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Does a Marketplace Strategy Work? (2003)

Why not let the marketplace or a voluntary system resolve the problem of smoking in businesses or restaurants?


  • The government has an obligation to protect the public's health and to take steps to eliminate or reduce the exposure to serious health hazards. Voluntary programs are not used to control other health problems, such as toxic wastes, sanitation, asbestos, or radioactive exposure, and therefore should also not be used to control the exposure to secondhand smoke.

  • Owners and managers of local businesses and restaurants have often indicated that they will not initiate smoking restrictions on their own unless they are required by law. Many are afraid to initiate them without a government mandate.

  • To say we should let the marketplace handle smoking pollution or any other health problems is like saying that the marketplace should handle the problem of sanitary food handling. The marketplace argument doesn't protect restaurant workers or children. Restaurant workers have a 50 to 90% increased risk of lung cancer that is most likely caused by restaurant tobacco smoke pollution (JAMA, Journal of the American Medical Association).

  • The issue is public health. The use of the term "marketplace" takes ETS issues out of the public health realm and into the economic arena. We don't let the market decide if people should drive cars with tires that come apart. As soon as a danger is known (by the public - not by the auto/tire makers!) the product is withdrawn from the market. The public isn't given the choice of paying less money for meat that hasn't been processed in inspected facilities. Health is health, it has nothing to do with marketplaces.

  • Everyone deserves a smoke-free work environment. No one should have to breathe something that causes cancer to hold a job.

  • One argument is that if the marketplace already is providing necessary smoke-free enclosed places, then laws would not be an imposition at all, and the ordinance only would serve as a safety net for a time when these establishments decide to be less responsible. Another argument is

  • that while it's true that many establishments choose to go smoke-free on their own, laws must be in place because of the few irresponsible establishments that don't voluntarily clear the air of smoke. Many food service establishments would require their employees to wear gloves and hair nets even if health codes did not require it, but some would not be as responsible, and it is for these establishments that laws are written.

  • The marketplace is not responding to public demands. Most studies of local employers find that about half of employees work where they are exposed to secondhand smoke. Many of these workers are in small businesses, including restaurants. Restaurants are important because so many young people work there. Besides, did we wait for the marketplace to decide it was time to eliminate exposure to asbestos, or to decide it was time to wear hardhats at a construction site? This is a worker safety issue, not a customer issue.

These responses are based on input gleaned by an interaction of experts provided by

Working towards creating a safe and healthy workplace free of tobacco smoke.