Saturday 21 November 2009

The Ban and me

The smoking ban was what prompted the creation of this blog in the first place and, while the blog isn’t solely about the ban, it remains one of its key themes. We all know what it has done to the pub trade, but it’s an interesting question how it has affected me personally.

Now, I am a non-smoker of many years’ standing, something which one or two commentators on this blog have failed to appreciate in the past. In a restaurant, offered the choice, I would have tended to go for the non-smoking section (assuming I had no smoking companions with me) but I was never all that bothered about smoke in pubs and in general preferred to share the crack with the smokers rather than sitting in splendid isolation in the non-smoking room.

I do make a patchy effort to remain within shouting distance of the official guidelines on alcohol consumption, so my life is not one long round of pub crawls. I am aware of a considerable number of pubs that have closed since July 2007, but there is only one that I used to regularly visit – the Railway at Heatley near Lymm, shown in the picture. Ironically, this had for a number of years banned smoking in the main bar area. As always, the story isn’t entirely straightforward, but this was a traditional drink and chat pub with a food sideline, in an area where most other pubs had a heavy emphasis on dining. It was thus the type of pub that would be much more at risk from the ban and so it has proved. It closed its doors in the Autumn of 2007 and has been up for sale with Fleurets ever since. In the meantime, the building has steadily deteriorated. When the Railway opens its doors again as a mainstream pub then, and only then, will I be convinced that the pub trade is on the rebound.

But the real difference is that the atmosphere has gone – both literally and figuratively – from large numbers of pubs, even the ones that do well enough from the food trade. There used to be a scattering of customers throughout the day who just popped in for a drink or two and a chat. A high proportion of them seemed to be smokers, or in groups including smokers, as pub-type people always were much more likely to be smokers than the average of the population. Now, a lot of them have disappeared, and those who remain often seem a touch lost and disoriented, especially when miserably trudging outside for a fag. It is as if people are unthinkingly going through the motions of their old routines even when the significance has been stripped away. The role of pubs as a social centre has greatly diminished.

As an example, there’s one pub I regularly visit on the fringe of the urban area. There used to be a group of customers who came in who were very much country folk rather than townies. They brought dogs and (well behaved) kids with them, and most of the adults were smokers. They made a distinctive contribution to the ambience of the place – but now, they no longer visit at all. Nobody has stepped into the breach to take their place. The pub still seems to do OK, but its social mix is less rich than it once was. Incidentally, this pub had banned smoking in about 75% of its public area some time before the ban came in, a solution that all its customers seemed happy with.

And, recently, I called in a pub in rural Staffordshire. The food operation on the lounge side seemed to be ticking over, but it also had an extensive, well-appointed public bar with a pool table. There was not a single person in it – something that I’m sure would not have been the case before July 2007. Even in Stockport town centre, many of the pubs outside the ranks of the usual flagships are very quiet in the evenings in a way they never used to be.

Much of the old welcoming, convivial atmosphere has departed from pubs forever, and despite one or two commentators detecting a few green shoots I am convinced there is much more pain to come. So many pubs now have a kind of sad, empty feeling about them. It will probably be said in the future that the smoking ban achieved what the Kaiser, Lloyd George and Hitler all failed to do and killed off the British pub as it once was understood.


  1. All that discouragement towards socializing also has the effect, perhaps intended, of preventing those most likely to be free thinkers and free talkers from being allowed too much time together in the same room, en-masse grouped together, thus preventing any generalized discussion that might in any way be regarded as anti-authoritarian, against the same ones who banned them out of existence in the first place.

    It might have less to do with "health" therefore and more to do with politics and maintaining whoever became the political elite, another method in their rise to power, as evidenced nowadays not just by the smoking ban, but bans on everything imagineable from A to Z, perhaps intended to keep everyone else not a smoker on their toes, just the same, under a state of constant awareness of they are being watched and knowing well who's in charge, whom to obey.

  2. When they had smoking rooms in workplaces, they were always fertile sources of subversive gossip...

  3. Let us get down to the nitty gritty
    real Englishmen dont do pubs
    anymore. The "cafes" which sell beer are the haunts of halfmen,
    hopgeeks,jellytots ,iffy civil servants,trotbores and the unwanted.
    As long as backstabbers and their ilk patronise these sheds of sorrow
    the greater the decline of the British way of life
    Lord Haw Haw was hung for less than
    what the so called champions of
    the English Pub are doing

    Beowulfs Drayman

  4. There's a sad letter here from ThameNews.Net.

    Interesting to see that 20% of respondents to your smoking ban poll would like to see the ban extended to outside areas. Camra members, do you suppose?

  5. Yes, unfortunately there are some really nasty, intolerant, bigoted people out there.

    People who are happy to see thousands of pubs closed and social lives destroyed because of their own obnoxious prejudices.

  6. Curmudgeon said...
    When they had smoking rooms in workplaces, they were always fertile sources of subversive gossip...

