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Restaurant employment boom in New York City
  1. Roswell Park Cancer Institute
  2. Department of Cancer Prevention, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics
  3. Buffalo, New York
  4. USA
  5. andrew.hyland{at}

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    Editor,—On 10 April 1995, New York City (NYC) became the largest city in the USA to pass a smokefree restaurant law. This legislation prohibits smoking in the indoor dining area of restaurants with more than 35 seats. Smoking is still permitted in smaller restaurants, bar areas of restaurants, and stand alone bars and taverns.

    Opponents of the legislation argued that the law would cause significant adverse economic losses for restaurants. Even in 1995, there were convincing published data to suggest no adverse economic consequences.1 Since then, virtually all published studies have confirmed these findings,2-5 including a detailed economic evaluation of the NYC law.6-10 Despite these published data, economics is still often the central point of debate among policy makers considering passing smokefree restaurant legislation in their jurisdiction. These arguments are presumably fueled by anecdotal reports and methodologically flawed studies that do indicate adverse economic consequences, thereby leaving the issue in doubt in the minds of many.

    On 1 March 2001, a recently introduced bill to expand the NYC law to prohibit smoking in all indoor areas within restaurants, regardless of seating capacity or the presence of a bar, was open to a public hearing. One argument repeated by opponents of the bill was that smokefree restaurant laws are bad for business and that passage of the bill would cause decreases in restaurant employment.

    To address this issue, we obtained data from the New York State Department of Labor on the number of restaurant employees (specific industry code 58.12) per month from April 1994 (one year before the NYC law became effective) until April 1999 (four years after the NYC law) for each of the five NYC boroughs as well as for the nearby counties of Nassau, Westchester, and Rockland. (Nassau had a smokefree restaurant law became effective in July 1998, Westchester's law became effective in September 1996, and Rocklands law became effective in January 1998.) The change in the number of restaurant employees per person (population data obtained from the 1990 census) was calculated between 1994 and 1999 for all eight counties.

    Overall, more than 22 000 additional restaurant employees were employed in the city between 1994 and 1999, and per capita restaurant employment increased by 18%. All boroughs increased between 1994 and 1999, led by the Bronx (36%) and Richmond (31%), and growth in each borough outpaced growth in each of the three nearby counties (fig 1).

    Figure 1

    Change in per capita restaurant employment from April 1994 to April 1999 in New York City and nearby counties.

    These findings indicate that restaurant employment in NYC is better than ever, and that nearby counties have followed NYC's lead by implementing their own clean indoor air policies. While these data are not the final word on the economic impact of each specific policy, one thing is clear—the initial doom and gloom predictions for the NYC restaurant industry proved to be unfounded. This finding has been replicated across different communities, with different outcome measures, and with extended follow up time. Policy makers need to make decisions about protecting citizens and workers from secondhand smoke based on health evidence and not on economic fears.