Smoking Bans Kill, Part II

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."

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  • ||

    Nothing yet commemorating Charlton Heston's passing? Arguably, Hit & Run is a spin-off of The Planet of the Apes. . .going by the comments around here, anyway.

  • ||

    C'mon Jacob. You know that's easy to solve. Just lower the BAC to .02. All we need to do is ban smoking and drinking, without actually banning them. (You can smoke and drink, just not here, here, here, here, here, here...)

  • ||

    Or, rather than a national smoking ban, we could ban alcohol. That worked out great last time.

  • ||

    On the other hand, a "well enforced national smoking ban" would lead to increased deaths in the form of drive by shootings between gangs seeking control of the nicotine market.

    I was wondering how long it would take them to flat out admit they wanted a total ban.

  • Episiarch||

    Wait, drinking and driving (over .08) is illegal. How is this possible?

  • ||

    Could it also be that in no-smoking bars people simply drink more?

  • Elemenope||

    Episiarch -

    That's because they haven't *Advertised* the law enough. See, there are people who still don't know it's illegal!

  • SmokyJoe||

    I'm with vanya on this one. I know I drink more when I can't smoke. Mostly just to keep my hands busy.

    Seems to me after two years of gathering results, they missed the most obvious conclusion.

  • Josh||

    Would someone please pass this on to Iowa's "brilliant" legislature, as they've been itching to pass a smoking ban for some time now.

  • JLE||

    Maybe they should just make cocaine legal in bars to get rid of the drunk driving problem. Or make driving illegal.

  • SmokyJoe||

    "a well-enforced national smoking ban would get rid of the drunken driving increases related to smoke bans."

    Because if government action is hurting people, it does seem to reason that more of the same government action will hurt people less.

    Perhaps they just want to kill off all the smokers faster. It makes about as much sense.

  • ||

    What's that? Did I hear someone mention the law of unintended consequences?

  • ||

    Would someone please pass this on to Iowa's "brilliant" legislature, as they've been itching to pass a smoking ban for some time now.

    I read in the Iowa Independant that the Iowa was trying to exempt 21+ venues from smoking bans (like nightclubs and bars....

    I also read (though can't find the link) that places that have smoking bans are also seeing an increase in obesity...although my gut would tell me that it is too soon to tell

  • ||

    yeah, the prohibitionist reaction to this is going to be "well, you know, if we banned smoking statewide, then maybe it would solve the problem."

  • kinnath||

    I read in the Iowa Independant that the Iowa was trying to exempt 21+ venues from smoking bans (like nightclubs and bars....

    We have two versions, one passed by the House and one passed by the Senate. One calls for a total ban and the other exempts bars and casinos. I don't remember which chamber passed the total ban.

    If letters-to-the-editor are an indicator, the local population doesn't understand the concept of private property.

  • ||

    Well, if the "studies" are correct, and smoking bans increase bar revenue, wouldn't it follow that with more people drinking in bars, more people would be driving while intoxicated? And doesn't it follow then that the BAC rate needs to be lowered?

  • ||

    In order for prohibition to succeed, we must all be dead. I fear our government may eventually succeed.

  • ||

    the local population doesn't understand the concept of private property.

    No local population does. That's because most people believe "private property" only applies to their own home.
    The most evil phrase in the regulatory, do-gooder playbook is "place of public accommodation."

  • ||

    Chicago,

    .although my gut would tell me that it is too soon to tell

    Good one!

  • ||

    You'll have to do better than statewide bans. I live in MA and so am a relatively short drive from four other states. A national ban is the only way to go.

  • ||

    A national ban is the only way to go.

    But they're so easy to ship--international ban would be best. We could provide financial incentives to those nations that cooperate with our campaign to eradicate tobacco crops. Hell, we could even provide quasi-covert military support to those same nations provided they toe the line. It will be win-win for everyone.

