November 25, 2017
The spread of smoke-free air laws, also known as clean indoor air laws, in the United States has stagnated in recent years and even regressed in some states, despite being a win-win policy. This is according to Paul Shafer, a doctoral student of health policy and management in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
“These laws are good for public health and don’t cost much to implement,” he said, “so I wanted to investigate an anecdotal claim that some lawmakers have used as a reason to oppose or weaken smoke-free air laws.”
The full article on Shafer’s findings, titled “Impact of U.S. smoke-free air laws on restaurants and bars by employer size: a panel study,” was published online Nov. 25 by the journal BMJ Open.
“Smoke-free air policies generally are passed at the state or local level, so there is opportunity to improve air quality and health without relying on Congress or a federal agency to do it,” Shafer explained. “One barrier to implementation, however, is always concern about the economic effects of these laws. Previous studies had shown that such laws generally have no impact or even have a positive economic impact on businesses, but some policymakers still believed that the laws were negatively effecting smaller restaurants and bars, even if they agreed that they didn’t impact the industry as a whole.”
To investigate these claims, Shafer conducted a two-pronged statistical analysis – both of North Carolina and of the entire United States. He looked into variation in smoke-free air laws over time, estimating their impact on employment in restaurants and bars by employer size.
He found that smaller establishments were not seeing any negative effects, and in North Carolina specifically, restaurants and bars of all sizes saw employment growth after the law was implemented.
“This lack of a redistributive economic effect is really important to calm the nerves of policymakers who might be open to implementing a smoke-free air law or strengthening an existing one,” Shafer said. “These findings should help them feel secure in protecting hospitality employees and patrons from secondhand smoke without compromising the success of small businesses.”