Tuesday 21 July 2009

Voting with your feet

One argument often advanced in favour of the smoking ban was that the licensed trade dragged its feet in providing non-smoking areas. Now, I tend to believe that this is disingenuous, as nothing the licensed trade could have done short of imposing a 100% “voluntary” ban would in practice have dissuaded the antismoking lobby from going for the jugular. But I don’t think it’s true anyway – in fact, even pre-ban, the provision of non-smoking areas was far greater than the trade is usually given credit for. I’m not saying it covered a majority of pubs, but in most areas of the country there were a substantial number of places where you could go, if you so wished, and have a drink in a smoke-free environment.

Clearly it isn’t possible to get into a time machine to prove this point, but, for a start, every single Wetherspoon’s pub had a non-smoking area, so there was one in the centre of pretty much every substantial town. Some had even prematurely gone wholly non-smoking, although they stopped that policy as soon as they realised that trade in those pubs had fallen off a cliff. All of M&B’s Vintage Inns chain, including the March Hare in Cheadle Hulme, only allowed smoking in a small area near the bar. The Phoenix in Hazel Grove had gone wholly non-smoking (although it had no cask beer either). The Davenport Arms in Woodford had, following a consultation with customers, confined smoking to the tap room, while the Griffin in Heaton Mersey, an archetypal down-to-earth boozer and certainly no upmarket dining pub, had a non-smoking room of long standing. I could go on, but you get the point.

In the early days of CAMRA, there were large areas of the country where real ale was very hard to find and people had to, and did, travel a long way to drink it. If they were prepared to do that, then it was a lot easier, if you were sufficiently bothered, to find somewhere in the mid-2000s where you could drink in a non-smoking environment. The thing was, though, very few people were that bothered.

This was not the case with eating out, as there were enough people who actively preferred to eat in a non-smoking environment that, by 2005, the vast majority of food-oriented pubs were at least 50% non-smoking. There was a clear economic demand here, and without any legislation the market had evolved to cater for it. But when it came to just going out for a drink, the vast majority of people were either smokers, part of mixed groups of smokers and non-smokers, or not really too concerned about a smoky environment. Not that a lot of pubs were particularly smoky anyway. The antismokers, if they really did want to vote with their feet, could still enjoy a varied drinking experience by sticking to the pubs with non-smoking areas, which may have been predominantly food-oriented but, as I suggested before, included a fair smattering of traditional pubs as well. Perhaps if they had been able to do more to demonstrate a demand for non-smoking areas for drinkers, we might have some genuine choice now.

But instead we ended up getting a “solution” imposed by non-pubgoers on the pub trade for which there was no genuine demand within the trade, as the lack of non-smoking provision purely for drinkers showed. And the legacy in terms of the swathes of closed and deserted pubs is only too obvious. If you don’t like a particular state of affairs, and know that the market isn’t going to deliver your preferred solution as there is insufficient demand for it, it is all too easy to go crying to Nanny to remove choice and get it banned.


  1. But bar staff couldn't vote with their feet. Wasn't the ban introduced on the grounds of improving employee health?

  2. Well, the protection of the health of workers was one reason given for the ban, but it was always stated quite explicitly that the key aim was to "denormalise" smoking and reduce its incidence, something at which the ban has proven singularly unsuccessful. And bar workers' health isn't going to be much improved by sitting at home on the dole, is it?

    Personally I am not at all convinced that second-hand smoke represents a significant health risk, but even if you accept this argument there are plenty of other things that could have been done to safeguard the health of workers but which fell short of a total ban, for example only allowing smoking in rooms physically separate from serving counters, or (as the Dutch have done) allowing bars run by the proprietor without any employees to decide their own smoking policy.

    And there are plenty of other opportunities available in part-time retail work that never involved being in a smoky atmosphere, so in a sense bar staff did have the opportunity to vote with their feet. In my experience the vast majority of bar staff were smokers anyway.

  3. This report from Ireland suggests the % of bar staff who smoke is between 54% and 72%. I have no doubt that the UK is not disimilar. Please also note that 3% of the responents fibbed. I cannot find the survey but I read pre ban that 80% of bar staff did not want a ban on smoking, their P45 in their hands vindicates that.

    Also if you go to the City of London pubs and bars the vast majority of staff are Eastern European. They have voted with their feet and were happy to work in a smoky pub.

    "Results Self reported smoking prevalence among Cork bar workers (n = 129) was 54% (58% using cotinine-validated measures), with particularly high rates in women (70%) and 18–28 years old (72%). Within the ROI (n = 1,240) sub-sample rates were substantially lower at 28%. Bar workers were twice as likely to be smokers as the general population sub-sample (OR = 2.15).

    Conclusions Cork bar workers constitute an occupational group with an extremely high smoking prevalence.


  4. As a bar worker who had worked in the pub trade for over 40 years, I am still alive and well !!
    If the ban had come into force years ago I would never have taken a bar job. One of the pleasures of bar work was to finish the shift and go around the bar to have a couple of drinks that had been bought for you and a couple of cigarettes.
    With the poor wages paid, little treats like that made the job worthwhile.
    I would not work in a pub now for treble wages thank you.
    The pubs have become sterile 'eatery' creches and not the adult entertainment venues that they should be,

  5. Tobacco control activists are only concerned for the kids.


  6. "For the welfare of the staff"
    some joker stated in an earlier
    comment.Do such blinkered idiots
    still believe that total nonsense.
    Do they not know it is illegal to
    smoke in a garden shed 20 metres
    distant from the back of a pub or
    a tent with 3 sides or a lean to
    shelter with 2 sides,, and these clowns believe its about the staff's HEALTH.Its patently
    obvious to anyone reading these
    blogs that the continuing silliness
    of those still supporting the total
    ban MUST have a finacial aspect.

    Ex foundry worker
    Ps Where you can still choke to death on the ferrous fumes

  7. Just a reminder of the sources of the bans:


    And what the 99 million dollars was going to:


  8. Haddonsman - 8th August 2006 the HSE in their document OC 255/15 article14? state
    " HSE cannot produce epidemiological evidence to link levels of exposure to second hand smoke to the raised risk of contracting specific diseases".

    Curmudgeon - Absolutely agree with the article/blog, thank you.

    I have been married to a never smoker for over 30 years, the only time we go out now to pubs is when we go abroad (countries with choice). The antis are in a differant class altogether.


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