Puffing Ban Has Not Hurt Restaurants, Study Shows

September 08, 1998

CHAPEL HILL -- Fears that prohibiting smoking among diners and food workers hurt North Carolina's restaurant industry are largely unfounded, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concludes.

"Until recently, ordinances in many North Carolina counties provided protection from environmental tobacco smoke in workplaces and public places, including restaurants," said Dr. Adam O. Goldstein, assistant professor of family medicine at the UNC-CH School of Medicine. "Our research shows that this protection resulted in no adverse economic effect on the restaurant industry...and there is no need for exceptions to the ordinances based on such fears."

A report on the findings appears in the September-October issue of the North Carolina Medical Journal. Besides Goldstein, Rachel A. Sobel, former research assistant at UNC-CH, participated in the study.

The project examined the impact of smoking (ETS) ordinances on restaurant sales in counties with the strictest ordinances passed by health boards, which have countywide jurisdiction. Those results were compared with similar counties with no ETS ordinances during the study period. Goldstein and Sobel analyzed the five best matches.

Data on restaurant sales between 1990 and 1997 came from the tax research division of the N.C. Department of Revenue. Researchers controlled for population growth, inflation, economic conditions within counties studied and differing dates when ordinances were adopted.

"Counties without ETS ordinances showed increases and decreases (in restaurant) income similar to those in matched counties with ETS ordinances over the six years analyzed," Goldstein said. "There were no consistent changes in restaurant sales after the ETS ordinances took effect."

A December 1996 N.C. Court of Appeals decision invalidated the Halifax County Board of Health environmental tobacco smoke ordinance because it granted exceptions, and the decision affected all other counties with similar ordinances, he said. Ironically, N.C. House Bill 957, passed in 1993 and the impetus for communities adopting smoking rules, currently prevents those communities from working toward stronger, more protective regulations.

In a related study, the authors, along with Dr. Timothy J. Ives, associate professor of pharmacy, surveyed a random sample of 65 of Orange County's 121 restaurants in 1993 to gauge owners' and managers' attitudes toward the smoking ban. In January 1997, they re-surveyed 58 of those businesses to assess compliance with the rules, customer support and perceived economic impact.

Before the regulations took effect on Oct. 14, 1993, 29 percent of the participating restaurants were smoke-free. By January last year, 67 percent were totally smoke-free, 28 percent had installed a separate ventilation system, and 5 percent had not complied.

In the first survey, 49 percent of respondents anticipated no adverse economic impact on their businesses while 33 percent thought business would decline. In the second, 60 percent of those asked said business had not suffered, and 22 percent said it had.

"Our survey demonstrates that between 1995 and 1997, most of the eating establishments became smoke-free or installed a separate ventilation system, even though there were no active efforts to enforce the ordinance," the authors wrote. "Based on these results, it appears that the Orange County smoking control rules have significantly improved risk protection for employees and citizens of Orange County.

"Restaurant owners admit that the majority of their customers support such rules, and most do not feel their businesses suffered economically, perceptions that are now supported by data."

Environmental tobacco smoke is a Class A carcinogen in the same category as asbestos, radon and benzene, Goldstein said. Exposure to such smoke causes an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year and a variety of respiratory illnesses in nonsmoking adults, research shows.

"Even more troubling, recent research shows that environmental tobacco smoke causes heart disease," he said. "This means that there are 10 to 20 times as many ETS-related deaths from heart disease as from lung cancer."

By David Williamson.Note: Goldstein can be reached at (919) 966-3375.
Contacts: David Williamson, (919) 962-8696, or Bret Johnson, (919) 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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