Study: Smoke-free Good For Biz; Owners Doubt It
SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- John Stage would like to believe the state smoking ban that goes into effect later this month won't hurt business at his popular restaurant and bar.
It's just that experience tells him otherwise.
"It's disrupting people's habits, and any time you take something away from someone, it's going to cause a storm," said Stage, co-owner of Dinosaur Barbecue, a downtown eatery that serves bikers and businessmen and has even hosted President Bill Clinton.
A new study published in the Cornell (University) Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly contends there is little evidence that smoke-free regulations previously enacted in New York have harmed the hospitality industry as a whole.
Stage, though, said he is taking a wait-and-see approach before he puts any stock in such findings. Beginning July 24, a new state law takes effect prohibiting smoking in virtually all work sites and public places, including bars and restaurants.
"Every business is unique. If I don't know what to expect, I don't know how they can know," Stage said.
The study was undertaken by researchers with the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo. They examined changes in state taxable sales and employment records in restaurants and hotels at five areas that have introduced smoke-free dining regulations since 1995: Erie, Monroe, Suffolk and Westchester counties and New York City's five boroughs treated as a single jurisdiction.
New York City's original law took effect in 1995 but applied only to restaurants with more than 35 seats. In April, the city extended the prohibitions to almost all restaurants, bars and public places _ which was the model for the state law.
Researcher Andrew Hyland said the economic review was an outgrowth of past studies on the health risks of second-hand smoke exposure.
"It's always the primary argument you hear from those opposed to smoking restrictions _ it will be bad for business," Hyland said. "Our results, however, conclude that smoke-free regulations do not cause declines in sales and employment in the hospitality industry."
Comparing one year before the restrictions to one year afterward, the study found that per-capita hotel sales rose in all five jurisdictions by 2.9 percent to 31.6 percent. Per-capita eating and drinking sales increased in three of the five areas from 0.5 percent to 7.1 percent. Eating and drinking sales were down 9 percent in Suffolk County and 9.8 percent in Westchester County.
The study also showed that overall, the annual payrolls in dining and lodging establishments in the test counties increased following the implementation of smoke-free regulations, even after adjusting for inflation, Hyland said.
As part of their analyses, researchers considered all the counties in New York and conducted 25 county-specific statistical tests, Hyland said. Out of that number, only three were associated with decreased business, while seven were associated with increased business and 15 showed no association, he said.
"The data show that smoke-free regulations are not bad for business," the researchers wrote. "Many other factors appear to affect the hospitality industry, including the general economic environment and secular changes in travel and dining behavior."
Scott Wexler, spokesman for the Empire State Restaurant and Tavern Association, was critical of the study, questioning the source and faulting what he called "questionable science."
By taking an industrywide overview, the researchers masked the negative impact on individual businesses, Wexler said. Additionally, the study was skewed because the collective data examined by the Roswell researchers also included businesses exempt from smoke-free regulations, he said.
"They say all we have are opinions and anecdotes but you can make numbers do whatever you want," Wexler said.
As an example, Wexler offered a different perspective on the 25 county-specific statistical tests, noting that only seven tests suggested increased business _ less than one third of those conducted.
"To me, that says 18 tests were not positive," Wexler said.
Michael Collins, 38, quit his job as a data processor three years ago to open Pfohl's Tavern in Syracuse. He fears the new smoking ban will put him out of business.
"It's fine to say the net effect of smoke-free regulations is that it won't hurt the industry," said Collins, a nonsmoker.
"My customers, though, are telling me a different story. I'm anticipating a huge dampening effect. Maybe 40 percent of my business," Collins said. "It's really going to rock me."