Monday, 29 October 2012

Law goes up in smoke

I recently posted how there were concerns that the established restaurants of the “Curry Mile” in Rusholme were being squeezed out by a rise in shisha bars, many of which were apparently failing to comply with the smoking ban. Now the Manchester Evening News has carried out a special investigation and found that – Shock! Horror! – all fifteen of the bars visited were allowing smoking indoors.
Shabir Mughal, executive member of the Rusholme Traders Association, said: “These places each make up to £25,000 a week, so to them a £3,000 fine is pocket money, it’s just loose change.”

...Since 2002, 28 shisha bars have opened in Wilmslow Road alone. Mr Mughal said: “Most of the shisha bars let people smoke indoors.” Earlier this month, Manchester council launched a campaign against illegal shisha smoking in Rusholme’s bars.

Habibi Cafe, which was fined more than £4,000 just weeks ago for breaching the smoking ban, was full of people smoking indoors when we visited.

Coun Nigel Murphy, Manchester council’s executive member for the environment said: “We are aware that there are shisha cafes in Manchester whose owners regularly allow their customers to openly flout the law. We will continue to crack down on these offences and these people should realise they are breaking the law.

“Our present campaign is highlighting the health risks of smoking shisha, which many people are unaware of, but as well as this we will be enforcing the legislation which means that anyone caught smoking indoors will be liable for a £50 fine – while owners and managers who allow this to happen face much larger fines.”

...One of the cafes had a shisha pipe design on the door next to a non-smoking sign.

The owner was fined more than £2,700 earlier this year for breaching the smoking ban – yet last weekend the cafe was full of illegal shisha smokers.

The legal process to prosecute a business owner for breaching the smoking ban is lengthy, and the council faces difficulties if the ownership changes hands.

At a time of cutbacks and austerity, you often get the impression that councils place a greater priority on bullying their residents in ways like enforcing the smoking ban than on actually providing services to them. I reckon if it became widely known that, because of shortage of funds, any particular council was in effect not policing the ban, it would be dead in the water in that area within a few weeks. I’ve always tended to think that, in the end, it will disappear with a whimper rather than a bang. The best way to render a law ineffective is simply to ignore it en masse.

As described, for example, here, Greece has in theory a similar smoking ban to the UK, but in practice it is pretty much entirely ignored, and the Greek authorities are of course much further down the road to penury than we are, so are probably happy just to turn a blind eye.

8 comments:

  1. Personally I have always thought they'd do better to ban CAMRA from the pubs than to ban smokers. At least the smokers were loyal and showed up in droves. CAMRA just supports banning others. They should repeal the one and institute the other IMHO and leave the shisha bars to continue their private affairs without unnecessary government interference.

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  2. QUOTE
    you often get the impression that councils place a greater priority on bullying their residents .

    See
    http://www.muirmatters.co.uk/

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  3. “I reckon if it became widely known that, because of shortage of funds, any particular council was in effect not policing the ban, it would be dead in the water in that area within a few weeks.

    There was one, quite some while ago (sorry, can’t remember where now) who did just that – i.e. stated that because of the high rate of compliance overall, and due to staff cutbacks increasing the workloads of existing EHOs, that they wouldn’t be policing the smoking ban any more. But the crucial word in your sentence is “widely.” This particular snippet, I know, only made blogs and forums written by eagle-eyed smokers and never made the MSM at all.

    But I’m sure that the same is probably happening all over the place in other councils, too, now that the cuts are really starting to bite. Do councils really want to tie up their EHOs in checking a ban which is, by and large, almost never violated because of the way it is structured, i.e. regular customers don’t want to get their friendly local landlord into trouble, and new/occasional customers don’t want to get embarrassingly chucked out?

    So yes, I agree with your view that over time the smoking ban will quietly disappear with a minimum of fanfare and, probably, no “official” repeal, and that the Smoke-free Premises section of the Health Act 2006 will become yet another piece of archaic legislation which is almost never observed, but equally, where violators are almost never punished. It’s just a matter of time, a few brave landlords and a few willing customers …

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  4. Forgive me for pointing out a bit of logic but in a continental country with a 200 Euro fine for the premises, you can treat the fine as a cost of doing business and continue. So long as punters are willing to pay an extra euro for a drink your only problem is a good summer that keeps the smokers in the beer gardens and terrace pavement cafes.

