by Matt Rosenberg August 18th, 2010
Today on my regular weekly KOMO-AM 1000 Seattle radio segment featuring the work of our Public Data Ferret project, I talked with “Nine2Noon” show co-anchors Brian Calvert and Nancy Barrick about a new study on how sales at bars and taverns were affected by the indoor public smoking ban approved by Washington voters. Here’s the original Ferret article on the study, and here’s the audio file of today’s radio appearance. The transcript follows.
Brian Calvert: “KOMO News time 9:46. Along with Nancy Barrick, I’m Brian Calvert. Pass a smoking ban, drinking rates go down, right? Not so fast. Matt Rosenberg with communityforums.org joins us this morning. Matt, the prevailing thought back in 2005 when Washington voters banned smoking in public places was that the taxable retail sales at bars might go down, but you found otherwise.”
Matt Rosenberg: “That’s correct. Good morning Brian and Nancy. Initiative 901 passed in 2005 to establish an indoor smoking ban – all public locations and places of employment – and a new study has just come out on what happened here in Washington state. And it’s in a peer-reviewed journal of the U.S. government’s Centers For Disease Control, a pretty prestigious outfit, and they found the indoor smoking ban had the opposite effect. Sales actually went up. They constructed a statistical model very carefully. I’ll spare you all the details, but they plotted what retail sales would have looked like under status quo conditions, with no ban, and then they looked at the actual data from the State Department of Revenue here, for the two years after the ban went into effect. And they found that by the fourth quarter of 2007 that taxable retail sales in Washington bars and taverns were 35 percent higher than they would have been without the smoking ban.”
Nancy Barrick: “Quite an increase there, and I remember a lot of people, when we had that smoking ban, after it had been in place for a while, coming and saying, ‘Man, it’s so pleasant to sit in a bar nowadays, when you don’t have to smell all that smoke. So, have the increased food and alcohol sales, have they covered whatever we’ve lost, in, perhaps, cigarette taxes, because people aren’t smoking as much?”
Matt Rosenberg: “Wow. That’s a good question, Nancy. I’m not sure about that. That would be something to look at. But, what the researchers are saying, is a couple of things. They’re saying that first of all, smokers are still going to bars and taverns, they’re just smoking somewhere else, and like you say, Nancy, a lot of new folks are coming in the door. Also, there’s still 19 states in the U.S. that don’t have a full-on indoor smoking ban at public establishments like this, and the researchers are hypothesizing that these findings – which show a benefit to public health and state tax coffers – you know, could help turn the tide.”
Brian Calvert: “Matt, I have to admit, I’m a little skeptical about some of these numbers, and here’s why. Back in 2005, when the ban was actually passed by voters and went into effect in 2006, the economy was still pretty level, then we go into a recession. And I’ve heard time and time again that while people aren’t spending a whole lot of money going our for fancy dinner, they’re actually spending that money, maybe going to the bars more and enjoying themselves that way. Could that have been factored into this report, or could that be contributing to the higher numbers?”
Matt Rosenberg: “Well, I think the recession really kicked in around 2008 and 2009, and these figures just go through the end of 2007. So I think, not so much. I think the effect you’re describing is true, though. People are still looking to go out and entertain themselves, but they’re looking for more cost-efficient places to do it. I think what would be interesting would be to look at the figures for 2007 to 2009, and try and factor in some of those other influencers, and see if the effect is holding. So, this is kind of a work in progress, but I think the initial findings are significant because it shows the predictions of doom and gloom weren’t true, at least in the two years right after the ban was passed by voters.”
UPDATE, 8/19/10: Washington state health officials today issued news that according to third-party data, the state has the third lowest rate of smoking per capita in the U.S. They attributed that to anti-smoking laws, prevention programs and high cigarette taxes.