Saturday, 12 January 2013

Down in the trenches

Some telling words here from William Lees-Jones of Middleton family brewer J W Lees:

Lees-Jones said that the company had been “in the trenches” since the smoking ban. He said the firm had initially adopted a “very defensive” approach, protecting its core wet-led trade by building smoking shelters.

“It has been a waste of time, if I’m honest. That part of our trade changed forever.”

“Where we have seen success, it has been with food and families”.

Food sales throughout its 30-strong managed-pub estate have increased from about 15% to 43% since the smoking ban was brought in”.

Surely, looking at it the other way, that means wet sales have declined from 85% to 57%, not good news if you run a brewery. This is yet more evidence of how the smoking ban has killed the traditional drink and chat community pub.

Lees may succeed in opening a few trendy café-bars, but how does a café-bar benefit from being owned by a family brewer dating back 185 years? As I reported here, the future of the pub is seen as “food, families, females and fortysomethings”. No fags, though, at least those sold in packs of twenty. Which, for all too many long-standing pub customers, spells “f-off home”.

And a smoking shelter, however commodious and well-intentioned, can never be more than a grudging, third-rate substitute for actually allowing the smokers inside the pub itself.


  1. So what your saying is pubs have got nicer since the smoking ban? I agree. Lots of sh*t holes and dumps have closed leaving nice casual restaurants in their place.

  2. The smoking shelters cannot be more than 50% enclosed, and are therefore futile here in the north of Scotland.

    Why must they be so open? Who does that protect? Nobody. It's pure spite.

    So we smokers have made our own arrangements. Cooking Lager, you're happy to see pubs turn into restaurants. I'm fine with that too.

    I don't go to restaurants either.

  3. Whoops, that was me. I was in another skin there for a moment.

  4. @ Cooking Lager

    Nicer for the non-smokers perhaps, but not for the smokers who were the backbone of the pub trade. And it most certainly wasn't necessary to impose such a draconian regimen on the trade. Really CL, would you have objected if your local had a smoking room which didn't affect you at all when you were at the pub? Are you really so mean spirited that you would deny someone a pleasure you don't like even though you are not in the slightest discomfited by it? That rather points to a paucity of humanity in your character, if true.

    There was an article on the BBC site about pub closures here, and the comments for the most part lay the blame for the demise of the British pub firmly at the door of the smoking ban. Which is my belief also. Of course there have been other factors involved, but the smoking ban was the straw (log?) that broke the camel's back.

    Do you really think it was worth the destruction of something that epitomised the traditions of Great Britain so that a minority of pub goers didn't have to smell a bit of tobacco smoke? Have you any idea what air cleaning technology is capable of these days? Do you not feel that a compromise would have been the better and more economically sensible way to go?

    I think it's such a shame; nay, criminal, that this vandalism of the British way of life has been allowed to happen at the behest of a group of fanatical but well funded zealots with an ideological agenda. I cry for Britain, I really do.

  5. You ought to be grateful that the government are helping you quit a nasty and dangerous habit rather than moan about it, Nis. Maybe the government ought to ban smoking outright and hand out nicotine patches to the afflicted. It is for your own good.

  6. Lees-Jones is right in what he says ... pubs have, and always will adapt to market pressures and legislation ... they adapted to having regulated hours, they adapted to all day opening, they adapted to the need to provide entertainment beyond the cribbage board, they adapted to providing food beyond the pickled egg,the list goes on and on ... instead of banging on about the smoking ban (which is soooooo not going to be repealed) publicans need to concentrate on providing customers with high quality product and service with enough points of difference to make their venues the one of choice for consumers ... if this means they specialise in whatever, then so be it ... far better we try and win concessions for our beleagured trade than continue, Canute-like, to rail against the smoking ban ... the more some continue this irrational behaviour the more that the health fascists and neo-prohibitionsists will be win their argument ... "not only do they support drinking the evil alcohol, but they also support cancer-causing smoking ... let's shut them down altogether for the common good" ...

  7. But pubs haven't just changed and moved on, they have overall been greatly diminished by the smoking ban. To a large extent they are a shadow of their former selves, and in many cases what they have changed into is no longer a pub in any meaningful sense of the word, although it may still retain the outward trappings of one.

    And I make no apology for constantly banging on about how the smoking ban is the template for the crusade against alcohol; if you can't, or won't, see that, more fool you.

  8. @ Cooking Lager

    The government do not, and never will "help me quit a nasty and dangerous habit", since it is neither nasty nor particularly dangerous. I enjoy the pleasures of smoking, and have done for fifty years. I have neither inclination nor intention to quit, just because a group of puritan zealots have convinced the drones that it is lethal. Pah! They regurgitate truckloads of wildly exaggerated rubbish and expect me to act on it? What arrogance!

