New Working Paper Explores Indirect Effects of Workplace Smoking Bans

March 31, 2008
by Doug Gavel

What makes smokers smoke and what makes them stop? Undoubtedly there are many factors – some physical, others psychological, and some perhaps sociological. A new Kennedy School Working Paper, “Social Interactions and Smoking,” specifically examines whether individuals are more likely to smoke when they are surrounded by other smokers.

The paper is co-authored by David Cutler, Otto Eckstein professor of applied economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), and Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp professor of economics and director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government.

The researchers find that peers do affect an individual’s decision whether or not to smoke, and that workplace smoking bans can have a multiplier effect.

“Individuals whose spouse faced a workplace smoking ban were less likely to smoke themselves. The estimates suggest a 40 percent reduction in the probability of being an individual smoking if a spouse quits,” the authors write. “The results suggest that policy interventions that impact an individual’s smoking habit will have both direct effects and also indirect effects through on the smoking of peers.”

The authors also conclude that interventions likely have more significant impacts when imposed upon larger as opposed to than smaller groups.

Edward Glaeser is the Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, where he has taught since 1992. He is Director of the Taubman Center for State and Local Government and Director of the Rappaport Institute of Greater Boston. He teaches urban and social economics and microeconomic theory. He has published dozens of papers on cities, economic growth, and law and economics. In particular, his work has focused on the determinants of city growth and the role of cities as centers of idea transmission.

David Cutler is Otto Eckstein professor of applied economics in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Dean for Social Sciences. He served on the Council of Economic Advisors and the National Economic Council during the Clinton administration, and, among other affiliations, he has held positions with the National Institutes of Health and the National Academy of Sciences. Currently Cutler is a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research and a member of the Institute of Medicine.

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Photograph of Edward Glaeser

Edward Glaeser, Fred and Eleanor Glimp Professor of Economics and director, Taubman Center for State and Local Government

“Individuals whose spouse faced a workplace smoking ban were less likely to smoke themselves. The estimates suggest a 40 percent reduction in the probability of being an individual smoking if a spouse quits,” the authors write.