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Indoor smoking ban unlikely to affect economy negatively

The AUB researchers said the smoking ban will actually have positive effects on the economy. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Researchers at the American University of Beirut refuted Tuesday a survey conducted by the Association of Restaurant Owners which claimed that the indoor smoking ban will have a negative impact on the restaurant industry.

The researchers said the ban would in fact have a positive impact on the economy, citing examples of other countries that prohibited smoking in public places and yet experienced economic growth.

The association’s survey, which was conducted on its behalf by international professional services corporation Ernst & Young, was based on the opinions of 65 restaurant owners. The sample was selected from more than 6,000 restaurants recognized by the association, the AUB researchers said.

“The representativeness of the sample used in the study is questionable and the whole survey is misleading,” AUB economist Jad Chaaban said during a news conference, which was attended by civil society activists as well as MP Robert Fadel.

“The consultancy firm hired by the association had only one month to conduct the research. They held one workshop with 65 businesses of the industry, claiming they were a representative sample,” he added.

According to Chaaban, the survey depended merely on the opinions of business owners who were asked to estimate the drop in revenues following the implementation of the law.

“This is a highly subjective and inaccurate method of obtaining economic estimates, as only a person’s opinion and not scientific and concrete data are surveyed,” Chaaban said.

The study, which was authored last month, expected revenues in hospitality businesses to drop by 25 percent. It said the estimated gross domestic product would decline by 7.1 percent or $282 million. Tourism spending would plummet $46 million, while over 2,600 full-time employees would be laid off, the study said.

In addition to slamming the study as erroneous and “entirely based on guess estimates,” the researchers argued that real losses to the economy had been in fact a result of not implementing the smoking ban.

Citing studies conducted by the AUB TCRG, the estimated losses that Lebanon had been suffering from as a result of not implementing the law amounted to over $55 million a year.

Chaaban listed inconsistencies in the survey, arguing that it had failed to account for the significant economic gains that could result from the smoking ban.

“More than 1,000 empirical scientific studies in several countries show no negative economic impact association with smoking restrictions,” he said, adding that studies have even shown that in many cases there is a positive impact.

He said the reduction in health care costs, improved corporate social responsibility, and higher revenues from non-smokers would far outweigh any loss in revenues from smokers.

MP Robert Fadel spoke about his experience in implementing the law as the chairman of ABC mall, a leading retail group.

He said that ABC, which started implementing the law gradually last year, had not been affected negatively by the ban. An initial one-day-a-week smoking ban did not affect sales, he said, rather it encouraged many to visit.

Fadel dismissed the possibility of amending the law but said he feared the government would turn a blind eye to businesses who might not fully implement it.

Rima Nakkash, a public health professor at AUB, said other countries who implemented similar laws do not show a decline in tourism and hospitality sectors revenues.

In Thailand, a tourism-dependent economy, a similar smoking ban had no impact on the economy. New Zealand’s restaurants saw customers increasing on the heels of a similar ban.

“Turkey, which is very comparable to Lebanon, saw the number of smokers declining from 31 percent to 15 percent after the law was implemented all while the hospitality industry revenues jumped 5 percent,” she said.

Nakkash slammed attempts to introduce amendments to the smoking ban arguing that these exceptions would eradicate the health benefits.

Rania Baroud, an activist at Tobacco Free Initiative Lebanon, echoed Nakkash’s views, arguing that any amendment would render the law ineffective She said Lebanese cafes, restaurants and bars had turned into highly poisoned locations, particularly for people employed at these institutes.

“We cannot accept our restaurants remaining centers for collective suicide.

“A couple of years ago experts measured the concentration of poisonous chemicals at the Salim Salam tunnel. But when they tried to measure a nargileh cafe their machines got jammed,” Baroud added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 05, 2012, on page 5.

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