Workplace Smoking Bans Don’t Extinguish the Habit

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Limits or bans on smoking may keep smoke out of the workplace but they do little to curb the smoking habits of workers, according to a new study from Agnes Scott College and the University of California, Irvine, published in Health Economics.

When workplace smoking bans—often a result of state clean indoor air laws (SCIALs) — were first considered, many experts argued that in addition to protecting workers and customers from second-hand smoke, the bans also would limit the number of places smokers could indulge in their habit and thereby reduce the appeal of smoking altogether. It was hoped that the workplace limits on smoking would help workers kick the habit.

No previously published studies systematically examined whether anti-smoking laws had any effect on the smoking habits of affected workers, so Madeline Zavodny, professor of economics at Agnes Scott, and Marianne Bitler and Christopher Carpenter, associate professors of economics and economics/public policy, respectively, at the University of California, Irvine, decided to analyze data from 1992 to 2007 on workers’ smoking behaviors. They focused on workers at private businesses, government, schools, restaurants and bars.

In almost every sector, researchers found that SCIALs had very little measureable effect on how likely workers were to light up. The one exception was bartenders, among whom smoking rates fell after anti-smoking laws that applied to bars were passed.

“Most people were not more likely to report that their workplace restricts smoking after one of these laws was enacted. And it doesn’t seem to have any effect on smoking among most workers,” Zavodny said.

The chief reason, Zavodny said, was that many workplaces already limited smoking and had for several decades before SCIALs were passed in the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s. Instead, the laws may have reflected changes in the acceptability of smoking.

“Most workplaces didn’t change their policies in response to these laws. Instead, states may have adopted these laws because enough workplaces already had these restrictions in place,” she said.

Hospitals and many schools, government buildings and private business offices have been smoke-free for years, so relatively recent SCIALs haven’t had much effect on how likely workers were to smoke, Zavodny added.

“These state-level laws aren’t really changing what happens at workplaces, with the exception of bars. And if there’s no change in a workplace’s smoke policy in response to state law, there’s also, presumably, no increase in protection from second-hand smoke as a result of these laws,” Zavodny said.

Agnes Scott College educates women to think deeply, live honorably and engage the intellectual and social challenges of their times. Students are drawn to Agnes Scott by its excellent academic reputation, exceptional faculty and metropolitan Atlanta location—offering myriad social, cultural and experiential learning opportunities. This highly selective liberal arts college is known for its diverse and dynamic intellectual community. Through SUMMIT, it provides every student, regardless of major, with an individualized course of study and co-curricular experiences that develop leadership abilities and understanding of complex global dynamics.