SCARC ACTION ALERT -- July 31, 1996

Study Finds NYC's Smoke-Free Air Act Has Not Hurt Restaurant Business

"Ultimately, smoke-free legislation is likely to have a positive impact on restaurant-industry revenues. Our advice to other cities and municipalities is to consider seriously similar legislation. The restaurant industry collectively may experience higher revenues through smoke-free legislation."

David Corsun et. al., "Should NYC's Restaurateurs Lighten Up?" CORNELL HOTEL AND RESTAURANT ADMINISTRATION QUARTERLY, April 1996.




Researchers at Cornell University found that a smokefree policy for restaurants attracts more business -- and revenue -- than it drives away. The conclusion was based on a study, "Should NYC's Restaurateurs Lighten Up?" that examined the economic effects of New York City's Smoke-Free Air Act, a law that banned smoking in almost all restaurants in the city. The findings refute assertions made by the tobacco industry and some restaurant groups before the Act went into effect in April 1995 that banning smoking would cause a tremendous loss of business for restaurants.

Researchers examined how New Yorkers' dining habits and spending patterns changed in the four months after the Act's implementation. Although the study confirmed the predictions of the Act's opponents that smokers would dine out less, it also showed that non- smokers are eating out more, and are in fact more than making up for the lost revenues caused by smokers not eating out as frequently. Thirty-eight percent of smokers are eating out less frequently, and forty-seven percent are "actively avoiding" eating in restaurants that do not allow smoking, while seventeen percent of non-smokers are eating out more frequently. However, as a group, non-smokers account for almost 2.5 times more overall restaurant revenue than smokers, and so compensate for the loss in business.

The study concludes that since the number of people in favor of or neutral to the Act greatly outnumber those in active opposition, restaurant owners stand to benefit financially from implementing non- smoking policies.

The Cornell study is the first attempt to collect scientific data on the impact of New York City's law on consumer behavior. Previous accounts regarding the Act's economic impact have been anecdotal, relating restaurant owners' reactions. For example, a survey by the National Smokers Alliance (a tobacco-industry sponsored organization) examined the reactions of New York City restaurant owners one month after the Act was implemented, and found that fifty-six percent reported a drop in sales, which they attributed to the Act. The average decline in sales, according to the NSA, was sixteen percent. However, the Cornell study points out two flaws in the NSA survey. The survey implies that the reported decline in sales was caused by the Act, when the decline could have been due to other non-specified factors. Additionally, the NSA surveyed restaurant owners, rather than restaurant patrons, whose change in behavior is of primary concern.

The Cornell study adds to the data showing that smokefree policies do not result in a loss of revenue for restaurants, including:

* A study of the aggregate restaurant sales data from West Lake Hills, Texas (a suburb of Austin) found that the city's smokefree ordinance enacted in June 1993 did not decrease sales revenue among restaurants. ("Assessment of the Impact of a 100% Smoke- Free Ordinance on Restaurant Sales -- West Lake Hills, Texas," MORBIDITY AND MORTALITY WEEKLY REPORT, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 19, 1995.) * A study of 15 communities in California and Colorado concluded that smokefree ordinances do not hurt restaurant sales. (Stanton Glantz and Lisa Smith, "The Effect of Ordinances Requiring Smoke-Free Restaurants on Restaurant Sales," AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, July 1994.) * The publishers of Zagat Restaurant Guides found in their annual survey of more than 16,000 New York City restaurant patrons that eating out had increased in the six months since the city's clean indoor air law took effect. (November 15, 1995, Press Release for the 1996 Zagat NYC Restaurant Survey.) (1) * A study of the aggregate meal tax receipts in Brookline, Massachusetts found that a smokefree policy for all restaurants did not have a measurable immediate effect on the city's total restaurant business. ("Preliminary Analysis of the Economic Impact of Brookline's Restaurant Smoking Ban," Health Economics Research Inc., November 20, 1995.) (2) * A study of restaurant sales data in Flagstaff, Arizona found that the city's restaurant smoking ban did not adversely affect restaurant sales. (John Sciacca et. al., "Prohibiting Smoking in Restaurants: Effects on Restaurant Sales.") (3) *******************************************************



To use the Cornell University study and other studies to refute claims that restaurant clean indoor air policies harm restaurants economically.




Smokers committed to smoking while eating are only seventeen percent of the general population, although they are the biggest spenders at restaurants. However, forty-seven percent of the general population are nonsmokers who are sensitive to smoke, and account for twice as much restaurant revenue as the above-mentioned smokers.

More than a third of smokers (ten percent of the general population) are adapting to the Act, rather than violating it or avoiding eating out.

Nonsmokers and smokers who are adapting to the Act account for eighty-four percent of the general population, and nearly eighty percent of consumer restaurant spending.

Source: David Corsun et. al., "Should NYC's Restaurateurs Lighten Up?" CORNELL HOTEL AND RESTAURANT ADMINISTRATION QUARTERLY, April 1996.





Since secondhand smoke is a class A carcinogen -- in the same category as asbestos, benzene, and radon -- making restaurants smokefree is clearly the right decision for public health. And studies are also showing that it's the right business decision. Look at the numbers: the vast majority of the public would support -- and patronize -- a smokefree restaurant. About three-quarters of the public is nonsmoking, and thus has no need of a smoking section. Additionally, the Cornell study found that about ten percent of the public is made up of smokers who easily adapt to smokefree environments. In contrast, a restaurant that allows smoking appeals directly to only about sixteen percent of the population.


The Cornell study used a scientifically sound method to reach its conclusion. It surveyed NYC restaurant patrons after the Smoke-Free Act had gone into effect to discern any changes in their dining behavior, spending patterns, demographics, and attitudes toward smoking. In contrast, the study funded by the National Smokers Alliance relied on fears, not facts, reporting anecdotally on restaurant owners' impressions to conclude that the Act caused a revenue decline.




1. Order a copy of the study by contacting: Center for Hospitality Research, 545 Statler Hall, School of Hotel Administration, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853- 6902, ph: (607) 255-4054.

2. Familiarize yourself with the study and be prepared to use it in your activities regarding clean indoor air. For example, it can be used in testimony before a legislative body, in fact sheets, op-eds, and editorial board meetings. Share it with others working on the issue.

3. Contact local restaurants, the restaurant association, or the chamber of commerce and offer to provide copies of the study to them (or copies of this Alert, if the study is too long). Encourage them to establish smokefree policies.




1. For a copy of the press release, contact Zagat at 4 Columbus Circle, New York, NY, 10019, ph: (212) 977-600. Copies of the Restaurant Survey may be available in your local bookstore (probably the travel section).

2. For a copy of the study, send a written request to the Massachusetts Tobacco Control Program, 250 Washington Street, 4th Floor, Boston, MA 02108- 4619, fax (617) 624-5922.

3. For a copy of the study, which is currently under review for publication in a journal, contact John Sciacca at PO Box 15095, College of Health Professions, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011.

*** Please feel free to copy this alert. There is no need to ask for permission. ***
Produced by: Smoking Control Advocacy Resource Center (SCARC)

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