    If the fine is £3k a pop + £50 per punter then it doesn’t take many visits before the punters have gone and the business is filing for bankruptcy. As the premises is geographically fixed and the council is aware the law is being broken it is a matter of time before the law is complied with or the premises closed. It may make no sense to patrol all the premises of Manchester, but it does make sense to visit those premises you know are in contravention of the law.

    The gentleman with the Scottish pub in Blackpool was shut by a withdrawal of his licence. Whilst these bars are not licenced premises, no business can survive a council official spending days reading all manner of regulations and looking for anything that can shut it down, whilst another visits daily and piles the fines on.

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  5. There is a difference in attitudes as well, though, Cookie. The British sadly have become a nation of sanctimonious finger-pointers who are all too willing to grass up their neighbours. The Greeks aren't.

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  6. Whilst that is a point of view in regard to your fellow Britons you are entitled to hold, in my observation the British are far more tolerant of scallies and low level criminality (in my view to our detriment) than our European cousins. In this case the complaints have not come from the public but from other business owners. In the case of the licensee of the Blackpool Scottish pub it is notable his licensee group did not support him and were glad to see the back of a trouble maker. In the case of domestic sky TV shown in pubs, less than 10% of the public would know the difference. If pubs are reported it is most likely coming from rival pubs.

    A notable trait of resentment at those not following the rules and getting away with it tends to come from those that are following the rules. Whether it is a pub paying full whack for Sky TV unhappy at a rival running a fiddle, a taxpayer unhappy at dole scroungers or even a local publican unhappy at an illicit lock in smoking den he has been made aware of. Most punters are too apathetic to complain, those that complain do so out of a sense of grievance, and what better grievance than protecting your own business and kyboshing rivals?

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  7. The fact that shisha bars are thriving just serves to illustrate that the supposedly all popular smoking ban is anything but, and given the chance people would flock to a smoking pub.

    As far as Greece is concerned, having resided here for more than ten years, I can assure you that the lack of prosecution of the smoking ban is nothing to do with finance and everything to do with attitude.

    Earlier this year, I had cause to go to the main police station here, and in the front office there were three cops sitting at their desks under big mandatory "No Smoking" signs, smoking and drinking coffee. There were ashtrays on all the desks, and the room was a fug of tobacco smoke. These guys are not interested in enforcing an unpopular and pointless law, besides which, the cops also like to go to a bar and enjoy a drink and a smoke. Why should they make themselves deeply unpopular just to satisfy some single-issue fanatic in Brussels?

    The Greeks are just not bothered by smoke or smokers. They treat the "second-hand smoke" rubbish with the contempt it deserves. Smokers and non-smokers rub along together with no problems. I went to a Greek baptism (big event here) recently, after which there was a sit-down meal in a restaurant for more than a hundred people. There were no "smokers" tables or "non-smokers" tables, everyone just mixed in and had a ball regardless.

    The Brits are incredibly uptight about smoking by comparison, and I have the feeling that many would get on to a "snitch line" at the drop of a hat if they thought someone was allowing smoking in a pub.

    “Our present campaign is highlighting the health risks of smoking shisha..."

    What rubbish. They couldn't give a monkey's about any supposed "health risk". They just enjoy flexing their jobsworth enforcer muscles.

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  8. One of these shisha bars could make a name for itself and help us all by using some of its profits to install a modern air cleaning system and PM2.5 particulate monitoring apparatus. A study by Sean Semple of Aberdeen University, comparing air quality in Scottish pubs before and after the smoking ban, used PM2.5 levels as a marker for passive smoking. According to the sudy, contrary to its public pronouncements of no safe level of passive smoking, the WHO does state a maximum tolerable level and any modern air cleaning system would keep the air far cleaner than required.

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