Smoke-Free Restaurant Laws Have Not Hurt Tourism, New Study Finds

May 26, 1999

Despite claims by the tobacco industry and its allies that smoke-free restaurant ordinances discourage tourism, a new study shows that cities and states that barred smoking in restaurants experienced no drop in hotel visitors, and in some cases registered increases after the smoke-free laws went into effect.

The study by researchers at the University of California San Francisco appears in the May 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. The three-state, six-city analysis is the first to systematically examine tourist volume in a number of localities before and after smoke-free ordinances were enacted. Research focused on tourism in California, Utah and Vermont as well as in the cities of Los Angeles, San Franciso, New York, Boulder, Flagstaff and Mesa, Arizona.

The results starkly contradict predictions that smoke-free laws would reduce business. Such claims include those by Vermont business and restaurant associations that revenues would drop as much as 30 percent, and warnings by the Tobacco Institute and restaurant and tavern associations in New York City that passage of a smoke-free restaurant ordinance would mean "tourists will steer clear of a city so harshly intolerant of smokers."

In constant 1997 dollars, passage of the smoke-free restaurant ordinance was associated with a statistically significant increase in the rate of change of hotel revenues in four localities; no significant change in four others, and a significant slowing of an upward trend -- but not a decline -- in one locality, the JAMA paper reports.

The researchers compared pre- and post-ordinance hotel room revenues with hotel revenues for the entire country. In addition, since the issue of smoke-free ordinances on international tourism had been raised in California, Utah and New York City, they obtained data on the numbers of international tourists for these localities.

Utah and the cites of Mesa, New York and Los Angeles each showed a statistically significant increase in the rate of tourism after the smoke-free ordinance went into effect. California, Vermont, San Francisco and Boulder showed no significant change, and Flagstaff experienced a significant slowing in its rate of increase, but no loss.

In terms of international tourism, California experienced an increase in tourists from Japan, and New York City logged a similar increase in European visitors after their smoke-free ordinances were in place, dispelling the claim that international tourism would suffer. The Utah data showed no significant change either way.

"This study debunks the tobacco industry allegation that smoke-free restaurant laws adversely affect tourism," write Stanton Glantz, PhD, professor of medicine at UCSF and Annemarie Charlesworh, MA, both members of UCSF's Institute for Health Policy Studies.

"Legislators and government officials can enact such health and safety requirements to protect patrons and employees in restaurants from the toxins in secondhand smoke without the fear of adverse effects on tourism," Glantz adds.

"Indeed, these ordinances may even be good for business."

Glantz is a tobacco industry scholar and a longtime advocate of smoke-free ordinances.

In their study, Glantz and Charlesworth used newspaper databases, publications by tobacco industry groups and contacted tobacco control advocacy groups to identify cities and states in which the issue of effect on tourism had been raised in the debate over indoor air ordinances. They then identified those local ordinances and state laws that required 100 percent smoke-free restaurants.

After confirming this information with local health departments, they came up with the three states and six cities that met the criteria.

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute and a gift from Edith and Henry Everett.

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