(1st Add: Includes information about California smoking ban)
(CNSNews.com) - A study released by the New York City Department of Health concludes that the city's four-month-old ban of smoking at restaurants and bars has had no negative economic results. However, a spokesman for the New York State Restaurant Association maintains government should "butt out" when it comes to the issue of smoking.
The study, based on data from the New York State Department of Labor, found that seasonally adjusted employment in the city's restaurants and bars grew by 0.9 percent between March and June of this year, compared to 0.2 percent in the same period last year.
The study also noted that restaurant and bar employment grew faster than the 0.1 percent overall job growth the city experienced since the smoke-free law took effect.
William V. Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said: "The new study underscores why the public, policy makers and the media should treat with skepticism the claims of economic doom and gloom being made by the tobacco industry and other opponents of New York's law and other smoke-free laws around the country."
Coor said he believes this most recent study bolsters earlier findings from California, in which a restaurant and bar smoking ban created a positive financial effect.
The California smoke-free workplace law began covering restaurants in 1995 and bars in 1998. According to the California State Board of Equalization, taxable annual sales for restaurants and bars in California increased by 30.4 percent from 1997-2001, outpacing the 18.9 percent increase in taxable annual sales from 1993-1997, before the bars became smoke-free. Overall employment growth also came in at 12.5 percent for both periods, according to the California Employment Development Department.
Supporters of the New York City smoking ban are also emphasizing the health benefits for restaurant and bar employees.
"This is about protecting employees from a toxic chemical, and I don't think we should give them (business owners) the option about whether their employees are going to be forced to breathe second-hand smoke," noted Russel Sciandra, director of the Center for a Tobacco Free New York
In a press release touting the results of the Health Department study, New York City Health Commissioner Thomas R. Frieden agreed, saying: "The Smoke Free Air Act is about workers. It's about workers not having to risk cancer and heart disease to hold a job."
Groups opposed to the smoking bans say government oversteps its boundaries and abuses the rights of business owners when it attempts to shape personal behavior.
"Our position has always been - let the marketplace decide and let the individual decide if he or she wants to go smoke free," said Rick Sampson, president of the New York State Restaurant Association.
Audrey Silk, founder of NYC CLASH (Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment), accused the government of discriminating against smokers.
"Legislation is merely a tool to reach a larger goal of a smoke-free society," Silk said. "Government has no business trying to legislate my behavior or tell private business how to run their business."
Sampson, however, said he does not believe the smoking ban will have negative consequences for businesses as long as the law is enforced equitably throughout New York City.
"As long as they (customers) can't walk across the street and smoke, I really don't think there's going to be an impact because I cannot believe that people are just going to stay home," Sampson said.
He did say the ban could result in more smoking on the sidewalks, creating an entirely new problem.
While some business owners say the majority of their customers are smokers, Sciandra believes any drop-off in smoking customers will be offset by non-smokers who long ago were driven out of the bars because of the smoke.
"Non-smokers will return, and since they outnumber smokers four to one, it's not going to take long for them to make up any difference of smokers spending less time there" Sciandra said.
E-mail a news tip to David Fein.
Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.