Can public policy curb two dangerous habits at once? Dr. Sherry McKee and her team of researchers at the Yale School of Medicine believe so. In a recent study documented in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, McKee investigated the results of an international tobacco survey to study the correlation between state smoking bans and reduced alcohol abuse. In bars that had recently enacted or had preexisting smoking bans, researchers found a significant reduction in both frequency of alcohol consumption and volume of customers who were classified as heavy smokers and drinkers.
McKee’s study built upon prior findings, which demonstrated that codependency between smoking and alcohol abuse partially stems from a cross-tolerance effect. “I believe that alcohol and tobacco interactions involve potentiated reinforcement,” McKee said. “This current study demonstrates that policies designed to reduce tobacco use also reduce rates of alcohol use disorders, which has important public health implications.” With alcohol abuse as the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, these implications are tremendously important. In addition, a reduction of public smoking protects both smokers and non-smokers from risks of tobacco-related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, pulmonary disease, and cancer. Although these health threats are well documented, only 59.9 percent of American bars spanning 29 states are reported to be smoke-free, while approximately 100 percent of bars in countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada are smoke-free. Continuing her research on public policy solutions to substance dependence, McKee is currently working on determining the effects of tobacco taxes on alcohol consumption and alcohol abuse disorders.