Report says NC smoking ban hasn't hurt profits at bars, restaurants

jprice@newsobserver.comJanuary 3, 2014 

— Four years after a statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants went into effect, it’s a success in a host of ways and isn’t hurting profits at North Carolina businesses, according to a new report.

The report from the state Department of Health and Human Services pulls together results from various studies since the start of the ban. Among them was a 2011 study that showed the number of heart attacks had plummeted. Also included is information from a more recent one, by Research Triangle Park-based RTI International this past summer, that suggested statewide smoke-free laws would not harm employment or sales at restaurants and bars. That study examined North Carolina as well as eight states that did not have statewide bans.

It’s the largest such study, but its findings were similar to those in several smaller studies. The findings contradict the claims of some bar owners who fought the ban, saying it would ruin them.

The study results also are in line with the experiences of many local bar and restaurant owners.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to us,” said Gus Gusler, owner of The Players’ Retreat just off Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. “I can’t believe anybody would say it didn’t help them, because for us it was a dramatic change.”

Gusler said he watched his sales numbers carefully after the ban went into effect and almost immediately saw a jump of about 15 percent.

He had been a vocal backer of the ban in its current form and thinks some of his patrons who smoke stayed away for a week or two because they were angry. But Gusler said the increase in new patrons, particularly families bringing more kids, vastly outnumbered those who stayed away. And the smokers eventually came back, too.

“It’s better for the workers,” he said. “It’s better for me, because I don’t go home smelling like smoke anymore, and it’s better for everyone else, too.”

Scott Maitland, owner of Top of the Hill restaurant and bar in downtown Chapel Hill, was something of a pioneer: He had made his establishment smoke-free inside from its opening in 1996, though he allowed smoking outside on the decks. He has always had a gut feeling that it helped the bottom line a little, and that it certainly never seemed to hurt.

“Even people who smoke have told me it’s great not to be drowning in smoke,” he said.

Maitland said he has small ownership stakes in bars in New York and Washington, and that when New York enacted its own ban, there was no effect on business.

The report from DHHS quotes a letter from the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association to the members of the General Assembly in October 2012 saying the ban has had a positive impact on restaurant sales.

The report includes data that suggest the ban has had a significant effect on the number of heart attacks across the state.

Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke is believed to be able to trigger heart attacks. Chemicals in the smoke narrow blood vessels and raise blood pressure and pulse rates, and cause chemical changes in the blood that make cardiovascular problems including heart attacks more likely, according to the U.S. Surgeon General’s office.

A 2009 review by the Institute of Medicine of the existing studies concluded that comprehensive smoking bans in all workplaces and public areas could reduce the number of heart attacks by 17 percent within a year.

In the year after the restaurant and bar smoking ban here, the average number of emergency room visits each week by people having heart attacks fell 21 percent.

There was a similar, but smaller, decline in emergency room visits for asthma.

Price: 919-829-4526

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service