Saturday, 15 August 2015

It just doesn’t stop

Last week, the Royal Society for Public Health came up with a set of proposals to further restrict smoking in public places, including a ban in pub beer gardens and outdoor eating areas. In the past, indoor smoking bans have been justified on the somewhat spurious grounds of protecting workers’ health, but this throws away that figleaf and openly admits that the objective is not health but is explicitly the denormalisation of smoking.

Not surprisingly, this plan immediately drew condemnation from various quarters, amongst which my favourite was this impassioned rant from beer blogger Mark N. Johnson, and the government was quick to make it clear it had no plans to bring in such a restriction.

When the indoor smoking ban was introduced in 2007, many of its supporters made the point that pubs would still be able to accommodate smokers, but they would have to smoke outside. This may have seemed to smokers like putting them in the open carriage with hard seats at the back of the train, but at least they were still allowed on board, and in the intervening years some pubs have made the effort to provide welcoming smoking areas as far as the law allows. Indeed, smokers continue to make up a considerably higher proportion of pubgoers than of the general population.

However, if smoking was prohibited in any outdoor areas of pubs too, then they would not be able to cater for smokers in any way. A smoker might occasionally go to a pub for a meal but, as for socialising, forget it. This could well have an even more catastrophic effect on the pub trade than the current indoor ban. There are plenty of wet-led pubs where half the customers seem to spend most of their time outside, even in bad weather. And it’s very noticeable how, when the sun shines, a good outdoor smoking area can really bring in the customers. A few years back, I remember visiting the Barrels pub in Hereford on a sunny Monday evening and seeing its extensive rear yard-cum-patio, which has plenty of seating, much under cover, absolutely rammed with groups of smokers and their friends.

There is one positive aspect to the report, though, in that the public health establishment is at last grudgingly recognising that e-cigarettes can make a significant contribution to cutting smoking rates. Initially, they were highly sceptical, viewing them as something “not invented here” that mimicked the act of smoking and could be a gateway to tobacco. This problem is well described by Christopher Snowdon as The Prohibitionist’s Dilemma. However, as the evidence mounts that existing smokers are turning to e-cigs, their stance is gradually softening. If the authorities don’t stand in their way, e-cigs have the potential to reduce tobacco smoking to a small rump in a generation.

Rather than calling for further restrictions on smoking, surely the public health lobby should now be strongly opposing moves by bodies such as the Welsh Government to impose the same curbs on e-cigs as on tobacco. But, even though it’s recognised that nicotine on its own is no more harmful than caffeine, they still have a big problem in accepting e-cigs as a recreational product that people actually enjoy, rather than simply a medical aid to stopping smoking.


  1. But it did stop: the ban isn't being extended.

  2. The demands don't stop, though.

  3. Creeping authoritarianism like this should concern everybody.

    It's all very well to be in favour of banning stuff you don't personally like, but what about when they come after your vices? Your pleasures? Your freedoms?

    Sounds a bit Niemolleresque, I know, but it's true.

  4. Entirely agreed, Ben, but it's hard to convince CAMRA members of the "first they came for the smokers" argument.

  5. Largely because the analogy is imperfect: comparing smoking and - perhaps - drinking bans to the Holocaust is not only in extremely bad taste, it is also absurdly stupid. If alcohol were to banned tomorrow, that is hardly the same as being stuffed in a gas chamber and murdered. Martin Niemöller's name or words should never be deployed in the context of restrictions on fags and booze. It is an insult to do so.

  6. The amusing thing is that most of you kipper types have been hoping for a reversal of the smoking ban and then proceeded to do your best to fail. Then, when you might have a chance, small Tory majority, bones need chucking to back benches, you've now managed to convince yourself the status quo is a victory because the ban has not been extended.

  7. Re comparisons to the Nazis, the antismoking lobby richly deserves them. Concentration camp atrocities were not the only thing the Nazis did, they started out offering an agenda that seemed reasonable to a lot of people. They were fierce antismokers and used junk science to push their theories (e.g. "Passivrauchen", passive smoking) - though NB, even they did not ban smoking in pubs! Not long ago, arch-anti-smoker New York mayor Mike Bloomberg seriously proposed a law to have notices placed on peoples' apartment doors to identify them as smokers - supposedly so that their neighbours would be warned about some non-existent threat. The real purpose, of course, was stigmatization. Many commentators compared it to Jews having yellow stars put on their doors, and luckily it didn't happen, but in NY you can't smoke either cigs or e-cigs in most gardens, patios, etc. There are rooftop bars which are completely nonsmoking - and of course it will happen in the UK unless the hospitality industry finally gets itself together and puts up a real fight. Meanwhile smokers are being bullied in many similar ways to Jews in the early Nazi era; excluded from certain places, denied jobs or insurance or leases, forbidden to adopt children, etc. No one is saying the smoking ban is as bad as the Holocaust. But people should be more aware that there is always some group within society being stigmatised, usually with convincing-sounding but phony justification, and smokers are just the latest target. Genuine (albeit exaggerated) concerns about health are long gone, the mentality now is 'let's kick the crap out of smokers BECAUSE WE CAN'.

  8. "the mentality now is 'let's kick the crap out of smokers BECAUSE WE CAN."

    And what's wrong with that?!

    1. It's nasty. That is what is wrong with that.

  9. Many years ago (before the smoking ban) I worked in Sainsburys. Smoking was not allowed in the shop, or in the staff canteen, but there was a smoking room where staff could go for a fag on their break. It was a simple room with a few chairs, and a large extraction unit that sucked the smoke away. I have never understood why such rooms were outlawed when the ban came in. Surely a room where non-smokers never go, which sucks all the second-hand smoke away would be a solution to suit everyone? Yet after the ban it was illegal and Sainsburys removed it from the staff room - instead forcing all staff to go outside. Madness.

  10. @Tyson - yes, let's kick the crap out of minorities. The authentic voice of the political Left.

    @beermunster - management never liked smoking rooms because they were places the workers could spread seditious gossip. I recall there was a TV sitcom in the 2000s called "The Smoking Room".

  11. @beermunster - the smoking ban was never about protecting non-smokers from second hand smoke, it was just another tactic in the strategy of denormalizing smoking to achieve erradication without actual prohibition.


  12. Ha. For the record, my comments should have had a (ducks) at the end, but it's always good to get the right-wingers frothing at the mouth anyway.

    Don't tell anyone on the horrible Left, but personally I'm actually not in favour of extending the ban.


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