New evidence that restaurant smoking bans help business

Two studies released yesterday look at laws' effect in Northeast.Some restaurateurs refute the findings.

Antismoking laws for restaurants are not bad for business. That's the message from a series of new studies that show antismoking laws in New York City and Massachusetts have not hurt the hospitality business or cost jobs. The studies, released yesterday, are significant because there are still thousands of local municipalities that don't have antismoking laws for their restaurants. When antismoking groups try to get local laws passed to restrict smoking, they almost always are met with opposition from the tobacco industry and restaurant lobby, which claim dining establishments will go out of business and jobs will be lost. According to the new studies, these claims are as insubstantial as smoke. "The fears of large declines in restaurant patronage due to municipalities enacting smoking restrictions are unfounded," says Gregory Pope, a vice president at the Center for Health Economics Research, a nonprofit organization in Waltham, Mass. Mr. Pope participated in one of the studies, all of which were funded by the Substance Abuse Policy Research Program, which received funding from the antitobacco Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. The results of the six surveys of two states appear in the January issue of The Journal of Public Health Management and Practice. In the New York City survey, the research found that in the four years since Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed into law antismoking rules, taxable sales receipts increased by 2 percent. Receipts in the rest of the state - which does not have the tough laws - declined by 4 percent. The city also gained 18 percent more restaurant jobs while the rest of the state gained 5 percent. The findings wouldn't have any meaning if the antismoking laws were not obeyed. So researchers analyzed the results of unannounced visits by city health inspectors, reviewed formal complaints, and conducted a survey of restaurants. The city found smoking in evidence in only 2 percent of the 251 restaurants visited and, in a city known for its vocal chords, there was only one complaint about smoking registered for every million meals served. Ninety percent of restaurant owners reported their indoor dining areas were smoke free. In Massachusetts, the results were similar. Using the most current data available, researchers found that smoke-free policies did not hurt the per capita taxable meal revenues of the 32 towns that had them - compared with the 203 towns that did not have the laws. In recent years, even more Bay State cities and towns have enacted smoking restrictions. Last October, Boston implemented smoking restrictions similar to New York's laws. But members of the tobacco industry say it's misleading to come to the conclusion that antismoking laws have helped the hospitality industry. Scott Williams, a Washington-based spokesman for the tobacco industry, notes that, in New York, upstate communities are more economically pressed than the downstate regions. "There are lots of different factors involved," he says. The Albany-based Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association also disputes the new studies. The group, which receives some funding from the tobacco industry, says it did a study before and after the smoking ban and found that Big Apple restaurants suffered a 4 percent job loss while the surrounding area saw jobs increase by 5 percent. "The antismoking laws have certainly disrupted the restaurant business and forced businesses to close their doors," says Scott Wexler, executive director. Mr. Wexler has no specific studies on how many restaurants have gone out of business because of antismoking laws, but he says a survey by the Massachusetts Restaurant Association found the stricter the antismoking standards, the greater impact on job loss. "It does appear our members need to accommodate smokers," he says. In one of the new studies, the Center for Survey Research at the University of Massachusetts asked 5,000 Massachusetts residents about smoky restaurants. It found that almost half of the nonsmoking respondents resisted going somewhere, specifically to avoid smoke.

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