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Impact of US smoke-free air laws on restaurants and bars by employer size: a panel study
  1. Paul Shafer1,2
  1. 1 Department of Health Policy and Management, Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA
  2. 2 Center for Health Policy Science and Tobacco Research, RTI International, Research Triangle, North Carolina, USA
  1. Correspondence to Mr Paul Shafer; pshafer{at}


Objectives Thirty states have smoke-free air laws that ban smoking in restaurants and bars, covering nearly two-thirds of the US population. It is well established that these laws generally have a null or positive economic impact on restaurants and bars. However, all establishments in a geographic area are usually treated as a homogeneous group without considering the potential for differential effects by establishment characteristics. This study uses variation in smoke-free air laws over time to estimate their impact on employment in restaurants and bars with a focus on potential differences by employer size (number of employees). A two-pronged approach with a national-level and state-level analysis is used to take advantage of more granular data availability for a single state (North Carolina).

Design Observational study using panel data.

Setting 1) US, 2) North Carolina

Interventions Smoke-free air laws.

Outcome measures State-level accommodation and food services employment for all 50 states and District of Columbia from 1990 through 2014 (Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages); county-level restaurant and bar employment in North Carolina from 2001 through 2014 (North Carolina Department of Commerce).

Results There is no evidence of a redistributive effect of smoke-free air laws on restaurant and bar employment by employer size.

Conclusion The lack of a redistributive effect is an important finding for policy-makers considering implementation or expansion of a smoke-free air law to protect employees and patrons from the dangers of exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • health economics
  • public health

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement This study uses data assembled from several publicly available sources, including the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages (Bureau of Labor Statistics, North Carolina Department of Commerce), Population Estimates Program (US Census Bureau), US Tobacco Control Laws Database (American Nonsmokers' Rights Foundation) and other publications with accompanying data. The analytic dataset and accompanying code are available from the author upon request for non-commercial research purposes.

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