December 17, 2007

Where there’s smoke, there’s research

Craig Gallet Craig Gallet

Craig Gallet’s scrutiny of anti-smoking laws isn’t a personal quest. Apart from the occasional cigar, the economics professor isn’t a smoker and never had a particular interest in cigarettes. But what does interest him are the factors that affect demand for consumer products.

“I began this research with a student about three years ago,” says Gallet. “I found that a lot of literature showed how smoking bans affected the sales of cigarettes, but no link was ever made between smoking bans and their affect on alcohol demand.”

In particular, Gallet was curious about the impact on beer, wine and liquor sales in bars and restaurants once smoking was banned in public areas. “The drop was statistically significant,” he says. “We found that smoking bans did reduce alcohol consumption overall.

“It really helped our understanding that one public policy could have this spillover influence into another social activity.” Gallet’s study was recently published in Social Science Journal. Gallet also looked into smoking bans and whether their enforcement affected cigarette consumption. He found that ultimately, it was not the enforcement of bans that prevented smokers from lighting up.

“It was the social pressure that the ban created that was sufficient to get people to not smoke in public places,” Gallet says. “We found the stigma associated with smoking was sufficient to make clean indoor air laws self-enforcing.”

And while studying the merits of health information and advertising restrictions as measures to reduce smoking, Gallet came across some interesting findings. “We found that health warnings reduced cigarette demand, but advertising restrictions mainly affected the supply-side of the market.”

In other words, Joe Camel may not have turned a non-smoker into a smoker, but he did influence smokers to buy his cigarette brand.