Monday, February 25, 2008

Smoking Bans Can Be Hazardous to Your Health?

From "Economics: Public and Private Choice" by Gwartney, Stoup, Sobel and Macpherson:

Guidepost #6 to Economic Thinking: "Economic actions generate secondary effects in addition to immediate effects."

Pitfall #2 to Avoid in Economic Thinking: "Good intentions do not guarantee desirable outcomes."

Application/Case Study:

Boston Globe article: "Smoking Bans Can Be Hazardous to Some People's Health:"

A rigorous statistical examination has found that smoking bans increase drunken-driving fatalities. One might expect that a ban on smoking in bars would deter some people from showing up, thereby reducing the number of people driving home drunk. But jurisdictions with smoking bans often border jurisdictions without bans, and some bars may skirt the ban, so that smokers can bypass the ban with extra driving. There is also a large overlap between the smoker and alcoholic populations, which would exacerbate the danger from extra driving. The authors estimate that smoking bans increase fatal drunken-driving accidents by about 13%, or about 2.5 such accidents per year for a typical county. Assuming a smoking ban is still worth it, the results suggest the need for a more aggressive approach to drunken driving - or a nationwide smoking ban.

Adams, S. and Cotti, C., "Drunk driving after the passage of smoking bans in bars," Journal of Public Economics (forthcoming).

Article Abstract: Using geographic variation in local and state smoke-free bar laws in the US, we observe an increase in fatal accidents involving alcohol following bans on smoking in bars that is not observed in places without bans. Although an increased accident risk might seem surprising at first, two strands of literature on consumer behavior suggest potential explanations — smokers driving longer distances to a bordering jurisdiction that allows smoking in bars and smokers driving longer distances within their jurisdiction to bars that still allow smoking, perhaps through non-compliance or outdoor seating. We find evidence consistent with both explanations. The increased miles driven by drivers wishing to smoke and drink offsets any reduction in driving from smokers choosing to stay home following a ban, resulting in increased alcohol-related accidents.


At 2/25/2008 11:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Makes sense. We see the same thing with progressive increases in local taxes. Businesses, and individuals, vote with their feet and set up camp in a more friendly location.

Progressive logic dictates that you increase taxes again to offset the losses....

So, in the smoking ban case, the right thing to do is ban smoking in the neighboring locations, right?

At 2/25/2008 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pitfall #3 to Avoid in Economic Thinking: "Undesirable outcomes usually lead to more government."

"Assuming a smoking ban is still worth it, the results suggest the need for a more aggressive approach to drunken driving - or a nationwide smoking ban."

Our nanny-state do-gooders will try for both.

At 2/25/2008 3:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greenspan also said a boom in oil prices, which hit a record of $101.32 on Wednesday, will "go on forever".

That should put an end to this drunk driving.

At 2/25/2008 4:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, the solution isn't to end smoking bans! The problem is irresponsible bars and drinkers

At 2/25/2008 4:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In Canada, the smoking ban does not apply to private clubs, the veteran's legions or private homes. It is surprising that someone has not started clubs for smokers to get around the ban.

Perhaps, there is a market for alcohol & smoking related tourism. Good news for Latin America where the currency is tied to the greenback and cost of living is cheap.

At 2/25/2008 6:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The authors of the "paper" have no evidence what-so-ever that the accidents in question happened to people driving farther just so they could smoke and drink at the same time.

Instead they lazily rely upon other research that suggests that the people in question were more likely to have driven farther than normal just to drink and smoke at the same time.

Other equally plausible reasons for these alcohol related accidents are that the nicotine addicted drunk drivers were deprived of nicotine too long while in smoke free bars and that nicotine deprivation reduced their alertness or they dropped a hot coal in their laps or they were regular drunk drivers that got used to driving drunk on familiar routes but when faced with a new route they were unable to negotiate it and crashed.

At 2/25/2008 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One also has to look at the methodology used to compile "drunk driving" statistics.

Not sure of the methodology used in the U.S. but I know that Canada records all accidents where alcohol was a factor (notably not the major factor and notably not just incidents where the driver is over the legal limit). Canadian stats include having passengers who had been drinking or accidents involving pedestrians who have been drinking even where the driver is cold sober.

Have you also noticed that drunk driving only seems to occur during the winter?

Like you say, one has to look very carefully when assumptions are made without data to support them.

At 2/26/2008 3:54 PM, Blogger Tom Gagne said...

Is it also possible that smoking, like eating, actually slows down the consumption of alcohol? Note, I did not say the "absorption."

Is is possible that someone who is both drinking AND smoking might drink less because of an alternate oral pacifier--the cigarette?


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