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Smoking Bans Linked to Increase in Alcohol Related Traffic Deaths

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posted 12:58 AM EST, Tue April 08, 2008
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Smoking Bans Linked to Increase in Alcohol Related Traffic Deaths © Photo: Challiyan

Smoking bans are causing people to drive farther, to bars in jurisdictions that allow public smoking.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee have concluded that, for the moment, smoking bans are creating an increase in drunk driving and alcohol related traffic fatalities.

The researchers examined highway traffic fatality data involving drunken drivers, comparing the data from jurisdictions that had enacted smoking bans, with those that had not, and found a statistically significant increase in alcohol related traffic death in places with smoking bans.

The results surprised the researchers, who were expecting to see the opposite effect. Study author, Scott Adams, explained, "We thought we would see a reduction. Our first thought was, 'Throw it away, it must be wrong.' "

The researchers conclude that what has happened is that people are traveling farther to be able to drink in areas that have not enacted smoking bans and note that the fatality increases are greatest in areas bordering jurisdictions that do allow smoking in bars. People are spending more time in their cars, and driving farther home after a night out.

Anti smoking groups have called the study inconclusive, but the researchers maintain that the results should not be seen as an argument persuading against the enactment of smoking bans, but rather one that calls for the more universal application of these bans. Adams explains, "A well-enforced national smoking ban would get rid of the drunken driving increases related to smoke bans."

The study was not funded by any outside agency, and has been published in the Journal of Public Economics.

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