Background: To amplify earlier studies of unintended consequences of public policies, this article illustrates both negative and positive unanticipated consequences of smoke-free workplace policies in California bars for women of low SES.
Methods: The article relies on thematic analysis in 2008 of qualitative data gathered between 2001 and 2007 from three mixed-method studies of tobacco use in and around bars where indoor smoking is prohibited.
Results: Unanticipated consequences primarily occurred when bars did comply with the law and smokers went outside the bar to smoke, particularly when smokers stood on the street outside the bar. Key negative consequences for women who smoked outside of bars included threats to their physical safety and their public image. For women living near bars, increased smoking on the street may have increased their exposure to secondhand smoke and disruptive noise. For some women, however, unanticipated negative consequences were identified with noncompliant bars. Smokers were conjectured to congregate in the smaller number of bars where smoking was still allowed, resulting in increased exposure to secondhand smoke for low-SES women working in these bars. A common positive unintended consequence of the tobacco control ordinance was increased social circulation and solidarity, as smokers gathered outside bars to smoke.
Conclusions: Smoke-free workplace laws in bars can have both negative and positive consequences for workers and smokers, and low-income women in particular.