Monday, 15 February 2016

Just like any other people

There’s been a hashtag going round about Beer people are good people. But that seems to reflect a cosy camaraderie within the craft beer world rather than a more general statement.

I’ve been involved in CAMRA and the general beer world for thirty-five years, and have to say I’ve met plenty of great people, some of whom I’m happy to count as friends. The vast majority of brewers and licensees I’ve come across have been very decent, genuine and committed.

But, on the other hand, the beer world is no different from any other section of society in having its fair share of intolerance and antagonism. The idea that there is some kind of warm, cuddly, inclusive beer community that stands out from other interest groups is largely a myth propagated by those on the inside.

One particular example that, for obvious reasons, sticks in my mind is the fairly well-known beer writer who expressed the wish in my blog comments that I should suffer a heart attack. Now that’s really nice, isn’t it? He’s a lot less well-known now than he used to be.

And let us cast our minds back to 1 July 2007, when the government decided that a particular section of the population should no longer be welcome in pubs. Many “beer people” were, and are, smokers, and indeed smokers on average were much more likely to be pubgoers than non-smokers, as to a lesser degree they still are.

So you might have expected “beer people” to rally round in solidarity with their oppressed brethren, even if they had some sympathy with the legislation. But no, the amount of bile, intolerance and hatred directed by many at smokers had to be seen to be believed. Even a bit of “we understand how you feel, but ultimately it’s all for the best” might have helped. But this negative attitude persists even now.

As we all know now, this dealt the pub trade a grievous blow, and the anti-smoking template is being increasingly applied to alcohol, food and soft drinks. Just as I and many others predicted. So not much evidence of an inclusive community there, let alone one capable of recognising its own interests.

(This replaces an earlier post which undermined the central point by including a long scattergun list of examples)

17 comments:

  1. I've always found the smoking issue a difficult one. Personally, as a non-smoker, I hated coming back from the pub reeking of smoke. I was happy when the ban occurred and I definitely became a more regular pub-goer.

    But then I understand it's negative impact on the pub trade. Which is a sad thing.

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  2. Yes, but simply because you don't like something isn't a valid reason for banning it everywhere. Before the ban there were already very many pubs with extensive non-smoking areas. OK, mostly food-led pubs, but not entirely. Surely it would have been better to vote with your feet and give those pubs your business, just as many avoid pubs that do not serve real ale.

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  3. Unfortunately, notions of the wisdom and effectiveness of the free market and the power of "voting with your feet" are largely pie-in-the-sky. Inertia rules. Forces of normative socialisation and institutional legitimisation are more powerful than people give them credit for.

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  4. There are obvious public health reasons to justify banning it everywhere. From a personal viewpoint, there weren't many pubs that I can remember (apart from as you say food led ones - which weren't my preferred venues) from which you could escape the fumes.

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  5. I have never smoked, other than a sly drag as an 11 year that left me hacking my guts up and vowing never to touch the stuff again, but I am completely opposed to the smoking ban in all its forms. Forgive me if I now get all uber-free market, but if a bar owner had wanted to make his or her establishment a no-smoking place then that would be his/her prerogative. There is surely space in the market for smoking and non-smoking pubs. If we are talking about health and safety concerns around second hand smoke, then maintaining a separate smokers room would have been preferable, with a restriction that the actual bar be in a non-smoking area. There are ways to promote public health without the dull lack of imagination required by blanket bans. Sure, I like being able to come home from the pub only reeking of booze, but is that preference worth the destruction of an entire industry, and national bedrock? As I said to many a fellow non-smoker as they ostentatiously flapped their hands at the smoke and complained loudly to all and sundry, 'you are free not to be here if you so chose'.

