Posted Sept 29, 2012

Though it initially drove down business, Paul Piccirillo, co-owner of Porky’s Cafe in Shelton, said the state’s ban on smoking in bars was ultimately positive for his establishment.

“In the beginning, people stopped coming in,” Piccirillo said. “Now, there’s no difference. It’s definitely more pleasant for the people working in the bar. (And) it’s definitely a more healthy environment.”

According to a new study from the Yale University School of Medicine, not only is Piccirillo’s last statement true, but the ban’s effect on health goes deeper than helping prevent tobacco-related illness. The study showed that bans on smoking in bars might also curb alcohol abuse.

Smoking in Connecticut bars, cafes and restaurants was abolished in 2004 as part of the state’s Smoke-Free Air law.

Sherry McKee, the study’s senior author, said smokers are three times more likely to abuse alcohol or meet criteria for alcohol dependence.

“Alcohol and tobacco use function as complements to one another,” said McKee, associate professor of psychiatry at Yale. “If consumption of tobacco goes up, you can expect alcohol use to go up.”

Conversely, McKee said, researchers theorized that legislation that caused tobacco use to drop would also have an effect on drinking. The study, she said, shows that theory is valid.

For the study, Yale researchers looked at data from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions and compared the behavior of “problem drinkers” in states with smoking bans to those without. The National Epidemiological Survey is based on computer-assisted personal interviews conducted with the same group of people in the period between 2001 and 2002, then again between 2004 and 2005.

In states without smoking bans, roughly half of those who met the criteria of having an alcohol use disorder during the first interview period no longer fit that description by the second interview period. However, in states with bans, 61 percent of problem drinkers had changed their ways from one interview period to the next.

The researchers also found that, in states with public smoking bans, there were 4 percent fewer new cases of alcohol use disorder from one interview period to the next.

Connecticut is one of 29 states that have enacted smoking bans. McKee said she and the other researchers hope the study findings will encourage more states to enact anti-smoking legislation.

At least one expert in the field of substance abuse said that, while not surprising, the Yale findings show that bans of this sort can offer a wide range of benefits. Pamela Mautte, director of the Greater Valley Substance Abuse Action Council of BH Care in Ansonia, said smokers are, by their very nature, creatures of habit.

“Many smokers have rituals or patterns,” she said. “Maybe they always have a cigarette with their coffee or have a cigarette while talking on the phone. It’s the same thing with drinking.”

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