Smoking ban has not affected pubs’ and restaurants’ takings, finds Norwegian study

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 17 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d300
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. 1Hamburg

A new study of the income of pubs and restaurants in Norway, which completely banned smoking in such establishments in 2004, shows that the ban has not had a negative long term effect on either type of venue.

The study, published in the European Journal of Health Economics (doi:10.1007/s10198-010-0287-6), concluded that “smoke-free laws do not affect restaurant revenue directly or as a share of private consumption [total consumer spending].” It adds, “There is some evidence for a short-run effect on pub revenue as a share of private consumption, but there is no evidence of a short-run effect on the absolute level of pub revenue and no evidence for a long-run effect using either measure.”

One of the coauthors, Hans Olav Melberg, of the University of Oslo’s Institute of Health Management and Health Economics, acknowledged in an interview with the BMJ that several previous studies have already looked at the effect of smoking bans in the hospitality sector. However, he said that the new study has several advantages over previous studies and added, “This is one more nail in the coffin of the myth that restaurants and pubs would be hurt by smoking bans.”

Although the smoking ban had little if any short or long term effect on restaurant revenue, the study showed that pub revenue fell by 1% in 2005 after the ban was implemented but jumped 7.8% in 2006 and in 2007 continued to edge up as a percentage of seasonally adjusted consumer spending.

One advantage of the new study was that Norway’s smoking ban, implemented on 1 June 2004, was among the first in Europe, making it possible to assess economic effects over a longer time period than in other nations, Dr Melberg said.

The new study also benefits from highly detailed records of taxable revenue in the hospitality sector from 1999 to 2007, he said. Unlike in some nations Norway’s hospitality data are broken down into restaurant revenue and pub revenue, making it possible to study each in detail.

Another advantage is Norway’s often inhospitable climate, Dr Melberg said. This means that smokers in Norway must bundle up in warm clothing before stepping outside to smoke, not only in winter but in other seasons too. This hardship may mean Norwegians are more likely to shun pubs than smokers in more moderate climates.

But although some smokers have undoubtedly stopped going to pubs, some non-smokers who previously avoided smoke filled pubs are now patronising the smoke free establishments, Dr Melberg said, although he has no data to quantify this.

A fifth (21%) of Norwegians smoked daily in 2009, down from 27% in 2004 when the ban went into effect. The proportion of occasional smokers remained the same at 9%.

Karl Erik Lund, Dr Melberg’s coauthor and research director at the Norwegian Institute for Alcohol and Drug Research, said that 2010 statistics have not yet been published but are likely to show that the proportion of people who smoke daily has fallen to 19%. He said that smoking has been showing a downward trend for decades in Norway, with the peak for men who smoked daily at 64% in 1957 and for women at 40% in 1975. The combined peak (men and women) for daily smokers was 45% in 1976.

Nevertheless, Dr Lund said, “We have reasons to believe that at least some of the observed decline in smoking post ban can be attributed to the implementation of smoke free hospitality venues.” He added that the ban “has contributed to the denormalisation of smoking” by giving smoking “a negative symbolic meaning.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d300

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