    So when they reduce the strength of lager to less than 1.5% (for your own good, CL), you will of course be positively sanguine about it, yes? After all, think of how much less damage there will be to your liver! You may even live an extra year or two in the unparalleled bliss of the geriatric care unit, Staring uncomprehendingly at the ever-on telly and having your dribble wiped from your chin. And the rest. Something to look forward to, eh?

    No, CL, neither the government nor the self-appointed Lifestyle Stasi will cause me to suspend my ability to reason and to blindly follow their orders.

    And the smoking ban has destroyed the British Pub, just as surely as the equally mindless Taliban destroyed the Buddha statues at Bamiyan.(Also for similarly questionable ideological reasons.) Vandalism, pure and simple.

    And as Curmudgeon says, you'd better start looking over your shoulder, because YOU ARE NEXT! For your own good, of course.

  9. Professor Pie-Tin13 January 2013 at 13:23

    Well, according to this pub landlord, their takings dropped by £1,000 a week after the smoking ban but since building a smoking area with a log-burner they'd got it back " in spades. "

    Obviously some pubs don't have the capacity to do this but i wonder i others don't have the willingness either.

  10. Well, Nis, with that sort of attitude it would be a good thing if sooner rather than later we banned smoking completely & issued drinking smart cards to ensure people drank responsibly and consumed no more than doctors recommend. You will thank the government, eventually.

  11. You may be joking CL, but I would lay money on the fact that the alcohol smart cards you refer to are well and truly on the horizon.

    And I'm sorry, but I just don't believe you would view their introduction with the equanimity you project. I think you would most likely find yourself (albeit reluctantly, perhaps :)) alongside me in the ranks of the awkward squad.

  12. Its quite nice, me and my missus met up with some friends in the pub on Saturday night, probably put £200 behind the bar between us.

    Without the smoking ban we would have just had people round ours. Who wants to sit in a room full of foul, shitty smelly smoke and catch cancer?

    The smoking ban hasn't killed the pub trade, its just changed the demographics from old boring bitter drinking smokers to young more discerning beer drinking non-smokers. Those pubs that recognised this have done well. Those that haven't, haven't.

  13. Before the smoking ban there was no law against having non-smoking rooms in pubs for the small minority who wanted them.

  14. Professor Pie-Tin14 January 2013 at 00:10

    I'm not in favour of changing the smoking ban - personlly I'd much prefer to see a return of the lunchtime stripper which seems to have gone the same way as fag-smoking.
    However I do find it morally wrong that the Government extracts huge amounts of revenue from smokers but not allow them to enjoy their habit in comfort.
    Why these outdoor smoking areas have to be open to the elements just seems unfair really.
    A nice comfy shed with a fire and a few armchairs doesn't seem too much to ask for.
    Would probably still be a bit nippy for a stripper in there though.

  15. To smokers the whole world is an ash tray. Before the smoking ban, restaurants had got the message and kicked the filthy smokers into a mucky room out back. Offices had allowed them a regular skive so long as they didn't blow cancer at the rest of us. Only pubs insisted on letting these lepers sit among us. For all the talk of smoking rooms, sod all pubs had them. So the government rightly intervened and pubs are nicer places because of it.

    I go to pubs 3 times as much since the smoking ban. Before I barely went once a year. Last year I went to the pub 3 times.

  16. Cooking, I am sure you are are aware that alcohol is a listed class A carcinogen. Filthy drinkers treat the world as a beer mat and speaking as a life long teetotaller I wish you just take your filthy cancer causing lager outside so I can enjoy my tofu and orange juice inside.
    Is it really to much to ask, you would only have to do it 3 times a year. I went to pubs 0.0002 times before the smoking ban and now I still only go 0.0002 times because the locally sourced tofu pubs sell isn't locally sourced enough for me.. That and the fact that pubs are still allowed to let dogs into pubs and Im worried sick about getting dog cancer. being a bit of a dog 'fancier' myself.

  17. Fredrik, please could you elaborate upon the mechanism by which passive drinking occurs?

    Please be sure to include a link to an appropriate peer reviewed medical journal.

    Otherwise I assume you're aware that your "analogy" falls rather spectacularly flat.

    No-one minds smokers giving themselves cancer. Its the fact that we are all forced to share that cancer with them that caused all this bother.

  18. py0,
    That was just a tongue in cheek response to cooking.
    I don't know of any studies into passive drinking and specified diseases because the focus post prohibition has been on tobacco but we may get them in the future as the focus switches away from tobacco and back on to booze again.

