Smoke and (Broken) Mirrors: According to New Research, Smoking Bans Have Led to an Increase in Drunk-Driving Fatalities

The American (Washington, DC), July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

Smoke and (Broken) Mirrors: According to New Research, Smoking Bans Have Led to an Increase in Drunk-Driving Fatalities


In recent years, state and local governments across America have passed I measures to outlaw smoking in bars. 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.

Relying on "county-level data," Adams and Cotti examined "states, counties, and municipalities that have individually passed bans at different points in time, the vast majority of which were implemented over the past six years. This presents a natural laboratory to demonstrate the effects of smoking bans."

And what were those effects? "Our estimates reveal a significant increase in the danger posed by drunk drivers following the passage of bans," they write. "Specifically, our preferred estimate indicates that fatal accidents involving a drunk driver increase by about 13 percent. This is approximately 2.5 fatal accidents a year for a typical county."

Adams and Cotti make clear that "these estimates are robust to the inclusion of controls for area and time fixed effects, changes in population, changes in other policies that may impact drunk driving behavior (e.g., beer taxes, blood alcohol content regulation), as well as changes in factors that may influence overall driving risk separate from drinking behavior (e. …

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