Saturday 28 November 2009

Smoking in pubs

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.
Yes, the smoking ban is definitely a factor, but only one of many.

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.


  1. This has been debated elsewhere ad nauseam, but the point must be made that in previous economic downturns the pub trade has been very resilient. In this one it hasn't been. Since the smoking ban came in, the rate of pub closures has accelerated from six a week to six a day. It has turned a slow, gradual decline into a fall off a cliff.

    And the primary purpose of the ban was not to protect the health of workers but to reduce the incidence of smoking. If it was purely to protect the health of workers, why is smoking still permitted in private homes, hotel rooms, care homes and prisons, which are all environments in which people work?

    And it hasn't exactly been very successful in reducing the incidence of smoking when in Ireland the proportion of smokers amongst the adult population has risen post-ban from 27% to 33%.

  2. Well said RedNev. Let's just move on.

  3. When anti smoking people were using education as their primary method, the smoking rates were steadily declining for 40 years. Now that they got into invasive bans using snitchlines and law enforcement for privately owned businesses, many, even non smokers, have the opinion that they crossed the line.

  4. Curmudgeon: I assume by private homes you mean private care homes, as the Government had no intention of banning smoking in our own homes. And that provides the answer to the exemptions: it was explained at the time that the ban would not apply to places that are people's homes even though others work there, and I recall a minister specifically quoting prison as an example of this.

    An exemption you didn't mention is palaces, which means the ban does not apply to Parliament, which meets in the Palace of Westminster; another perk (like subsidised booze) that politicians have for themselves but deny to the rest of us.

    I have to disagree about the origin of the ban: it was brought in as a health & safety at work measure. I'm fully aware the Government had a keen eye on knock-on effects, and hoped it would make people smoke less in general. It's a fair point about Ireland, but I was not commenting on the success or otherwise of the ban; I was just stating where it originated. As for me, I couldn't care less how much people smoke, as long as the smoke doesn't envelope me.

    Thanks TM: whatever we think of the ban, it's here to stay, so yes, let's move on. I just wanted to outline my views on this issue; it's unlikely I'll write about it again.

    Anon: I agree some non-smokers do think things have gone too far, but I also personally know some who want even tighter restrictions. As a non-smoker, I don't want things taken any further.

  5. Speaking as an ex-smoker (clean since 1987) it is such a pleasure now, to be in a smoke-free drinking environment. In 1986, I would've railed against such blanket bans and to be honest, I only became aware of the reeking, eyes-watering, foul clothes, cough spluttering, ash tray-full scenario I'd contributed to, once I stopped.
    Prior to that, I'd been an unthinking part of it. Like brick wall head-banging it's great when you stop!
    I'd never want to go back to lighting up anywhere, nor, let's face it, when the health factors are indisputable, would anyone who thought long and hard enough.
    It's got to be a step in the right direction and the sweet air vs. blue haze debate is being used as a smokescreen (hah!) to mask much wider issues in the licensed trade?

  6. Clive: I think you have a valid point in your last sentence. People like simple explanations, and to blame pub closures solely on the smoking ban is simplistic to say the least.

    As for your earlier point, when my mother gave up smoking after around 50 years, she could smell the smoke on me from the other side of the room whenever I'd been to the pub. She said she had never realised how pervasive smoke could be, and I don't think any smoker can.


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