NEW YORK--Contrary to the fears of restaurateurs and bar owners, smoking bans may actually be good for business. In a survey from the University of Massachusetts and Boston University, two-thirds of 2,356 adult Massachusetts residents sampled reported that smoking bans in restaurants and bars would not affect their patronage.
Among those who said it would have an effect, four times as many said it would make them dine out more often as said it would make them dine out less often. Those who said a smoking ban would lead them to go to bars more often outnumber by 2 to 1 those who said it would cause them to go less often. The study found that nonsmokers were just as likely to be frequent restaurant or bar-goers as smokers.
"Its been the conventional wisdom that smoke-free policies in restaurants and bars cause economic hardship for these businesses, but its just not the case," Lois Biener, PhD, said at an American Medical Association briefing.
A senior research fellow at the University of Massachusetts Center for Survey Research and principal investigator for the population-based surveys evaluating the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, Dr. Biener co-authored the survey with Michael Siegel, MD, MPH, of the Boston University School of Public Health (Am J Public Health, Dec, 1997).
Their survey, she said, also uncovered a potential new market for restaurants and establishments that serve alcohol. The study showed that 32% of adults in Massachusetts never go to bars and clubs, but 10% of this group said they would go if the bars and clubs were smoke free. "So just in the small state of Massachusetts, if we translate that into population estimates, it would mean 120,000 new customers for bars and clubs," she said.
Similarly, it is not the case that smokers are more frequent patrons of bars and restaurants than nonsmokers. "The word has been spread that you have to worry more about what smokers do because they spend more money in restaurants, they drink more, etc. But the results of this survey show that nonsmokers and smokers are equally likely to be frequent restaurant and bar patrons," she said.
Furthermore, Dr. Biener said, the frequent patrons in the study were more likely to predict an increase in their visits to restaurants in response to adoption of smoke-free policies. There was a trend toward a similar relationship between smoke-free policies and frequency of bar usage, she added.
Avoiding Smoke-Filled Rooms
Forty percent of those surveyed answered yes when asked if they had ever avoided going someplace, public or private, because they knew they would be exposed to tobacco smoke, while only 8% said they had ever avoided going somewhere because smoking was not permitted.
"When you take a look at the population as a whole, you can see that smoke-free environments are definitely what the majority of the population would want," Dr. Biener said.
The survey results, she said, are consistent with previously published economic studies. She noted that a paper published in the American Journal of Public Health (October 1997), comparing the revenues of restaurants and bars in cities that had gone smoke free with revenues in a matched set of localities that did not have a smoking ban, found no reductions in revenue in the smoke-free areas.
Nonsmokers outnumber smokers in Massachusetts by four to one, Dr. Biener said, also noting that in the United States as a whole, nonsmokers outnumber smokers by three to one.
"It is now relatively uncommon for nonsmokers to have to be in areas where there is a lot of smoke in the air, and people have become even more sensitized to it and more likely to avoid going to places where they are going to be exposed," she said.
As of January 1, 1998, she said, the State of California became the first state in the union to declare all bars and clubs smoke free. "Thats a revolutionary step, and they are to be congratulated. Now, well have an opportunity to see what happens in California. There is certainly not going to be a decrease in use of these places, and we could find an increase."