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.