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Going smokefree does not damage profits, global report shows

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by Cancer Research UK | News

2 June 2005

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Ending smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places has not damaged the economy in the many countries, cities and states around the world that have adopted such  legislation, according to a report presented at the Smokefree Europe conference in Luxembourg today (Thursday).

The report shows that a Europe-wide trend to drink alcohol at home rather than in bars and pubs appears to account for the apparent downturn in trade after the Irish smokefree legislation was introduced in 2004.

The news comes shortly before the Government begins its consultation on restrictions on smoking in workplaces and enclosed public places in England. At present, it proposes to end smoking in all workplaces and enclosed public places by 2008, except in pubs that do not serve ‘prepared’ food. Cancer Research UK strongly opposes this exemption, as it will leave thousands of workers unprotected.

Luk Joossens, Advocacy Officer for the Association of European Cancer Leagues, of which Cancer Research UK is a member, has compared statistics from regions that have introduced smokefree legislation, and compiled new data on drinking trends from across Europe.

He says: “Tobacco companies are at pains to show that smoking bans in bars and restaurants have a negative impact on business and lead to drops in sales and job losses. They frequently use anecdotal facts and speculative projections to make these claims.

“But rigorous analysis of studies from Ireland, New York, British Columbia and other places shows that smokefree legislation does not damage profits. In some places it could even have a positive economic effect.

Mr Joossens only analysed research that met stringent quality criteria and had been funded by a source with no links to the  tobacco industry. He also examined economic trends prior to the introduction of bans.

“The main argument used by the tobacco industry is that drinking and smoking go together. If that is the case one would have expected a ban on smoking in pubs to affect Ireland, as the Irish drink more in bars than any other European nationality”, Mr Joossens adds.

“But the evidence shows that the ban did not affect Ireland’s bar economy. In fact, using objective measures such as till receipts and peer reviewed research, it is clear that going smokefree has not damaged the economy of any country examined so far.

Representatives of the Irish hospitality industry have estimated losses in the pub trade of between 15 per cent and 25 per cent since the ban was enforced 1.

However, the actual decrease in sales of alcohol was in line with declines that started in 20022.

These declines follow a Europe-wide trend towards consuming more alcohol at home. This is the case even in Ireland, where the estimated share of beer sales consumed in private homes increased from 12 per cent in 2000 to 23 per cent in 2003.

The UK has seen a similar trend. The estimated share of beer sales consumed in private homes across the UK increased from 12 per cent in 1980, to 33 per cent in 2000 to 39 per cent in 2003.

Governments will need to consider these drinking trends when they judge the success of future smokefree laws, including the comprehensive smoking ban planned for Scotland.

Mr Joossens adds: “The hospitality industry in countries that are considering smokefree legislation has a tendency to exaggerate.

“A group of representatives from the Belgian hospitality industry visited Ireland. They reported that an Irish style ban in Belgium would lead to between 20,000 and 40,000 job losses. However, even their own website shows that only 14,183 people worked in drinking places in Belgium in 2003.”

Jean King, Cancer Research UK’s Director of Tobacco Control, says: “A smokefree law that covers all workplaces and enclosed public places is Cancer Research UK’s primary policy objective.

“Going smokefree protects bar workers and customers from the serious health risks associated with secondhand smoke and can help the vast majority of smokers who want to give up.

“Because the Irish smokefree law covered all licensed premises, it created a level playing field for the pub trade. This was undoubtedly an important factor in ensuring that no elements of the hospitality trade were affected.

“This detailed analysis stresses the importance of using objective measures to evaluate the effects of smokefree legislation, rather than anecdotal evidence and statistics described out of context.”