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Debate over proposed government-enforced smoking bans generally follow a prescribed path.
Public health advocates tout the health benefits of reduced smoking while bar and restaurant owners complain about potential lost business. Often the debate ranks high on the rhetorical scale but is limited in hard facts.
So it got our attention when the International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, based in Coumbus, Ga., released a statement last month by its legislative director, Chris McCalla, in opposition to an expansion of the DeKalb County smoking ban. McCalla claimed a similar ban in Ohio cost 5,400 jobs in one year to that state’s hospitality industry.
It turns out the claim of Ohio job losses is popular among opponents of smoking bans. We found the claim repeated in letters to the editor in Alabama, on numerous pro-smoking blogs and in news aggregators like Yahoo! News that picked up the association’s news release.
But where did that number come from? Naturally, the first place we looked was Ohio.
The figure of 5,400 jobs lost appears on the website of Opponents of Ohio Bans, a group opposed to the Ohio law approved by voters in 2006. Pam Parker, co-founder of the group, pointed back to the Georgia-based group as a possible source for the statistic.
"I believe that's a number that IPCPR has reported," Parker said in an email.
Parker also provided a link to a news release on unemployment figures from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services showing 5,900 hospitality jobs lost in the state over the past year as a possible source. But that report -- part of a larger report on all nonfarm employment -- was from November 2009. The Ohio smoking ban began in May 2007, so the time periods do not match up.
The association referred all questions back to McCalla, but he did not return messages seeking clarification of his statement. A representative from the public relations firm that sent out the news release for the association also did not return calls.
So is there any evidence that McCalla’s statement is correct?
The employment sector he claims coughed up so many jobs because of the smoking ban represents a wide-ranging group of industries that includes bars and restaurants but also takes in sports stadiums, hotels, museums and golf courses to name a few.
Benjamin Johnson, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Jobs and Family Services, said the sector lost 2,200 jobs during the first year of the state’s smoking ban, less than half the claimed amount and a pretty small 0.4 percent decrease in overall employment.
By way of comparison, all nonfarm employment in the state declined by 39,400 during the same period, a decrease of about 0.7 percent, so it makes it tough to see the ban’s direct impact on employment.
Ohio State University public health professor Elizabeth Klein said the research on the economic impact of smoking bans is not even something researchers argue about because of the "high degree of consistency" in numerous academic studies. The bans just do not do measurable economic harm. The only downside is that it is hard to get new research published, she said.
"From the academic perspective, most of us are over this. It’s been well established," she said.
Despite the academic consensus, this month Klein and her Ohio State colleague Nancy Hood published a study of bars and restaurants in Ohio that found the smoking ban did not have an effect on sales. Klein said the findings mirror her earlier study on the economic impact of a similar ban in Michigan.
Taking a longer look, hospitality employment in Ohio has dropped 2.7 percent, but Klein said that is hardly surprising, given the recession.
"Ohio has had difficulty with employment in a number of areas," she said.
In fact, the hospitality industry has fared better than the overall economy in Ohio. Total nonfarm employment has dropped 6.3. percent since 2007, according to federal data.
Back in Georgia, the point is almost entirely academic. In a meeting last week, amid warnings of economic consequences from opponents, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 against expanding the county’s indoor smoking ban.
When the smoke cleared, we rated this lost-jobs claim as False.
International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association news release, "Vote on Smoking Ban
Delayed in Georgia’s DeKalb County," Aug. 31, 2011, http://opponentsofohiobans.com/damage.aspx, accessed Sept. 14, 2011
E-mail exchange with Pam Parker, co-founder of Opponents of Ohio Bans, Sept. 14, 2011
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services news release, "Ohio and U.S. Employment Situation (Seasonally Adjusted)" Nov. 20, 2009.
Telephone interview, Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, Sept. 13, 2011.
Telephone interview, Ohio State University professor Elizabeth Klein, Sept. 13, 2011
Elizabeth G. Klein and Nancy E. Hood, "The Economic Impact of the Smoke-Free Workplace Act," Ohio State University, College of Public Health
Employees of Nonfarm Payrolls in Ohio (Seasonally Adjusted), June 1, 2007-June 1, 2011, Federal Reserve Economic Data, http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2
Leisure and Hospitality Employment in Ohio (Seasonally Adjusted), June 1, 2007-June 1, 2011, Federal Reserve Economic Data, http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2
Northdurft, John, "What A Smoking Ban Would Mean for Michigan," Heartland Institute, http://heartland.org/policy-documents/what-smoking-ban-would-mean-michigan, accessed Sept. 14, 2011
"Michigan smoking ban challenges free market," http://cigarettereviews.com, accessed Sept. 13, 2011
"Smoking bans: pro and con (letters)," Mobile Press Register, August 19, 2011
"DeKalb kills proposed smoking ban," The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sept. 13, 2011
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