Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A self-enforcing law?

It’s often claimed that the smoking ban is effectively self-enforcing, but the reality is not quite so simple, as this exchange between me and another contributor on a non beer-related forum (in a members-only section) illustrates:

A. N. Other: In my experience there certainly seems to be a remarkable degree of compliance with the ban and very little defiance - if there was a silent majority against the ban or even a large minority against it I very much doubt this would be the case.

Curmudgeon: By the very obviousness of breaking it, it is a law that is likely to result in a high degree of compliance, but compliance doesn't necessarily equate to acceptance. And, of course, smokers can simply withdraw their custom. Since 2007, according to statistics produced by the BBPA, beer sales in British pubs have fallen by 25% and over 8,000 pubs have closed.

A. N. Other: I'm not sure that I accept that. Speeding is also very obvious and yet the law is widely flouted. I think compliance with the smoking ban is in the first instance brought about by the law, and secondly is made effective by it now being a socially accepted norm. I'm not aware that it's required a huge amount of enforcement by the police or the courts, or even by pub landlords - it seems to be pretty much self-policing, which is a good result if you ask me.

Curmudgeon: I would say that is due to the fact that the risk of prosecution lies with the licensee for "permitting smoking", not the individual smoker, and the potential penalties are livelihood-threatening. It is simply not worth the risk for any licensee to turn a blind eye to it. If only individual smokers were liable to prosecution, then I'm sure many licensees would say to their customers “OK folks, I'll let you smoke in the back room, but don't blame me if you get nicked”. I have heard numerous reports of pubs having smoking “lock-ins”, and one pub near me which closed a few months ago apparently had a mass "smoke-in" on its final night.

Taking the analogy with speeding a bit further, if roads were privately owned and their owners were liable to prosecution for "permitting speeding", then they would ensure there was virtually no speeding. Not that I am proposing that, of course.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone light up in a pub since the ban came in, and there have been very few prosecutions. But that is because people are not just “obeying the law”, they are obeying the house rules as well. It’s not just them who would get it in the neck, it would be the licensee. Indeed, it would probably just be the licensee.

Take away that particular aspect of the law and a wave of mass civil disobedience, tacitly encouraged by licensees, would probably make the ban dead in the water within days.

Aberystwyth has recently been in the news as a cock-up between police and local council has effectively left the town without any parking enforcement, leading to a “parking free-for-all”. It would be interesting to speculate what the results would be if it became known that a particular local authority was not enforcing the smoking ban. My money would go on an equitable sorting out of smoking and non-smoking facilities in a short period of time.

It’s also worth adding that, before the ban, compliance with designated non-smoking areas in pubs tended to be well-nigh 100%.


  1. Does A. N. Other drive a Rolls Royce by any chance? ;)

  2. No, I did say it was on a non beer-related forum. It's also rather politer than Mr E. would manage.

    Incidentally, it appears that, to confirm the stereotype, Mr E. has his own personal pewter tankard that he takes to beer festivals ;-)

  3. The prosecution of landlords for failing to prevent smoking is a form of 'collective punishment' previously only seen in countries under military occupation. Without that, people would have posted a sentry near the front door while others smoked in the back. If an EHO had turned up they would have been able to tell that someone had been smoking but it would have been almost impossible to catch anyone in the act. The smoking ban wouldn't have lasted five minutes.

  4. Just off topic Curmudgeon. Did you hear the radio interview with Simon Clark and Aleena Naylor on BBC Derby. She said that insurance premiums had gone down for pub licensees because of the smoking ban. Is this true? What are the figures for pubs burning down because of smoking?

  5. Enforcement of the smoking ban is the responsibility of local councils.
    Alcohol licencing is no longer the local magistrates, but would you believe, the local council.

    When the smoking ban was introduced, local councils received EU money in the form of grants to finance enforcement, but for 2 years only.

