Smoking bylaw didn't affect food, drink sales: Study


Making Ottawa bars and restaurants go smoke-free had no impact on sales of food and drink despite claims to the contrary by bar and restaurant groups, a new study by the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit suggested today.

It found that relative to rising retail sales, bar and restaurant sales in Ottawa — where a smoking ban has been in place since August 2001 — have remained constant since before it was implemented.

University of Toronto professor Roberta Ferrence said there were several factors affecting sales in restaurants and bars during the period examined, including a general economic downturn and the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Despite those factors, "there was no negative effect on restaurant and bar sales as a result of the bylaw," she said.

"This is a very clear message that has been shown time and time again: eliminating smoking in bars and restaurants will not negatively impact on sales."

The study examined taxable sales of licensed bars and restaurants and unlicensed restaurants excluding take-outs, franchises, coffee and ice cream shops from March 1998 to June 2002.

But bar and restaurant owners were quick to call the study by the Ontario government-sponsored organization "hogwash."

Barry McKay of the Pub and Bar Coalition of Canada said 60 small bars have been put of business because of the bylaw.

"We have figures from the brewers of Ontario that show beyond a question of a doubt there's a million dollars a month in lost beer sales since the bylaw was enacted," he said in an interview from Ottawa.

"If they claim that there are no financial losses that are caused by smoking bans, then it's a flawed study because that's not true."

"Instead of writing reports in their ivory towers I suggest they get out on the street and talk to some people who are actually in the business and see for a fact what impact it is actually having on small business. Not just doing flawed studies and junk science," McKay said.

Courtney Donovan of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association said the study also failed to look at the effect the bylaw had on lost tips, layoffs or the number of bars or restaurants that closed.

Donovan cited a November 2002 KPMG study that she said found "it remains possible that the bylaw may have had an impact on some particular establishments along with other factors."

"It's the battle of the studies," Donovan said.

Ferrence rejected the evidence offered by the bar owners.

"Beer sales are not a good indicator of the bylaw because, first of all, what we're talking about the total revenue for the owners and beer is just one small part of that," she said.

"It doesn't include wine sales, it doesn't include spirit sales and it doesn't include food."

The Ontario Tobacco Control Act, passed in 1994, allowed municipalities to restrict smoking in workplaces and public places. Since then, 73 of 446 Ontario municipalities have implemented smoke-free bylaws in restaurants or both restaurants and bars.

A study last year found smoke-free legislation in Prince Edward Island would lower smoking rates and save the province $16 million a year in health costs and productivity losses.