A new study reported in the Journal of Public Economics finds that smoking bans are associated with increases in alcohol-related traffic deaths. "We observe an increase in fatal accidents involving alcohol following bans on smoking in bars that is not observed in places without bans," the researchers report. They surmise that drinkers respond to bans by driving further to find bars where they're allowed to light up, either because the bars are in a different jurisdiction or because they have outdoor seating. That means more time on the road in a less-than-sober condition:
"The increased miles driven by drivers who wish to smoke and drink offsets any reduction in driving from smokers choosing to stay home after a ban, resulting in increased alcohol-related accidents," the study says.
The authors, Scott Adams of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Economics Department and Chad Cotti, currently at the University of South Carolina, call the results "surprising."
"We thought we would see a reduction," Adams said. "Our first thought was, 'Throw it away, it must be wrong.' "...
The 2-year study looks at highway fatality data involving a driver with blood alcohol content over 0.08 in cities and counties with bans and compares it to incidences in surrounding areas without bans. The study was not funded by outside organizations, the authors said.
Results show an increase in accidents in areas after smoking bans were enacted and near the jurisdiction lines.
A Wisconsin anti-smoking activist quoted by Madison's Capital Times seems irritated by the study and reacts skeptically. But the results need not be seen as an argument against smoking bans (the interpretation I'd favor). They could be seen as an argument for stricter bans that forbid smoking even outdoors and for wider bans that do not allow escape to more tolerant jurisdictions. Adams tells the Times "a well-enforced national smoking ban would get rid of the drunken driving increases related to smoke bans."