    Councils no longer have enforcement officers touring pubs, they basically work on a "Informer" basis, and send out officers upon receipt of a tip off.

    They very rarely prosecute as it costs more money to well, prosecute than they receive in fines, and it's very hard to prosecute someone without knowing their name.

    Hence Landlords are held liable, and persistent offenders have their licence revoked, (unlikely to happen if licences were still issued by magistrates).

  6. Tony wrote "The prosecution of landlords for failing to prevent smoking is a form of 'collective punishment' previously only seen in countries under military occupation"

    It was also seen in many classrooms when the frantic incompetent teacher lost his rag and kept the whole class in when he had no discipline.

  7. When I became a £2,500 liability rather than a customer, I stopped going to pubs.

    I just wouldn't want to inflict that kind of worry.


  8. Quite. If speeding were punished by large fines for every householder in the road in which it occurred, it would be rather less popular an activity.

    Perhaps we could extend the idea! If every member of the House of Commons were sent to prison whenever a member were caught fiddling the expenses, perhaps? If all Civil Servants became legally liable for maladministration in their departments?

    Sadly, just a dream.

  9. Having imbibed a few beers in Stockport,I can confirm that there is one pub that closes the doors. Shuttersdownand out comes the ashtrays!

  10. It was rather amusing that one of the most vocal supporters of the smoking ban on this thread on the CAMRA forum admitted to attending a smoking lock-in himself ;-)

  11. We have lived at our address for the last 30 years. It's a mixed light industrial area on the outskirts of Leeds. There used to be 12 pubs and over the years the odd one or two have closed. Since the smoking ban 5 more have closed, leaving only 5 open out of the original 12. These are all drinking pubs some of which have no room for a smokers shelter.

    My wife and I stopped going out in October last year. We no longer go to pubs as we are not willing to stand outside for a fag, and the atmosphere in the pubs is not the same.

    The potential fine of £2500,loss of licence or even jail for the landlord is the main reason why the ban is complied with. Unfortunately in the UK there seems to be no shortage of people who are non smokers willing to report any infringement of the ban to the relevant authorities.

  12. I also heard the claim regarding insurance. I don't believe it. Can any pub owners comment.

  13. I'm a pub landlord, and I fully support the ban. While it would have been much more preferable to allow some venues to have some indoor areas, well ventilated and fully enclosed from the rest of the pub, the sheer level of bureaucracy which would be required top properly police it would have been too extreme. For instance how tempted would customers and landlords be to just prop open the separating door, and thus render the exercise useless ? If the ventilation failed, would managers correctly stop customers using the space, or more likely not bother ?

    In a perfect world, there would have been a compromise, with some places having smoking rooms, but the additional cost combined with human nature made this an unlikely path to take.

    Pubs are closing for many different reasons indeed, and having a large, covered, heated smoking area is no guarantee of commercial success, although it shall give you an advantage over pubs that do not have this. The beer tie and high rents are killing more pubs than the tobacco issue.

  14. "In a perfect world, there would have been a compromise, with some places having smoking rooms" - Saga.
    Saga, I could never understand why smoking carriages on trains were removed. Three to eight carriages were smoke-free and a solitary one for smoking in but they still got rid of them anyway. The difference being that train stations did not close in their thousands afterwards.

  15. Yes, and nobody can smoke on a plane, but people still fly. the difference is that there is no other choice. people can choose to stay at home and drink, but if you need to go somewhere and do not have a car, a train is the only option.

  16. "somewhere and do not have a car, a train is the only option."
    Yes, and that is why if 7 of 8 carriages are smokefree there was no need to get rid of the solitary one that allowed smoking.
    A for planes, the ventilation was so good that you could not smell the smoke when people were allowed to smoke at the rear , unless you got a non-smoking seat that was near to where the smoking section was. Personally I have always been in favour of smoke-free buses if they were single deck. But at the end of the day it is up to the operator to decide these things and it should be the same for pubs too.


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