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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Implementation of a workplace smoking ban in bars: The limits of local discretion

Theresa Montini1 and Lisa A Bero2*

Author Affiliations

1 New York University, 423 East 23rd Street, VET-16N, New York, NY 10010, USA

2 School of Pharmacy, 3333 California Street, Box 0613, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0613, USA

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BMC Public Health 2008, 8:402  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-402

Published: 8 December 2008



In January 1998, the California state legislature extended a workplace smoking ban to bars. The purpose of this study was to explore the conditions that facilitate or hinder compliance with a smoking ban in bars.


We studied the implementation of the smoking ban in bars by interviewing three sets of policy participants: bar employers responsible for complying with the law; local government officials responsible for enforcing the law; and tobacco control activists who facilitated implementation. We transcribed the interviews and did a qualitative analysis of the text.


The conditions that facilitated bar owners' compliance with a smoking ban in bars included: if the cost to comply was minimal; if the bars with which they were in competition were in compliance with the smoking ban; and if there was authoritative, consistent, coordinated, and uniform enforcement. Conversely, the conditions that hindered compliance included: if the law had minimal sanctions; if competing bars in the area allowed smoking; and if enforcement was delayed or inadequate.


Many local enforcers wished to forfeit their local discretion and believed the workplace smoking ban in bars would be best implemented by a state agency. The potential implication of this study is that, given the complex nature of local politics, smoking bans in bars are best implemented at a broader provincial or national level.