Smoking ban research questioned

Saturday, December 22, 2007 | 4:58 p.m. CST; updated 1:41 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — After releasing an economic report on Columbia’s smoking ban Dec. 11, St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank economist Michael Pakko clarified his intention, affiliation and the source of funding for his research.

Charles Cowger, former director of the MU School of Social Work, was puzzled by what he called a lack of transparency in the media’s coverage of the report.

“My primary concern was not about Michael Pakko,” Cowger said. “What troubled me the most was that stories were published without attributing his past affiliations.”

Pakko recently released the results of a study he did on the impact of Columbia’s ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. He reported that the ban, enacted on Jan. 9, had caused a 5 percent decline in sales tax revenue from dining establishments.

Pakko has studied smoking bans elsewhere and was invited by the Boone Liberty Coalition, which fought the ban, to testify to the Columbia City Council as it considered whether to approve it. Although Pakko at one time chaired the St. Louis County Libertarian Party, he said that his reports are in no way influenced by party or political motivations.

“I believe in the power of the free market, and that point of view overlaps a lot with the Libertarian point of view,” Pakko said. Still, he said he is an economist first and is simply researching important issues.

Cletus Coughlin, deputy director of research at the Federal Reserve, clarified the bank’s position regarding its economists’ reports.

“We hold strongly that these aren’t official positions of the bank,” Coughlin said. “However, he (Pakko) is an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank, and we don’t want to hide from that.”

Coughlin said he prefers not to see “Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis says...” in media stories about its researchers’ work because of the way things can be “stereotyped.”

“We cringe when we see that,” he said.

The Federal Reserve’s attempt to separate itself from individual findings can be found in every report it publishes. At the beginning or end of each publication, a disclaimer reads “The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect official positions of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis or the Federal Reserve System.”

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John Schultz December 23, 2007 | 12:16 a.m.

What happened to the comments previously posted when this story was at a different URL?

(Report Comment)
David Kuneman December 23, 2007 | 12:09 p.m.

If it were just Pakko's study, alone, which found an economic loss due to a smoking ban, and all other studies ever conducted on bans found net-zero change, or slightly positive effects, then that would be sufficient cause to question his motives.

What is little realized is that there are actually many studies finding economic losses, which have either been ingored, or attacked by antismoking groups. Most are available at my webpage
in the reference section

If any reader will review this link it becomes clear that these studies are mostly conducted by hospitality trade groups, or professional economists, and yes, some of the older ones were funded by tobacco companies, but there is a growing tendancy away from that funding source, with the outcomes still pointing to adverse economic effects.

For example, my link furnishes another link to one study couducted by the National Restaurant Association (down 20%), and another one to the University of Wisc ( employment down 5%), and another to a news report that the Nevada Dept of Labor found umemployment claims made by hospitality workers jumped 58% post thier statewide ban -these are not prosmoking groups. Of course a Federal Reserve study would belong to this more neutral category.

On the other hand, anti-smoking advocates will point to their so-called studies, ALL of which were funded by antismoking groups or health groups, and written by health professionals without any particular knowlege of the hospitality industry, or economics.

Whose motives should be questioned here?

In the end, the owners and workers do end up suffering the ill effects of bans, while the lawmakers and the anti-smoking groups wallow in their "victory" , but no one ever suggests that the city or the anti-smoking groups should compensate the owners and the workers.

(Report Comment)
Kevin Gamble December 23, 2007 | 4:15 p.m.

There's always a price for social progress. One can argue whether moving away from smoking is social progress (personally, I think it is, whether this is the correct method or not), but no one should be surprised at some momentary price. (I say "momentary" because other things will certainly arrive to fill in the economic loss.)

In a larger sense, this debate is a smokescreen (no pun intended) for the real cause of business decline, which is that smokers are no longer patronizing businesses they've previously patronized. If the only reason they're patronizing a business is because they're allowed to smoke, what kind of customer loyalty is that? Without question, some customers continue to patronize businesses which formerly allowed smoking, so the abandonment is not complete.

So let's say it like it is: smokers are causing these businesses to fail, by putting their own addictions ahead of the well-being of their local businesses.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz December 23, 2007 | 5:36 p.m.

No, let's lay the blame on the city council for altering the business models of existing establishments. They sought out smokers and offered them a location where they could light up if they wished. Two-thirds of restaurants in Columbia were already voluntarily smoke-free before the ban. Both smokers and non-smokers had places; the free market was working.

To suggest that customers not patronizing somewhere they previously went after the location was forced to change its policies is a non-starter. But I'll play along, where are all the non-smokers that said they would go to previously-smoking bars and restaurants after the ban was implemented? Or are they like the small-minded "Leslie" commenting on one of the Tribune's blogs that she wouldn't go to any of those businesses that were raising a stink about the ban?

(Report Comment)
David Kuneman December 26, 2007 | 10:55 a.m.

Still, though, the point remains that the antismoking groups claimed that this business loss would not happen,..that issue is apart from Mr. Gamble's blaming the loss on smokers' lack of loyality.

If we can't trust antismoking groups to provide accurate data on business losses, then how can we rely on their health-effects data?

For example even the Surgeon General's report claimed that economic ban-effects were neutral or slightly positive. If he got that one wrong due antismoking groups spoon-feeding him selective research, then how are we to know the same faulty mechanism is not misguiding him on the health effects too?

(Report Comment)
Dean Andersen October 22, 2010 | 10:29 a.m.

What we are talking about here his HEALTH! When the science became evident that lead in our gas caused disease, did we say, "lets not regulate it out because it will be expensive for the oil companies?" "NO", we made the oil companies do the right thing and protect the public by removing the lead! Same thing with asbestos! Were these regulations expensive? YES! Did they save lives? YES!

Secondhand smoke is a killer! EMPLOYEES get sick and some die from it! Even if it did cause some economic decline (which I don't believe it does) it should be done! PERIOD! Nobody should have to breathe a CLASS A carcinogen to hold a job! NO ONE! Will Smokefree laws save lives? YES!!!

(Report Comment)

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