Restaurant smoking restrictions have no economic impact, DPH says
BOSTON -- Smoking restrictions in restaurants don't hurt business, according to a report released today by the Department of Public Health.
The report reviewed meal tax receipts from more than 1,000 dining establishments and concluded restaurants in communities where smoking is restricted didn't lose any money. The study analyzed meal taxes from 1992 to 1998.
"This is a win-win situation for restaurant owners, restaurant workers and restaurant patrons," said Dr. Howard Koh, DPH commissioner, in a prepared statement. "We hope these findings will encourage more municipalities to enact local restaurant smoking regulations."
But a spokesman for the Massachusetts Restaurant Association said small pubs and restaurants have certainly been hurt by the restrictions, even if larger establishments have benefited.
"That makes about as much sense as saying that a person with one hand in a freezer and the other hand on a hot stove on average is comfortable," said Peter Christie, an MRA spokesman.
More than three-quarters of Massachusetts residents live in cities or towns with restaurant smoking restrictions, and more than half live in communities where smoking is banned in restaurants, DPH said.
But those numbers give a skewed perception, because about 210 of the state's 350 communities have no such restrictions, Christie said.
There are 40 municipalities with strong smoking restrictions and 88 with moderate restrictions, the DPH said.
Each community chooses its own restrictions. Some, for example, require that a certain percentage of seats be non-smoking, a restriction that could hurt smaller restaurants with fewer seats.
Public support for smoke-free restaurants has increased, according to a recent DPH survey. More than 60 percent of nonsmokers and 34 percent of smokers interviewed favor smoking restrictions in restaurants, the department said.
But Christie, whose association has 1,800 members, said customers should be able to choose their restaurants based on smoking and non-smoking preferences, and not have it dictated by the government.
"Do restaurateurs need the Department of Public Health to tell them what their customers want? The answer is no," Christie said.