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New Massachusetts Study Adds to Evidence That Smoke-Free Laws Do Not Harm Business

Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
April 05, 2005

Washington, DC — Adding to the already extensive evidence that smoke-free workplace laws do not hurt business, a new study released today by the Harvard School of Public Health finds that Massachusetts’ comprehensive smoke-free law did not affect sales or employment in the state’s restaurants, bars and nightclubs after taking effect on July 5, 2004. The study compared tax and employment data for the Massachusetts hospitality industry for at least the first six months following implementation of the law with the corresponding months over the prior five years. It found no statistically significant changes in meals tax collections, alcoholic beverages excise tax collections or the number of workers employed in food services and drinking places (there was a nine percent increase in meals tax collections, which the researchers said was not statistically significant). While it did not harm business, the smoke-free law significantly improved air quality in Massachusetts’ restaurants and bars that previously allowed smoking, reducing levels of respirable indoor air pollutants by 93 percent. The study also found 96.3 percent compliance with the law, which covers all restaurants, bars and other workplaces.

These findings are consistent with those of other studies and the experience of the growing number of states and communities that have enacted smoke-free laws, 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 workers and customers alike from the proven dangers of secondhand smoke without harming business. It is time for policy makers in every state and community to protect the public’s right to breathe clean air by enacting comprehensive smoke-free laws that cover all workplaces.

The new study 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. These claims of economic harm are discredited time and again by impartial economic data.

Independent, objective and peer-reviewed studies of smoke-free laws around the country show there is no long-term negative impact on hospitality industry 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.

The new Massachusetts findings are consistent with previously released economic data from New York City, El Paso, California, Delaware, Florida and other states and cities that have enacted strong smoke-free laws. Some of the strongest evidence comes from New York City, where a report found that in the year after the city’s smoke-free law took effect March 30, 2003, business receipts for restaurants and bars increased, employment rose, the number of liquor licenses increased, virtually all establishments were complying with the law, and the vast majority of New Yorkers support the law. Even among bar and restaurant owners, support for New York’s law has grown. James McBratney, President of the Staten Island Restaurant and Tavern Association, was quoted in the Feb. 6, 2005, issue of The New York Times saying ''I have to admit, I've seen no falloff in business in either establishment [restaurant or bar].''

Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals and at least 69 carcinogens and is scientifically proven to cause lung cancer, heart disease and other serious respiratory illnesses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is responsible for thousands of deaths each year. Last year, experts at the CDC advised 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. Children are especially vulnerable to other people’s smoke, suffering more bronchitis, asthma and ear infections as a result. A January 2005 study also found that exposure to secondhand smoke has a negative impact on children’s performance on tests measuring reading, math and reasoning skills.

This evidence has spurred a growing, bipartisan momentum across the country and the world 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. Hundreds of cities and counties have taken action as well, as have whole countries including Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Italy and New Zealand. States and communities can rest assured that they can act to protect health without harming business.