Today, the ticker in the left-hand side bar recording the number of pubs closed in England since 1 July 2007 has reached the 3,000 mark. I’m sure I don’t need to remind readers what that date signifies.
In case anyone is in any doubt, I am a non-smoker of many years’ standing. But I regard the ban as grossly objectionable and illiberal in its own right, setting a precedent for all sorts of other assaults on people’s freedom to live their lives as they choose, and on a practical level doing serious damage to the pub trade.
I’m not saying the smoking ban is the sole factor behind pub closures, but I’m convinced it has been by far the biggest one over the past couple of years. My gut feeling is that overall it has taken about 15% of the purely wet trade out of pubs – that is drinks bought on occasions when customers are not eating. In previous recessions, the pub trade has stood up very well, with people seeing a visit to the pub as an affordable pleasure, but in this one pubs have been dropping like flies.
Even two years later, a lot of pubs still feel a bit flat and empty, as though some of the character (and characters) that once was there has been lost. They may still be busy on Friday and Saturday nights, but at lunchtimes and earlier in the week many pubs are a lot quieter than they were before.
The smoking ban was what originally spurred the creation of this blog, and it is significant that the very first post was about Bansturbation, while the third recorded what was possibly the first pub closure it caused (although it may be the case that some marginal landlocked wet-led pubs closed before the ban as it was clear they wouldn’t be viable afterwards).
Obviously it would be foolish for anyone running a pub to make business plans in the hope that the ban will be repealed, but as were are now seeing with the fox-hunting ban, it is incorrect to assert that such measures are irrevocable.