    The analogy does not fail because I only use it when people talk of exposing others to cancer causing agents and not to any disease that may result. So a teetotaller could rightly accuse a drinker of selfishly exposing them to cancer causing agents in pubs.
    The fact that there have never been any studies done to show whether there is elevated risk dose not mean there is no risk or change that fact that exposure has taken place.
    The evidence shows that shift workers have twice the risk of heart disease as passive smokers and I see no one asking for pubs and restaurants to close during the evenings, early morning and weekends . Cooking in kitchens has many fold more risk for lung cancer than passive smoking and I see no one asking for restaurants to serve cold foods only.

  19. I still don't see how a drinker "exposes" a teetotaller to cancer causing agents simply by dint of being in the same room. Lager is not airborne like cigarette smoke or exhaust fumes.

  20. I drink my can of lout responsibly on my couch in my own home unlike beards imposing their drinking on others. I shall use pubs less, so as not to impose. Here is how to avoid filthy drinkers

  21. py0,
    Do you remember really,really busy pubs before the smoking ban. When you walked up to them , maybe attracted by a ripple of laughter what did you smell first the booze or the tobacco smoke.
    Yup, you could smell the booze from yards away.

    Very much airborne.

    And if I had my anti-drinker hat on , I would say there is nothing worse than the smell of beer mat breath on filthy drinkers that insist on exposing me to their filthy carcinogens in pubs when all I want to do is eat my tofu in a booze free pub.

    Actually I like the smell of booze on breath because I associate it with having a good time!

  22. Cooking,
    Thanks for the tip. These filthy drinkers get everywhere. And you are right , drinking lovely cheap supermarket lager at home is a great way to avoid them.

  23. Yes, Fred, I remember busy pubs before the smoking ban. Thank god they are by and large empty now as it is less of a burden on the NHS. The question is now how to kill them off or neutrilize the harm. Bans on booze and meat and chips would alter the Spoons beer and burger offer into a healthy tofu burger with salad (no chips) and a glass of root beer. Why won't the government act? In the pocket of big alcohol no doubt and ignoring the needs of us citizens.

  24. haha, nice try.

    Most of the pubs I go in are absolutely packed every evening. Maybe where you live its different?

  25. Cooking,
    Well I am doing plenty of boozing at home and you are , so maybe if enough of us do then the government will act and ban all out of home drinking and strictly limit booze to the less pongy smelling types. Maybe even stating that all beer should be lager coloured and taste not dissimilar to fine continental lagers.

    It's just a thought.

  26. Just think of the benefits to the NHS, Fred, as A&E would no longer be a war zone.

    If Pyo is correct and these craft beer enthusiast bars are still full then they have to be the source of the problem.

  27. py0,
    I just meant that before the smoking ban smokers would be inside a busy pub and that you could smell the booze before the smoke and therefore filthy drinkers are just as guilty as filthy smokers of exposing teetotal non-smokers to known carcinogens.

    Clearly, after the smoking ban people smoke out side.

    But I did not make that very clear I grant you, but I am sure you will agree that you can smell a busy pub before you can see it sometimes.

  28. Cooking, Agreed. And after all there are only about another 50,000 pubs left to close. Not far off now!
    Maybe the government could start to finish the rest of them off by just banning people with beards from pubs first before moving to make lovely lout mandatory for home drinking.

  29. @py0
    Fredrik, please could you elaborate upon the mechanism by which passive drinking occurs?

    There's a few to be going on with. There's loads more out there, Google is your friend. It took me less than a minute to find those; I'm sure if I had the time and could be bothered I'd also be able to turn up a couple of peer reviewed studies on it.

    But don't worry, once the zealots get the bit between their teeth (and that won't be long now), you'll be hearing lots more about passive drinking, and "think of the cheeeldren", and how "you filthy stinking drinkers are killing me"; all of it financed by the punitive tax you pay on your booze and cheered on by the prohibitionists in 'Public Health'.

    And I rather fear that the smokers who you have been happily demonising will be inclined to bask in the warm glow of schadenfreude rather than rush to your defence as they might once have done.

  30. You could also regard those killed or injured by drunk drivers, glassed in pubs or beaten up by their husbands after ten pints of Stella as victims of "passive drinking".

    Smoking doesn't lead anyone to do things like that.

  31. Stella is in decline, those getting glassed did so from bearded types preloading on pong in pubs like the nursery. Some Dickie type getting angry about chemical fizz after a skinful of the house bitter.

  32. Neither does drinking Mudgie, you need to stop getting your info from the Daily Mail.

    nisakiman you haven't even read your own sources for goodness sake.

    "Passive drinking, like passive smoking, refers to the damage done to others as a result of drinking alcoholic beverages. These include the unborn fetus and children of parents who drink excessively, drunk drivers, accidents, domestic violence and alcohol-related sexual assaults"

    so nothing at all to do with what we were talking about.