    Yes, subversive gossip, that is what has REALLY been banned - and the real intent.

    Too bad everyone in society must now suffer - now that any hint of disagreement with authority has been banned.

    Well, not everyone - I suppose there's that 20% who care not to question authority - ever - and who would have the whole place turned into a dictatorship - since subversive gossip of course is banned by way of banning congregations of smokers.

    Ingenious and insidious little plot - and it worked - was truly successful.

    In some other days and ages it would have been thought disgusting, but our mainstream who puts the ideas forth 24/7 and is inescapable has managed to keep the pro-authoritarian movement going this far - and will probably continue long into the future at the rate things are going.

    Truly disgusting, if you think about that it means has happened to us.

  7. The smoking ban was as much about stopping people from meeting informally as anything else.

    Think about it - where, now, can people get together and have a moan about "the way things are going"?

  8. Well written as usual, but pure nonsense of course. Not so much a case of gilding the nostalgic lily as laying it on thick with a trowel. I simply don’t recognise this picture of pubs that you paint.

    Are pubs generally less busy than they were? Of course, but we both know that they were in decline long before July 2007 and continue to be so for many reasons. Has the pub atmosphere deteriorated because the smokers have all deserted and those that are left are empty shells? Debatable.

    I still see the lads playing pool and then popping out for a fag and the barflies sat outside enjoying the craic. I think you see what you want to see. If anything there’s a new camaraderie amongst smokers in all being outcasts together. And it’s led to a whole new social phenomenon-smirting. There have even been weddings as a result of it. It seems that those rose-tinted glasses have left you a little colour blind :)

    “It will probably be said in the future that the smoking ban achieved what the Kaiser, Lloyd George and Hitler all failed to do and killed off the British pub as it once was understood”
    Unlikely-apart from perhaps those who wish it to be seen as such. More likely will be “What was all the fuss about?”

  9. Tyson, I only speak as I find, and there is no doubt in my mind that the smoking ban has led to the closure of thousands of pubs and removed a substantial part of the through-the-day wet trade from those that remain. Even on Friday nights, while some pubs are packed, others are near-deserted, which they never used to be. It could be said that you are clutching at straws to support your prejudices.

  10. Sadly, I think it you who s clutching at straws to try and shore up your political dogma. Like a reliigous zealot or conspiracy theorist, you find evidence in everyhting you see.

    By your own figures some 4000 pubs have shut since the smoking ban and you're seriously claiming that the majority of these are down to the smoking ban. That's plainly daft and without a shred of hard evidence. If the smoking ban is the main reason for pubs cloures, why were pubs closing pre 2007?

    And what prejudice? Supporting a better drinking environment for everyone is hardly prejudice. I'm not calling for an extension to the ban and nor do I want tobacco to be made illegal.

    The fact is that smokers can still go to the pub AND smoke-just not next to me. If there are tens of thousands of them who are now boycotting the pub because of that then, they are hardly the backbone of the pub trade you make out.

  11. Tyson, you're beginning to sound like a stuck record. As I have got sick of saying, in previous economic downturns the pub trade has been very resilient. In this one it hasn't been. Since the smoking ban came in, the rate of closures has accelerated from six a week to six a day. And you're seriously suggesting that has nothing to do with the ban?

    And what's this about "supporting a better drinking environment for everyone"? It's only a better environment for antsmokers. As I said a couple of years ago, "the folk who used to go in a pub once every three months and moan about it being smoky, will now still go in every three months and say how much better it is that there's no smoke and all those rough people are no longer there."

    I would gladly have pubs back the way they were, smoke and all, and I'm sure a huge number of people, both smokers and non-smokers, would agree.

  12. From Canada and aside from reading a few blogs, not familiar with the situation in the UK.
    I stopped going to pubs once the bans introduced here but have a co worker who is a member of a band.
    According to Him, many bars failed in Ontario and even this rabid anti smoker say that the bans were the main reason. Once the designated smoking room option was removed, their booking took the hit and unlike before when smoking rooms first introduced, this time the recovery did not materialized.
    A ccording to Him, the first hit, which was the introduction of the smoking room had a noticeable
    impact but that was partially recovered by owners from what He calls a "gallonage" fee reduction
    given to them.
    He was celebrating when the ban was introduced but started to sing the blues once the smoking rooms was forced to close.


  13. Tell me something Tyson.
    was any law prevented an owner to declare a pub nonsmoking before the ban?


  14. Tyson your an idiot! I have worked in the beer trade for the last twenty years running a business that sells beer and gas to the trade,the industry has gone through many recessions in its time,in fact previous recessions have even helped the pubs as people have popped to the pub to cheer themselves up.I speak to around ten landlords a day there is only one reason why our pubs are closing down and that is the smoking ban,now if your happy to see that happen because it endorses your petty little prejudicies then good luck to you because when this authoritarian govnt come for one of your vices,if you have any being so righteous as you are, dont expect anyone to listen.


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