s smoke, suffering more asthma, bronchitis, ear infections and other ailments.

This evidence has spurred the growing, bipartisan momentum across the country to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air. Seven states – California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island – have now enacted comprehensive, statewide smoke-free laws. Florida, Idaho and Utah have passed statewide smoke-free laws that exempt only stand-alone bars. States and communities can rest assured that they can act to protect health without harming business.