Smokers have stayed home and stopped spending.
The ISIS International Social Impact Survey grew out of an online survey of smokers conducted by Simon Clark in May 2012. Nobody ever seems to ask smokers how smoking bans affect them, and so a few days later on my blog I wondered aloud:
“…whether we could use the power of the internet to carry out such a study ourselves.”
Events flowed pretty rapidly from there, and about 20 people volunteered to get involved, and within a few days a discussion forum had been set up, and draft questionnaires began to be discussed, which at the end of May resulted in a checkbox questionnaire which anyone could rapidly complete:
This was simultaneously translated into French, German, Spanish, Greek, and Dutch in a variety of different formats that could be easily printed and duplicated. The plan was for volunteers to conduct a survey of smokers’ experiences of smoking bans in Britain, America, Canada, Holland, Germany Spain, and Greece over a period of a few months, and then collate the results centrally, and draw up a report.
After the initial flurry of discussion, matters then went quiet for several months as the various volunteers set about conducting the survey. A website was set up to allow results to be entered online from the different participating countries.
During this period, several of the volunteers dropped out for one reason or other (including the death of partners, the need to care for ageing parents), and in the end only about 10 of the volunteers managed to get some completed questionnaires. And it also took a little longer to get the results gathered and collated, because some people had difficulty using the online data entry system, and had to post or email completed forms.
By the end of November 2012, nevertheless, we had about 410 completed questionnaires (which was almost exactly what I’d started out aiming for in May 2012), with about 380 responses from smokers, and 30 from non-smokers. Analysis of the results then began. For this purpose I wrote a computer programme that would allow me to display the results in a variety of ways, and to otherwise interrogate the database. The current document is the first draft of this report.
The ISIS survey is a remarkable example of “citizen science” being conducted by concerned citizens (most of whom had never met each other), using the power of the internet to reach around the world.
A separate table below gives a clearer breakdown of places adversely affected.
Most results were obtained in the UK, with smaller numbers in the USA, Germany, Spain, Greece, Belgium, Canada, and Netherlands. On average two thirds of respondents were male, one third female, both mostly of working age.
About 70% of smokers reported that, since smoking bans had come into force, they went to pubs and cafes and restaurants either less often or hardly ever.
Nearly half of all smokers reported that, since smoking bans had come into force, they saw less or much less of friends and family.
Over half of smokers reported that, since smoking bans had come into force, they spent more time or much more time at home.
About 80% of all respondents (including non-smokers) reported that they had become more distrustful or much more distrustful of experts and the mass media.
About two-thirds of respondents reported that, since smoking bans had come into force, their quality of life had got worse or much worse.
Three-quarters of respondents reported that they disapproved of hospital and care home bans. Half of respondents reported that they strongly disapproved.
There was no noteworthy difference between the responses from different countries.
As might be expected, most positive responses to smoking bans were obtained from non-smokers, but even so on average non-smokers did not report going to pubs and cafes and restaurants more often. Perhaps surprisingly, a number of non-smokers reported adverse effects as well, for example as a result of having to accompany smoking friends outdoors.
Not all smokers reported negative outcomes. A small minority reported that as a result of the smoking ban, they were smoking less, or that the ban helped them to cut down on smoking, or that they approved of the ban.
None of these results should come as much of a surprise, since they are in accordance with numerous anecdotal reports. Although the collapse of trust in experts and the mass media in both smokers and non-smokers, and the lack of enthusiasm for smoking bans expressed by non-smokers, might be regarded as surprising.
Nearly half of respondents reported that they saw less of friends and family, and about a quarter of respondents reported that they saw a lot less of friends and family after smoking bans came into force. This suggests that some smokers may have become socially isolated as a result of smoking bans. And in this respect one might bear in mind a BBC report that
A study of 6,500 UK men and women aged over 52 found that being isolated from family and friends was linked with a 26% higher death risk over seven years.
Entertaining at home:
About one fifth of smokers reported that, while they went to pubs and cafes and restaurants less, and stayed at home more, they nevertheless saw the same or more of friends and family. It might be reasonably inferred from this that many smokers began entertaining at home, where they could continue to smoke in the company of friends and family. Such people clearly have not become socially isolated, but have formed a new social splinter group.
In total, then, nearly two thirds of smokers either became socially isolated in some degree in the aftermath of the introduction of smoking bans, or else met up with friends and family in a new separate “home culture”. The resulting social disruption is displayed in a pie chart (right) in which UK smokers are shown in shades of red, and non-smokers in green, with degrees of social isolation shown in radial distance, and degrees of social fragmentation shown by scattering.
