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Are smoke-free policies good for business?
  1. R Edwards1,
  2. D Reed2
  1. 1Evidence for Population Health Unit, School of Epidemiology and Health Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  2. 2Yorkshire ASH, St Mary's Hospital, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr Richard Edwards, Evidence for Population Health Unit, School of Epidemiology and Health Sciences, The Medical School, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PT, UK;

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Studies of smoke-free policies in the hospitality trade using objective evidence have generally found no or a positive economic impact 1. Most studies are from North America and Australia. Published European studies are limited to a small study with a four month follow up period in which no adverse economic effects were demonstrated (six pubs) and popularity with customers was high (10 pubs).2 However, UK proprietors from restaurants, pubs, and other hospitality trade businesses overwhelmingly predict negative economic effects.3–5

In a recent UK national survey, 88% of respondents agreed that smoking should be restricted in restaurants and 53% in pubs.6 Despite the existence of a Public Places Charter7 promoting smoke-free policies, progress in the UK has been slow. In a Scottish survey in 2000 over half of hotels, restaurants, and cafes, and 85% of pubs allowed smoking everywhere.5 We set out to assess if UK proprietors' negative perceptions were supported by the experience of businesses providing smoke-free facilities in the north of England.

In 2000–2001, pre-piloted questionnaires were sent to all 632 establishments from the hospitality trade included in the current Roy Castle Good Air Award directory for Yorkshire and a smoke-free guide for Sunderland. After a mail-out and reminder, 389 (61%) owners and proprietors responded; 60 (45%) from pubs and bars, 195 (61%) from cafés or restaurants, 121 (75%) from hotels and guest houses, and 13 others.

Over half (57%) the businesses were totally smoke-free. A quarter provided one or more separate smoke-free rooms, 13% had smoke-free areas within larger rooms, and 5% had a combination of smoke-free rooms and areas. Pubs and bars generally provided smoke-free rooms (59%), or smoke-free areas (32%), often in eating or “family” areas.

A large majority (82%) reported no problems with their smoke-free policy. Of 64 respondents (18%) reporting problems, all but one described minor issues such as having to remind customers not to smoke or the occasional smoker complaining. The proportion reporting no problems was similar at pubs and bars (85%), at totally smoke-free establishments (79%), and among proprietors who thought over half their customers were smokers (85%).

Most respondents thought their no-smoking policies were “very”' (55%) or “mostly” (32%) popular with customers. The remaining 13% thought the policy was neither popular nor unpopular, except for one respondent from a café who thought the policy was very unpopular. Policies were judged very or mostly popular at 81% of pubs and at 67% of establishments where over half of the customers were thought to smoke. When categorised by type of smoking policy, popularity was highest at totally smoke-free businesses, with 65% judged “very”' popular, and 91% “very” or “mostly” popular.

The estimated effect of no-smoking policies on trade is shown in table 1. Most respondents reported an increase in trade, and only 7% a decrease as a result of the policy.

Nearly all (95%) respondents would recommend no-smoking policies to similar businesses, including respondents from 93% of pubs and bars and 93% of establishments where over half the customers smoked.

This survey provides strong evidence that no-smoking policies in the hospitality trade are popular with customers, and are much more likely to increase rather than decrease trade. Although the results from pubs and bars should be treated with caution because of the poorer response rate, the findings were just as strongly supportive of smoke-free policies as for other businesses. In the Scottish survey, 57% of food and entertainment sector businesses thought imposing smoking restrictions would harm trade, and only 4% thought it would improve as a result.5 Our survey suggests that this belief is false. Correcting this mistaken perception should be a key objective of tobacco control advocates in the UK and other settings with slow progress in achieving smoke-free facilities in the hospitality trade.

Table 1

Effect on trade of no-smoking policies by business type


We would like to thank Joan Armstrong, Christine Jordan, Judith MacMorran, and Karl Brooks for help with designing and conducting the survey; and Maureen Chandler, Pat Barkes, and Fiona Serrao for administrative support and data entry. Special thanks to Liz Parkin and Susan Goodchild for distributing the questionnaires in Sunderland. Declaration of potential conflicts of interest: David Reed is Campaign Director for Yorkshire Ash, and Richard Edwards was Chair of Northern ASH at the time of the survey.


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