Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Smoking bans bad for business? Hardly.

Smoking bans in bars and restaurants are common in many parts of the U.S., but they still frequently face opposition from workers and proprietors who worry that the bans will hurt business.

But to the contrary, such bans rarely have a negative effect on business and their potential for reducing exposure to secondhand smoke make them an important part of safeguarding employees against the dangers of tobacco smoke, according to researchers at a Monday afternoon session of APHA's 141st Annual Meeting and Exposition.

“There is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,” said session presenter Cristina Gibson. “Breathing even a little secondhand smoke can be harmful to your health.”

In fact, research shows that 40 percent of adults who work in places where they're exposed to secondhand smoke have heart disease.

Still, bars and restaurants in Savannah, Ga., where a smoking ban had recently been passed, were wary of the effect the ban would have on their businesses. They worried that patrons would go elsewhere.

So the researchers conducted interviews in January 2011, just as the smoking ban went into effect in the city. They talked to patrons and employees as well as bar owners and managers to gauge each group's impressions of the ban's effects.

They found that more than half of patrons supported the ordinance and about 33 percent opposed. Supporters cited better air quality as the best effect of the law. Those opposed worried about business owners' rights to decide for themselves whether smoking would be allowed. Some also thought the ordinance infringed on individual rights to smoke.

However, employees of bars and restaurants affected by the ban supported the ordinance by nearly 70 percent. They cited air quality improvements as well as easier clean up of upholstery and equipment.

Bar owners and managers also generally supported the law, both because it made the bar atmosphere more pleasant and did not, for the most part, have a negative effect on business.

Their one complaint had to do with litter. Now that smokers were being forced to go outside to smoke, they were leaving cigarette butts on the ground outside bars, which owners were responsible for cleaning up or else they'd be fined by the city.

Some owners and managers also noticed that customers were frequenting the bars less often, but the affected bars were most often located on the edge of town. By crossing the street, the patrons could be outside the city and in the county's jurisdiction, where for a while at least, smoking in bars was still permitted.

“Then the county adopted its own smoking ban and the playing field was again level,” Gibson said.

― C.T.

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