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  6. I'm not going to get into an argument about the merits or not of the ban. I just want to highlight the fact that if you did reverse the ban now, and allow pubs to return to be smoking venues, very few pubs (maybe 1 in 20 at most) would actually take up the offer. Times have changed, people have moved on, and the vast majority of pubs would lose significantly more customers than they would gain.
    Anytime you visit Prague you realise just how fucking disgusting it is to have to sit in a cloud of smoke every time you go to the pub. Your throat stings, your eyes sting, you get a headache, you feel sick, and your hair and clothes absolutely stink the next day. You look back now and you wonder how did we not notice at the time how incredibly revolting cigarette smoke is.

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    1. There are plenty of non-smoking pubs now in Prague.

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  7. @Dixonian - the public health reasons for banning smoking everywhere are by no means as clear-cut as you might thing - take a look at Chris Snowdon's blog.

    @PY - free markets may sometimes work in a roundabout and imperfect way, but over time they do a far better job of providing people with what they want and are prepared to pay for than any other system. Even before the ban, most restaurants and pub dining areas were either entirely or predominantly non-smoking. That was achieved by venues responding to customer demand, not by legislation.

    @Alistair - totally agreed. Even accepting the health claims about ETS at face value, there are plenty of ways the health objectives could have been addressed without a blanket ban.

    @PY - if only 1 in 20 pubs would return to allowing smoking, then why not scrap the ban? I think the figure would be considerably higher in terms of allowing indoor smoking in part of the premises. One easy thing that many pubs could and would do is to completely enclose existing smoking shelters and provide heating, which would not affect anyone actually in the pub.

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  8. I'd like to to see the ban lifted with conditions such no smoking at the bar, minimum ventilation requirements, and only a certain % of floor space/rooms designated to smoking.

    Also as you have rightly said, smoking shelters are where it could start. The current rules are silly and rarely enforced anyway. Take a look at Ireland, where the 'smoking shlters' are huge rooms which are pretty much enclosed and ofteen bigger and busier than the pub itself.

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  9. "Before the ban there were already very many pubs with extensive non-smoking areas."

    No, there weren't. In Southport (population 90,000, so not a tiny seaside hamlet) I knew of only one, Wetherspoons; its non-smoking area could in no way be described as extensive. Unfortunately the smoke always ignored the no smoking signs.

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    1. We have discussed this before but, without the benefit of a time machine, it can't be proved one way or the other.

      Certainly locally there were quite a few, including such a down-to-earth wet-led boozer as Holts' Griffin in Heaton Mersey. If having a pint in a smoke-free atmosphere was really important to you, then there was a fair amount of choice.

      Surely there must at least have been some food-led pubs in Southport that had non-smoking areas.

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  10. None that I was aware of, other than Wetherspoons. I don't know about restaurants as I rarely go to them.

    Non-smoking areas didn't work anyway because:
    1. as I previously stated, smoke can't read.
    2. drinkers do not divide into smoking and non-smoking groups: they have always been mixed. I found that groups of drinkers tended to sit in places that suited their smoking friends, rather than split into two groups.

    Interestingly, a smoking friend I've been drinking with since the 1980s says he prefers pubs post-ban as he much prefers the clear atmosphere. Every so often, he happily steps outside for a cigarette.

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    1. But you're not going to deal with #2 with anything less than a total ban. There will always be non-smokers who happy to stay in the company of their smoking friends. It's a classic example of "revealed preference" - you judge people by what they do, not what they say. They clearly feel that their friends are more important than some vague supposed health risk.

      Even in the current situation, when a pub has a reasonable smoking shelter and the weather's not too bad, many non-smokers will stay outside with their friends.

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  11. Have to say I knew of one no smoking pub - the three horseshoes in Shrewsbury - but it was such a rarity that it was featured on the local news.

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    1. @PY: I think you mean the Three Fishes which was non smoking years before the ban

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  12. that's the one. The three something

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  13. The 'popping outside for a couple of minutes' approach might be fine for cigarette addicts, but it simply doesn't work if you smoke a pipe, with all the tamping and relighting and general fiddling about that goes with it. Nobody thought about that when they came up with the ridiculous ban.

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