The Economics of Smoking Bans

New Mexico has a statewide smoking ban and both cities and states around the nation have adopted similar bans (Albuquerque banned indoor smoking in 2003, while New Mexico was the 17th state to do so). But what are the economics of these bans? In 2004, two economists, Benjamin Alamar and Stanton Glantz produced a paper which argued that legislated smoking bans are actually beneficial to the bars and restaurants that must ban smoking.
Although we at the Rio Grande Foundation have not done extensive research on smoking bans, the findings seemed to be counterintuitive. After all, if banning smoking was really good for business, you’d think more restaurants and bars would be doing so in order to attract customers in a very competitive industry.
Well, an economist named David Henderson, writing in Econjournalwatch, has poked holes in the argument that smoking bans are good for business. It turns out that Alamar and Glantz based their research on faulty assumptions like comparing the sale price of restaurants both in and outside banned areas to sales and assuming that the ratio had some bearing on the impact of a smoking ban. The authors also failed to account for bars and restaurants that closed their doors after bans took effect, thus lessening competition.
Alamar and Glantz respond, but their arguments just don’t hold. It only makes sense that legislated smoking bans would hurt bars and restaurants — after all, owners of those establishments, not politicians should know best what customers want.