Introduction: Secondhand smoke exposure is responsible for an estimated 50000 deaths per year among nonsmokers in the United States. Smoke-free air laws reduce secondhand smoke exposure but often encounter opposition over concerns about their economic impact. Expansion of these laws has stagnated and efforts to weaken existing laws may exacerbate existing disparities in exposure. Studies at the state and local levels have found that smoke-free air laws do not generally have an adverse effect, but there are no recent estimates of the impact of these laws nationally.
Methods: Employment and sales are two measures commonly used to estimate the economic impact of smoke-free air laws. Sales data are gathered by state and local taxing authorities but not uniformly across jurisdictions. Dynamic panel models are used to estimate a population-weighted national average treatment effect of smoke-free air laws on restaurant and bar employment using data from the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages for 1990 to 2015.
Results: A one-percentage point increase in population covered by a restaurant smoke-free air law is associated with a small increase (approximately 0.01%) in restaurant employment (b = .0001, p < .001). The percentage of state population covered by a bar smoke-free air law was not associated with bar employment.
Discussion: Smoke-free air laws are a powerful tool for protecting hospitality workers and patrons from the dangers of secondhand smoke. Using data from over more than two decades, these results suggest that smoke-free air laws in the United States do not generally have any meaningful effect on restaurant and bar employment.
Implications: Smoke-free air laws are associated with reductions in negative health outcomes and decreased smoking prevalence. Despite this clear public health argument and strong public support, passage of new laws has stagnated and exemptions are being used to weaken existing laws. The ability to make both a health and business case in support of existing laws may also bolster the case for expansion. This study provides an updated look at the economic impact of smoke-free air laws nationally through 2015. The lack of adverse findings provides additional support for these laws as public health win-win.
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