Many smokers report that, since smoking bans have been introduced, they hardly ever visit pubs and cafes and restaurants. In the UK, according to our survey, about a quarter of smokers reported hardly ever going to pubs and restaurants after the UK ban. Given that about a fifth of UK adults are smokers, and that non-smokers don’t report visiting pubs and restaurants more frequently, then it should be expected that the UK hospitality businesses would have suffered a 5% or greater loss of trade. And in the case of the UK, some 10% of UK pubs have closed down since the UK smoking ban was introduced in July 2007, with many pub landlords complaining that the promised influx of non-smokers to replace the departing smokers “never materialised”.
But it might also be reasonably inferred that, since smokers who are adversely affected in pubs and cafes and restaurants visit them less or hardly ever, much the same is likely to apply with smoking bans everywhere else, including hotels, clubs, beaches, theatres, art galleries, museums, etc, and that smokers will have been spending proportionally less time and money in all these places as well. And if they have been meeting up with friends and family less, they will spend less on transport, clothes, shoes, make-up, hairdressing, perfume, and everything else associated with such social occasions. And also it may reasonably be inferred that, if smokers are staying home more, they will also be spending less on transportation of every kind, while spending more on home decoration or other improvements.
It is sometimes suggested, by advocates of smoking bans, that if smokers stop spending in pubs and cafes, they will simply spend their money elsewhere. But if smokers are staying home, it’s rather hard to see what else they can be spending their money on. Most shopping in Britain is done on its streets and shopping precincts, and when smokers visit such places less frequently, they are likely to spend less on everything on sale there.
In this sub-study, only the responses of the 150 or so UK smokers interviewed have been used to produce an estimate of the net economic impact of their reduced spending in the UK, using data on Consumer Trends from the Office for National Statistics. In many cases – e.g. food, housing, medicine – it has been assumed that there has been no change in spending at all. But in other sectors of the economy, such as hospitality and transport and it has been assumed that there has been a proportional drop in spending.
The data from our survey suggest that there has been a 10% reduction in spending by smokers in the UK economy which has resulted in a 2% – 3% fall in smoker spending across the whole economy. This figure would need to be multiplied up to reflect the knock-on effects of reduced smoker spending, as would happen when pubs and restaurants buy in less food and drink, and employ fewer staff. Using a multiplier of 2, this results in a net fall in demand of between 4% and 6% across the whole UK economy. And using a multiplier of 3 or more, this results in a 10% or greater fall in spending.
And in fact, demand in the UK economy actually did fall by some 8% in the years after 2007, with the sharpest downturn in the first quarter of 2008 when smokers no longer enjoyed summer outdoor temperatures, suggesting that the UK smoking ban probably did have a strong negative impact on the UK economy, although this was masked by the “credit crunch” that began almost simultaneously.
If so, this would suggest that, where smoking prevalence is higher than in Britain, such as in Bulgaria or Russia or other eastern European or Middle Eastern countries (40% prevalence or higher) the adverse economic impacts and accompanying social fragmentation due to smoking bans are likely to be correspondingly greater. Russia is set to introduce a smoking ban in June 2013, and with a reported 60% smoking prevalence demand in the Russian economy may be expected to fall by 20% or more, if the ban is enforced as tightly as it has been in the UK.
These results also suggest that all attempts to boost consumer spending and stimulate economic activity are likely to be nullified while smokers, who represent 20% or more of the economy, continue to stay home and stop spending.
Smoking bans are socially divisive. Smokers respond by staying home and stopping spending. For some smokers the result is social isolation, and for others the emergence of a new “smoky-drinky” home culture. The result either way is social fragmentation and a fall in consumer demand across the whole economy.
And since, in the UK at least, these are results recorded five years after the introduction of the UK smoking ban, it suggests that smokers don’t ‘adapt’ or ‘get used’ to smoking bans, and continue their lives much as before, but instead radically and permanently change their social behaviours and spending patterns.
A responsible government would conduct a larger, fully randomized, and independent study to investigate the matter further.
That said, science requires accurate measurement. Human beings are not accurate measuring devices, like rulers or scales or clocks. Their responses to their circumstances do not vary linearly. And they cannot be calibrated. So the responses that human subjects provide in questionnaires cannot be treated as accurate measurements. It should always be borne in mind, both with this survey, and every other one like it (which would include almost every single published study of smoking), that it is not science.