I’ve read many comments about the ban on smoking inside pubs and it’s clear to me that it’s widely blamed for the ills that currently beset the pub trade. Some people expect non-smoking drinkers to follow the line of opposing the ban because similar tactics are now being deployed against drinking; the thinking being along the lines of: “First they came for the smokers, but I did nothing as I was not a smoker.” The situation is not as simple as that.
In no particular order, the causes of problems for pubs include:
- Beer taxes rising by more than the rate of inflation.
- Pub companies overcharging their tenants for rent and supplies (including drinks).
- Falling beer sales overall (except for real ale ~ just).
- Cut-price drink in supermarkets.
- Sophisticated home entertainment systems.
- Changes in drinking habits, with young people increasingly going to their preferred bars and clubs, and less to what they call “old men’s” pubs.
- More choices of places to drink, such as bars, restaurants, hotels and clubs.
- The recession, leaving people with less cash and either unemployed or worried they might be.
- Rising costs for brewers (e.g. raw materials) and pubs (e.g. utility bills).
- The smoking ban.
- Tougher drink-drive enforcement.
I have been accused of being anti-smoking. I’m not, but I don’t like the effect a smoky environment has on my sinuses and contact lenses, and I don’t like smelling like an ashtray afterwards. With the ban, smokers are obliged to stroll a few feet out of the door where they can smoke to their heart’s content. I think it’s obvious which is the biggest imposition.
So, my attitude to smoking is simple: I don’t mind you smoking, but I don’t want to share your habit, thank you.
There are usually only two solutions offered: ventilation systems, or go somewhere else. I have yet to experience an effective pub ventilation system that can cope with the smoke on a busy night when the doors are shut and fresh air can’t blow in. Even with the doors open they’re often inadequate. At best they can only reduce the amount of smoke, and at worst do nothing except add to the noise levels ~ they never clear the air. As for saying go somewhere else, that’s just a dog in the manger attitude.
I used to favour the separate smoking room option, which was CAMRA’s policy too, but as one licensee pointed out to me, the primary purpose of the ban was the health and safety of staff, who would still have to enter the room to collect glasses, empty ash trays, clean the room and tidy up. As a former union health and safety rep, I realised that there wasn’t a compromise option that didn’t leave pub staff exposed to a health risk.
In the modern world of work, preventable risks have to be addressed or there may be consequences. If you’re not persuaded, then consider how many people have successfully sued for compensation for asbestos exposures that occurred decades ago. Continuing to allow employees to work with an identified, preventable health risk would be gambling that there won’t be mass litigation in the future. Far fetched? That’s probably what asbestos manufacturers would have said in the 1960s.
I believe there’s little chance of this ban being amended, so those of us who wish to go to the pub are stuck with it, whether we like it or not. Let’s just get on with it.