Ending the Tobacco Problem - Resources for Local Action
Institute of Medicine

Call To Action


Smoking Bans in Bars, Casinos, and Gaming Clubs

Over the past decade, the focus of clean air action has shifted from restrictions on smoking to complete bans in workplaces, restaurants, or bars. Research has shown that simply posting warnings or providing people with educational materials about the health effects of smoking do not work as well as carefully planned policies to completely ban smoking in public places. 

Across the country, hundreds of local laws ban smoking in restaurants and bars. As of July 1, 2008, 13 states have existing laws, and an additional five states have comprehensive laws that will take effect during 2009, requiring 100 percent smoke-free restaurants, bars, and workplaces. Fourteen other states have bans in one or two of those places, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation [1]. Smoking bans in restaurants and bars have been controversial; the tobacco industry and some restaurant and bar owners have argued that sales would decline if a ban were introduced. However, a 2004 review found no resulting negative economic effects.


One State’s Success Banning Smoking in Bars, Casinos, and Gaming Clubs

The state of California adopted a smoking ban in bars, casinos, and gaming clubs in 1998. In 1994, the California legislature passed a bill that would eliminate smoking in almost all enclosed workplaces. Once the bill was passed, the real work began. The tobacco control supporters identified three main goals to help get business owners to comply with the new law:

  1. Ease the transition for business owners. 
  2. Activate public support for the law. 
  3. Defeat tobacco industry efforts to undermine the law. 

To help achieve these goals, tobacco control supporters created an organization called BREATH whose purpose was to help various state, county, and local groups implement the new law.  BREATH indentified five strategies toward achieving its goals:

  1. Inform and educate ethnically and linguistically diverse business owners and patrons about the new law;
  2. Collect and evaluate data on the economic impact of the law, including its influence on tourism and attitudes of foreign visitors about smoke-free entertainment;
  3. Provide legal interpretations and enforcement models to code-enforcement officers and prosecutors;
  4. Develop local media spots to counter tobacco industry resistance, working in tandem with the California Department of Health Services media campaign to enhance public awareness and highlight public support for the law; and,
  5. Train local tobacco control coalitions to advocate for full and fair implementation of the law and against attempts to undermine the law by the tobacco industry's allies.

BREATH conducted two statewide mailings to business owners about the law and set up a toll-free phone number. It also staffed a booth at the annual California Restaurant Association Trade Show and ran ads in statewide Beverage Industry News and Patterson's Beverage Journal. Finally, it created a 14-minute video that included interviews with bar owners and scientific experts, which was shown at local community meetings arranged all over the state. 

Throughout the process, BREATH members carried out public opinion surveys and conducted studies of economic data from communities that were already smoke-free, then publicized the results. 

Four important lessons can be taken away from California's work at achieving smoke-free workplaces. 

  • Achieving smoke-free workplaces is incremental. Smoke-free workplaces must be phased in, beginning with the most receptive locations, such as federal and state workplaces. Implementation of the ban at private bars and gaming clubs came near the end of the three-year phase-in period.
  • The media are a double-edged sword. The tobacco industry has almost unlimited funds for media campaigns. The best way to combat a media barrage is to engage the public in telling public officials they support smoke-free workplace laws.
  • A commitment of funding must support the clean indoor air effort, but don't underestimate the value of a few good volunteers. Money and volunteers from the major voluntary health organizations and grassroots organizations were vital to California's efforts. Allies from other health foundations and HMOs, as well as individuals, can be valuable. The tobacco industry has deep pockets, and money is required to counter their claims.
  • Clarify to the public and with the public health community that the collective efforts are aimed at promoting smoke-free entertainment venues—not at promoting alcohol.  It must be made clear that the value of entertainment venues is for socializing and entertainment in a smoke-free atmosphere and not for promoting alcohol use.

Further Information

Workplace smoking bans are becoming more common. Many studies show that workplaces with a total smoking ban cut down twice the number of people who smoke than workplaces with designated smoking areas. A survey of workers found that complete smoking bans reduced smoking by approximately six percent and reduced the average number of cigarettes smoked daily by 14 percent. A review of 29 studies suggested that if all workplaces in the U.S. became completely smoke-free, smoking in the entire population would drop by four-and-one-half percent.

Workplace bans can also have a large affect on young adults. Surveys given to more than 15,000 teenagers found that those who worked in a smoke-free workplace were 32 percent less likely to smoke than teens who worked in places with no smoking restrictions. 

A survey of hospitality workers in New York state found that in the 12 months after New York's indoor smoking ban took effect, workers reported an 85 percent decrease in secondhand smoke exposure while at work [2]. The workers also reported a 57 percent decline in sensory symptoms resulting from secondhand smoke, such as eye irritations, and a 37 percent decline in respiratory symptoms such as wheezing, coughing, or shortness of breath.

[1] American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. http://www.no-smoke.org/pdf/100ordlist.pdf 9/3/2008

[2] Farrelly, M.C., Nonnemaker, J.M., Chou, R., Hyland, A., Peterson, K.K.,, & Bauer, U.E.  2005.  Changes in hospitality workers' exposure to secondhand smoke following the implementation of New York's smoke-free law.  Tobacco Control 14(4) p. 236-241