Wednesday marks the 10-year anniversary of New York’s indoor smoking ban. Public health advocates, bar and restaurant workers, and patrons largely agree that the ban led to healthier environments, and the available evidence suggests that it helped lower the overall smoking rate and hospital admissions due to heart attacks.
When the ban was first instituted, many bar and restaurant owners warned that it would drive out business and cost jobs. They were right — but only for a short while. Although restaurants saw a mild drop in business and bars experienced a larger 18 percent drop in the years immediately following the ban, those numbers soon rose back to normal levels, leading the state’s Restaurant and Tavern Association executive director Scott Wexler to admit that “it did not have the impact the industry feared.”
Instead, patrons and workers can enjoy smoke-free environments — something that smokers have even come to appreciate. Albany resident and smoker Donna Twitty told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that, while the regulations were “an adjustment,” she “prefer[s] to [smoke] outdoors because other people shouldn’t have to breathe in my smoke.”
Smoking rates in New York and around the country in general have been falling — and while it’s difficult to assess just how much of New York’s 22 percent drop in smoking between 2000 and 2009 can be attributed to the indoor ban, experts say it couldn’t have hurt. An analysis by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that some of the sharpest drops in New York’s smoking rates — especially among young people — occurred after the ban went into effect:
The numbers on the ban’s effect secondhand smoke-related public health costs are less ambiguous. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that secondhand smoke causes 46,000 premature deaths from heart disease and another 3,400 lung cancer deaths every year, and that nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke are about 25 percent more likely to develop both conditions.
In New York, just one year after the ban went into effect, there were 3,813 fewer hospital admissions for heart attacks than there would have been without the ban, according to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Public Health — an eight percent reduction in hospitilizations that directly saved New Yorkers $56 million in health care costs. Those findings track with other analyses of smoking bans and their effects on hospital admissions.
More aggressive anti-smoking efforts may expand on the indoor smoking ban’s successes. In April, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his plan to raise New York City’s smoking age to 21 years. Globally, recent advances in anti-tobacco policies are expected to save more than seven million lives by 2050.