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Thumbs up: Businesses survive smoke-free rules

Aug. 13, 2013 @ 11:20 PM

As West Virginia and other states began to implement smoke-free regulations in recent years, one of the big concerns was that the new rules would hurt business for restaurants and bars.

Business owners worried that the smokers would just find another place to eat and drink. In our region, some businesses filed lawsuits, others attempted to ignore the law. But as regulations became more consistent throughout the region, those concerns began to appear unfounded.

By and large, restaurants and bars still prospered.

Recently, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took a more in-depth look at the issue and found that smoke-free regulations had almost no economic impact at all. The researchers compared restaurant employment and sales between 2000 and 2010 in 216 now smoke-free cities. The locations included Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

In most of the states, there was no difference in sales and employment after smoke-free rules were implemented, and in West Virginia, restaurant employment was actually up 1 percent.

"Initially, we had resistance from business owners," Nasandra Wright, sanitarian supervisor for the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, told the Charleston Daily Mail. "But over time, they've become very receptive -- once they learned the benefits of clean indoor air and saw there weren't adverse reactions in terms of economics."

Smoking remains a big public health problem in our region, costing West Virginia nearly $2 billion each year in direct health-care costs and occupational and work productivity costs. But at least the move to smoke-free public facilities has proved to be a step in the right direction.

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