Science or sham? One smoking study clouded in mystery

Try to find some research explaining a smoking ban's economic impact on bars and restaurants, and "science" quickly becomes "political science."

Each side of the smoking ban debate trashes the other side's research.

Smoking ban supporters say scientific studies show no negative hospitality industry effects -- and in some cases, an economic upside. They say the tobacco industry funds studies showing economic harm -- a bias that undermines the results.

Smoking ban opponents say scientific studies show bans clearly hurt some businesses. Some say results that focus on the overall hospitality industry -- instead of nightclubs and bars that depend heavily on smokers who drink -- are misleading.

Comments made by Tom Day, vice president for government affairs for Hospitality Minnesota, typify the issue's animosity and loaded language. Day opposed a smoking ban at the June 7 public hearing of the Minneapolis City Council's Health and Human Services Committee.

"These [smoking] prohibitionists will tell you that the economic impact for this government mandate on the industry will be minimal, with self-serving surveys from their groups and the biased CDC [Centers for Disease Control] that have given them the results that they wanted," Day said.

(The American Cancer Society, the American Heart Society and the American Lung Association funded at least one study ban proponents use, from Helena, Mont. [see page 10].)

Added Day, "There are also stacks of studies from other academia and business groups that show profoundly negative effects to the industry."

After the meeting, the Southwest Journal asked Day for the strongest piece of research to support his argument that smoking bans hurt business. He cited a Deloitte & Touche study done for the National Restaurant Association.

Proprietary information

Brad Dayspring, the National Restaurant Association's manager of media relations, provided a one-page executive summary of the Deloitte & Touche study and a one-page methodology summary. The association said the research tracked economic data on hundreds of restaurants over a 10-year period.

It concluded that restaurants sales felt "a temporary negative impact" where countywide 100 percent smoking bans were in effect (excluding bar areas). "The estimated declines in annual sales ranged from roughly 49 to 55 percent at restaurants where such bans were enacted two to three years prior to the survey," it reported.

The association declined to provide the detailed study; Dayspring said it was proprietary information. The association never published the study's results in any trade or scientific magazine.

The two-page summary "is more than we have ever given any other member of the press since that study was done," Dayspring said.

Critics of the Deloitte & Touche study include Dan Kelly, grassroots and community affairs coordinator for the Minnesota Smoke-Free Coalition. The study's flaws include the lack of peer review, he said. (Peer review uses professionals in the same field to review scientific research, critique it and ensure its credibility.)

Prof. Stanton Glantz, director of the center for tobacco control, research and education at the University of California-San Francisco, also panned the study. (He got a draft copy of the study -- he doesn't recall how -- and posted it at his "tobacco scam" Web site, www.tobaccoscam.ucsf.edu.)

Glantz wrote that Deloitte & Touche study used an overly complex model with 51 variables, effectively manipulating the data to justify the conclusions its client wanted.

"None of the 'findings' of the Deloitte & Touche study refute the large peer-reviewed literature on the subject that finds that smoke-free ordinances do not have negative effects on the hospitality industry," he wrote.

Glantz's Web site includes the National Restaurant Association on its list of "tobacco allies and fronts."

The Web site has a link to a copy of a $75,000 invoice from the National Restaurant Association to Phillip Morris U.S.A. for "restaurant industry research on economic impact of smoking bans," an apparent reference to the Deloitte & Touche research.

The document, dated Dec. 11, 2001, was released as part of a tobacco lawsuit.

Southwest Journal sent copies of Glantz's critique of the Deloitte & Touche study and the tobacco-related invoice to the National Restaurant Association and requested comment.

The association chose not to respond.

"We have pretty much gone as far as we are going to go," Dayspring said. "The comments that we sent you are pretty much all that we have."

Tobacco postscript

Glantz's Web site also names the local Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association on its list of tobacco "allies," based on Tobacco Institute contributions it received in 1995 and 1996.

The Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association has taken an active role in trying to shape the Minneapolis smoke-free ordinance and has opposed a strict workplace ban. Mike Jennings, its president, is a member of a city task force crafting proposed language.

Jennings and the association's Executive Director, Jim Farrell, both say they want to steer clear of tobacco money.

Jennings, a Warehouse District bar owner, said he became president this year. The tobacco donations predated his tenure, and he would not accept them in the future.

Farrell, a former state representative, became association executive director Jan. 1, 1999. He said the only time the association took money from tobacco during his tenure -- $2,500 from Phillip Morris in 2000 -- was when he thought the company was paying associate fees for Miller Brewing, which Phillip Morris owned.

He is militantly opposed to accepting tobacco money, opposes tobacco industry efforts to push better ventilation as the solution to second-hand smoke and won't meet with industry representatives, Farrell said.

Jennings said the association is "absolutely not" a tobacco ally.

"If I could snap my fingers -- and I could be God for one moment -- I would have a statewide smoking ban," he said.