In Whitby in 2012, I was at the bar in the Endeavour in Church Street when I thought I saw a plume of smoke from the woman next to me, so I glanced over and saw that she was vaping. She laughed and said, "You thought I was smoking a cigarette, didn't you?" I admitted I had; she showed me the e-cigarette which I looked at with interest because I hadn't then seen one close up before.
How things have changed in five years. I heard on Radio 4 today that there are now 2.2 million vapers, and it has become so common that Debrett's has issued an etiquette guide to vaping. Seeing that vaping is completely lawful, it is interesting that so many places have decided to ban it, including a lot of pubs, whereas prior to 2007, every pub I knew, other than food-driven ones, permitted smoking. I put the vaping bans down, partly to the difficulties in distinguishing smoking from vaping across a busy pub, but also to a change in attitudes since the smoking ban was introduced nearly 10 years ago.
Part of that change is due to the fact that no pub goer under the age of 27 years 8.5 months will have experienced smoking legally in pubs, restaurants or any other enclosed public spaces. It's not something they've been deprived of, because for them it was never there in the first place. Another factor is that smoking is generally in decline, with only 16.9% of adults in the UK now smoking, as compared to 21% at the time of the ban, and more than 50% of males and more than 40% of females in 1974.
The patchy tolerance of vaping suggests to me that if the smoking ban were to be relaxed, many public places, including pubs, would not now allow it to reappear on their premises. There would be a diminishing incentive to do so because, as the number of smokers dwindles, so does the the value of the smokers' pound. There is also the point, often made by opponents of the ban, that non-smokers put off by the presence of smoke didn't all flock to pubs in droves after 1 July 2007. I'd suggest that the same would now apply to smokers if the ban were eased; in both cases, the people concerned have simply shed the habit of pub going and developed alternative social lives.
However, I doubt smokers will be given the chance. The leader of the only political party committed to lifting the smoking ban has become a laughing stock after his antics during the recent Stoke by-election, and there is no will in any other party to change things back. I wrote in February 2010 about a survey of 1142 students by the National College of Legal Training which showed, among many other findings, that 90% of those surveyed would not repeal the smoking ban in pubs. Seven years later, I'd be very surprised if that figure wasn't the same or, as seems likely, even higher.
My position has always been consistent. I am not anti-smoking, but I dislike having to share the habit. I support the smoking ban as it stands and wish to see it neither eased - nor extended.
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