NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 31, 2008

In recent years, state and local governments across the United States have passed measures to outlaw smoking in bars, says the American.  The public health rationale is simple: to protect bar patrons and employees from exposure to secondhand smoke. 

But according to economists Scott Adams of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Chad Cotti of the University of South Carolina, smoking bans have had some unintended and deadly consequences.  Specifically, they have led to an increase in drunk-driving fatalities.

The economists studied a variety of municipalities that passed smoking bans.  According to their research:

  • The passage of the bans led to a significant increase in the danger posed by drunk drivers.
  • Fatal accidents involving a drunk driver increase by about 13 percent; this is approximately 2.5 fatal accidents a year for a typical county.

The evidence is consistent with two mechanisms -- smokers searching for alternative locations to drink and smokers driving to nearby jurisdictions that allow smoking in bars, say Adams and Cotti. 

Adams says smoking bans should still be supported, because the health benefits still outweigh the health costs.  Cotti recommends that smoke-free communities increase DUI enforcement measures to provide drivers with appropriate disincentives.

Source: "Smoke and (Broken) Mirrors," The American, July/August 2008; based upon: Scott Adams and Chad Cotti, "The Effect of Smoking Bans on Bars and Restaurants: An Analysis of Changes in Employment," University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee/university of South Carolina, 2007.


Browse more articles on Government Issues