As Wisconsin considers a comprehensive, smoke-free workplace law that includes bars and restaurants, there have been concerns raised of adverse economic impacts. The Tavern League and their allies, and even some legislators, have stated to the press and in testimony that jobs will be lost in the hospitality industry and bars will go out of business.
There is no reliable, independent scientific evidence to support these claims. Past experiences, including evidence from Madison and Appleton, and scientific studies conducted in both rural and urban communities that have implemented smoke-free laws, have found such speculation to be false. U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona in his report, The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke, concluded:“evidence from peer-reviewed studies show that smoke-free policies and regulations do not have an adverse economic impact on the hospitality industry.”
Across the country, state and local governments, big and small, have passed health-based initiatives similar to the one being considered by the Wisconsin State Legislature. In fact, over the last decade there has been a wave of clean indoor air regulations passed to protect both patrons and workers in bars and restaurants. There are now twenty-two states and hundreds of municipalities that have passed some sort of smoke free policy for workplace environments, and the number of people who live in smoke-free communities continues to grow. Wisconsin is falling behind the rest of the nation, including our neighbors in Illinois and Minnesota, with inadequate and outdated public health protections from exposure to secondhand smoke.
Why does the Tavern League of Wisconsin oppose a health-based initiative that will have no economic impact on its members? In an attempt to frighten bar and restaurant owners, the tobacco industry has funded research across the country to claim clean indoor air policies are bad for business. In 2003, Dr. Michelle Scollo and her colleagues at the Centre for Tobacco Control published a comprehensive review of 97 studies addressing the impact of smoke-free laws on the hospitality industry. She found that every single study claiming a negative impact was supported by the tobacco industry. These studies were 20 times less likely to have been scientifically peer-reviewed. The study concluded that “all of the best designed studies report no impact or a positive impact of smoke-free restaurant and bar laws on sales or employment. Policymakers can act to protect workers and patrons from the toxins in secondhand smoke confident in rejecting industry claims that there will be an adverse economic impact.”
Much of the anecdotal experience from smoke-free communities finds no harmful economic impacts. There is even support from those who had originally feared economic hardship for the hospitality industry, but are finding since implementation, that fear to be unfounded. Michael O’Neal, the former president of the New York Restaurant Association and the New York City Restaurant Association has stated, “Smoke-free workplace legislation does not hurt business.” David E. Garth, President and CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce in California initially had feared the ban on smoking would hurt jobs and tourist-generated income for the city: “…our initial fears were unfounded and today, I’m pleased to report that the effects have been extremely positive”.