By Matt Leingang
The Cincinnati Enquirer
As pockets of Ohio and Kentucky continue to debate indoor clean-air legislation, here's food for thought: Smoking bans don't hurt sales at restaurants and bars.
At least not in El Paso, Texas.
A new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study measured the impact of a government-imposed smoking ban in El Paso two years ago. The findings strike at the heart of arguments made by opponents of such laws who say smoke-free ordinances are bad for business.
Nationally, five states - New York, California, Delaware, Connecticut and Maine - and about 72 municipalities prohibit smoking in almost all workplaces.
Cincinnati limits smoking to designated areas of restaurants and bans it in most public places, but bars and bowling alleys are exempt.
Public health officials in other cities can use this new El Paso data to support comprehensive indoor smoking bans in their communities, say CDC researchers.
"This is just one more study that shows smoke-free policies don't appear to negatively impact businesses," said Tim Ingram, Hamilton County health commissioner and member of the Ohio Tobacco Use Prevention and Control Foundation, who noted that similar economic studies have been done in California.
El Paso enacted a smoking ban in January 2002 for all public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars - the strongest smoke-free indoor air ordinance in Texas.
The CDC looked at sales tax data and mixed-beverage tax data for bars and restaurants in the 12 years preceding the smoking ban and the first year after it was implemented.
The result: "No statistically significant changes in revenue," the study said. In fact, sales tax revenue increased from $571 million in 2001 to $597 million in 2002.
"Opponents of smoking policies often state that bars and restaurants will see a 20 to 40 percent drop in revenue when an ordinance like this is implemented, but it's not true," Dr. Margaret McCusker, a CDC epidemic intelligence service officer assigned to the Texas Health Department.
Smoke-free indoor air laws protect employees and customers from exposure to secondhand smoke, a carcinogen associated with increased risks for heart disease and lung cancer in adults and respiratory disease in children, McCusker said.
Some bar and restaurant owners in Texas have called into question the study's validity - coming as it did on the heels of the 2001 terrorist attacks, which dampened the economy and the spending habits of Americans in general, said Shari Einsel, executive director of Greater Cincinnati Restaurant Association.
"I think it should always be the choice of the business owner whether to go smoke-free," Einsel said.
Efforts to restrict smoking have gained momentum in other parts of Ohio. In August, Toledo passed a Clean Indoor Air Law, which aims to protect the health of workers and customers by banning smoking in most restaurants, bars and bowling alleys unless they have a separately ventilated smoking lounge. Bowling Green also has a smoking ban that covers most restaurants.
Lexington passed a ban last year, but it is has been blocked pending a review by the Kentucky Supreme Court. The General Assembly has since introduced legislation to block local governments from banning smoking in businesses.
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