  • ed||

    I'm just as much against prohibition as the next crackpot Hit & Runner, but this 2-year study might be as unreliable as the 2-year studies Jacob often cites and debunks in regards to smoking bans that claim to reduce heart attacks. In other words, there may be and most likely are many extenuating factors. Seems like a great leap of faith to conclude bans are the likely cause of a (temporary? random? isolated?) increase in drunk-driving fatalities.

  • ||

    Speaking of Prohibition, 75 years ago, today. the beer taps flowed legally, once again.

    Kevin

  • ||

    "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:"

    I surmise that people spend less time smoking and more time drinking, leading to higher BACs. Additionally, they drink more to feel the same buzz because they lack that extra nicotine punch that doesn't show up on breathalyzers.

  • Paul||

    No, we need to ban alcoholic beverages.

  • ||

    this 2-year study might be as unreliable as the 2-year studies Jacob often cites and debunks in regards to smoking bans that claim to reduce heart attacks.

    Two differences:

    Those studies have tended to have tiny population bases.

    Those studies seem to show immediate reductions in heart disease, when it takes years to develop and recover from heart disease.

  • fyodor||

    ed,

    I wondered that myself, and I haven't read the study, but at least it's published in what I assume is a scholarly journal as opposed to studies publicized purely by advocates of a particular position which had obvious and likely flaws.

  • ||

    But they're so easy to ship

    The fuckers intercepted my Cubans at the border. Bastards.

  • ||

    Further to ed's comment, is there a copy of the paper in the open somewhere? In particular, I'd be interested to know (i) what the measured strength of the effect was, and (ii) what the statistical significance was (presumably p < 0.05 for publication, but still).

    fyodor: The paper on the Helena smoking ban study, if that is what you're thinking of, was published in the British Medical Journal. (Which is not to say that it's correct, of course.)

  • Other Matt||

    Wait, drinking and driving (over .08) is illegal. How is this possible?

    They were carrying a concealed pistol without a permit, so everything cancelled out. Now, if a red light camera were involved, then we'd really have something.

  • Taktix®||

    "We thought we would see a reduction," Adams said. "Our first thought was, 'Throw it away, it must be wrong.'"

    Wait a sec, is this guy actually admitting they throw away scientific studies when the results don't back up their pre-conceived notions?

  • Taktix®||

    Oh yeah, sorry, my last comment should have included the phrase:

    WHAT THE FUCK?!?

    We now return you to our regularly scheduled mudfight.

  • Jeff Smith||

    You know, citing studies *after* they are published in peer reviewed journals, as is done here, sets a really bad example for serious media outlets like the NYT that write long articles about unpublished working papers.

    Jeff

  • Elemenope||

    The most evil phrase in the regulatory, do-gooder playbook is "place of public accommodation."

    Really? I thought it was "You have irritated us, so now we're fucking up all your shit."

  • ||

    Dean,

    Stuff them in Teddybears. They'll never suspect. And you'll have the last laugh.

  • ||

    So after reading about this paper in several news outlets, I decided to go and actually look through it. Turns out they address many of the issues discussed here. Such as:

    "Could it also be that in no-smoking bars people simply drink more?" "Seems to me after two years of gathering results, they missed the most obvious conclusion."

    The paper actually discusses this as a plausible mechanism, but the authors only have evidence to support the idea of more drunk driving through greater searching. That said, as I think about it, there is no reason it has to be one OR the other. It could be both.

    Maybe we should be less critical of things we don't understand.

  • fyodor||

    fyodor: The paper on the Helena smoking ban study, if that is what you're thinking of, was published in the British Medical Journal.

    I stand, sit and lie down corrected!

  • fyodor||

    Maybe we should be less critical of things we don't understand.

    Aw, you're no fun!!!

  • ||

    Answering my own questions (numbering added for clarity):

    Further to ed's comment, [1] is there a copy of the paper in the open somewhere? In particular, I'd be interested to know [2] what the measured strength of the effect was, and [3] what the statistical significance was (presumably p < 0.05 for publication, but still).

    1) Yes.

    2) About a 12% increase in alcohol-related accidents. This seems large to me (not so large as to be implausible, just larger than I expected).

    3) Better than p = 0.01.

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