COLUMBUS, Ohio - New research suggests that exempting bars from community smoking bans makes no economic difference in terms of preserving bar employment, and that even the most comprehensive clean indoor air policies do not lead to a reduction in hospitality jobs.
Researchers hope the findings, based on a study in Minnesota, will factor into future debates within municipalities and states considering the economic and health issues surrounding smoking-ban proposals.
The study examined employment trends over three years in eight Minnesota cities with different types of clean indoor air policies and two cities with no laws restricting smoking. Of the policies examined, some were comprehensive bans prohibiting smoking in all workplaces, while others banned smoking in most public places and businesses, but exempted bars.
Though economic effects of smoking bans have been studied in many individual communities, this is the first analysis to compare the economic effects of different levels of clean indoor air policies in multiple cities.
"In the end we can say there isn't a significant economic effect by type of clean indoor air policy, which should give us more support for maintaining the most beneficial public health policies," said Elizabeth Klein, assistant professor of health behavior and health promotion at Ohio State University and lead author of the study. "The public health benefit clearly comes from a comprehensive policy where all employees are protected from exposure to environmental tobacco smoke."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, exposure to secondhand smoke increases nonsmokers' risks of developing lung cancer, heart disease, respiratory conditions and other diseases.
North Carolina and Wisconsin legislatures passed smoking ban bills last week. As of April 20, 2009, 15 states plus Puerto Rico had comprehensive laws in effect prohibiting smoking in all workplaces, restaurants and bars, according to the American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation. Three additional states had passed similar laws, or recently added smoke-free bars to their laws, that are not yet in effect. Hundreds of municipalities also have enacted smoking bans of varying levels.
The research is published in the June issue of the journal Prevention Science.
Klein and colleagues used state-mandated reporting data to track monthly employment in full-service restaurants and bars between January 2003 and September 2006 in 10 communities. The locales were not identified, but ranged in population size from about 20,000 to 380,000 residents.
The researchers used job data from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Using industry codes established by the North American Industry Classification System, the researchers selected jobs coded for full-service restaurants and free-standing bars to include in the study. Limited-service restaurants were not included because of the low likelihood that they would be licensed for alcohol sales, Klein said.
"We wanted to look at businesses most likely to be affected by this type of policy based on the smoking and drinking correlation that has been established in previous studies," Klein said. "Opponents to clean indoor air policies tend to say that having a partial policy, with bars exempted, will be less painful economically for the community. They say people who work in these businesses that are dependent on alcohol sales would experience a catastrophic effect."
In the study, the researchers calculated the bar and restaurant employment on a per capita basis to allow for the different sizes of the communities examined and the varying number of relevant businesses in each community. For each month, they combined the total number of restaurant and bar employees in each city and divided that number by the community population size based on the 2000 U.S. Census.
Over the 45-month period studied, there was relatively little change in employment levels in bars and restaurants among the communities examined. None of the changes met statistical standards required to determine that the differences - increases or decreases - were significant. The estimated changes also cut both ways in any economic argument about the effects of smoking restrictions.
For example, communities with comprehensive clean indoor air policies had nearly nine fewer employees per 10,000 community members compared to communities with partial smoking bans that exempted bars. On the other hand, communities with any type of clean indoor air policy, partial or comprehensive, had an increase of three employees per 10,000 compared to cities with no tobacco restrictions on the books.
Seasonal trends in employment were related to the effects of severe winter weather in Minnesota, especially in larger cities, and the marked loss of jobs in one community was traced to a closure of three businesses that were failing because of their location, Klein noted.
"We certainly did not detect anything close to the dramatic claims that opponents make based on the concerns that they have for bars," Klein said. "We were not studying individual businesses. We're studying the effect of a policy implemented at a community level."
Klein noted that the study did not use revenue data, another strong economic indicator, because statewide reports of revenues in Minnesota were not readily available. And she said employment trends in the hospitality industry closely match revenues because hospitality businesses operate in a volatile market.
The findings are an important part of the continuing debate over clean indoor air policies, Klein said, because "once a clean indoor air policy is on the docket and discussion begins, oftentimes the conversation quickly turns to economics."
She also said she doesn't expect opposition to smoking bans to disappear.
"There is strong evidence that a comprehensive policy provides the greatest protection for all employees, and now it appears that bars do not need to be exempted from clean indoor air policies to protect against severe economic effects."
This research was supported by a grant from the ClearWay Minnesota research program.
Co-authors of the study are Jean Forster, Darin Erickson and Leslie Lytle of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Barbara Schillo of ClearWay Minnesota.
Contact: Elizabeth Klein, (614) 292-5424; firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Emily Caldwell, (614) 292-8310; email@example.com