    The second source is mainly about sniffing ether and details the extremely limited efficacy of such a method of. The author concludes:
    "Could inhalation of alcohol itself ever become a popular route to intoxication? I doubt it"

    Did you forget which side of the argument you were trying to argue? Perhaps next time you should read further than the headline.

  33. @ py0

    No, I didn't bother to go beyond the headlines because it's irrelevant what the content of the article is. What is relevant is that the term "passive drinking" has entered the lexicon of the "health professionals". You can be sure that just as they managed (by torturing the statistics and moving the epidemiological goalposts) to create the myth of "passive smoking", they will apply the same 'creative' approach to "passive drinking".

    Have a little read of this, and then tell me it will never happen:

    Passive drinking. Coming soon to a media outlet near you. Replete with the junk science used to 'prove' the dangers of passive smoking.

  34. Passive smoking is a real thing with a real mechanism and real consequences. As much as smokers wish it was, its unfortunately not junk science at all.

    "Passive drinking" on the other hand is nothing more a deliberately misleading phrase invented by the neo-prohibitionist lobby. I would have thought this website would have been free from such hyperbolic imagery.

  35. None of the anti smokers has persuaded me that banning smoking rooms or smoking pubs, is reasonable. The Netherlands and certain areas of the USA allow owner-run bars a free choice. The Dutch are known for their logical and less emotive approach to social policy and my Dutch work colleague says this arrangement works well. A state of equilibrium has been reached where there is a chioice of smoking and non smoking bars.

  36. Well ventilated separate smoking rooms are fine, I don't think any reasonable person would have a problem with them as long as the majority of customers wouldn't have any need to venture inside them.

    But I don't think there is much appetite for going back to the bad old days of spending the evening coughing and spluttering in a cloud of carcinogenic fug and having to wash your clothes three times to get rid of the stench. You wouldn't let me run my car exhaust pipe over your table while you were trying to enjoy a tasty pint, don't see why the same consideration can't be taken by smokers.

    Anyone who thinks the pub trade would pick up again if the ban were reversed is delusional.

  37. py0,
    That is why pubs and restaurants should be allowed to go smoke-free and booze free if they want to.
    That way people that that don't want to be exposed to carcinogens from booze and fags can go to booze-free and smoke-free pubs and restaurants. Then all smokers and drinkers have to do is avoid those smoke-free and booze-free restaurants & pubs.

    Supply and demand, the more booze-free pubs people go to the more booze-free pubs will appear.

    My attitude has always been if you don't like the fact that you can't smoke in a restaurant simply go to a restaurant you can smoke in! Same with pubs, if you don't want to come home from a pub stinking of (carcinogenic) booze don't go to that pub - go to a booze free restaurant instead for example.

    We can't really expect drinkers to stand outside of every pub in the country it's unfair. So long as the law does not prevent pubs from going booze-free then there will be as many as there needs to be to meet the demand. The problem with banning booze-free places is that it would force teetotallers to go to booze ridden places against their wishes. The same with banning smoking in pubs it forces people to go to smoke-free pubs against their wishes.

  38. pyO, it is impossible that smoking rooms and smoking pubs would not increase pub trade. A significant proportion of smokers no longer visit pubs, spend less time in them if they do or visit them less frequently. I am one and I know other people who are. I can afford £2.50 a pint and I haven't been in a pub for over 5 years. I visit a friend in London. We stay in and drink wine. Also, a lot of people don't like children or the smell of food when out drinking. Smoking rooms and pubs would definitely be childfree and probabably would have to be food free. Even some non smokers would be attracted were effective aircleaning provided.

  39. If you reintroduced smoking in every pub, the number of smokers that would come back after ten years of non-pub-going would be dwarfed tenfold by the number of young non-smokers who have got used to a pleasant pub atmosphere leaving never to return.

    I went to Serbia a few years ago. We all remarked how shockingly horrible it was sitting choking in the smoky pubs, getting terrible headaches and having stinking clothes. We couldn't believe we actually ever used to put up with it! I think probably 90% of the people I know would never set foot in a pub again. I've got a dartboard, and Tescos sells plenty of decent beers.

    As I say: separate smoking rooms that wouldn't impact upon me are another matter entirely.

  40. The answer isn't to reintroduce a deadly habit into the nations pubs, it is to ban it entirely.

    Ban smoking, ban fags & baccy, give out patches to smokers and bob is your aunty.

  41. Cooking, surely banning the deadly habit of drinking in pubs would also be a good idea.

    I think I could look cool playing pool with a nicotine patch on my arm and a nice glass of lemonade on the side. Or at the very least have separate well ventilated areas for drinkers to poison each others air in, while I play pool in a clean environment in the main bar with the Grannies and Grandads eating locally sourced food at 9:30 on a Saturday night.

    And after all, people can always go home and drink and smoke as much as they want but most people don't have room at home for a pool table and I like to play pool free of all carcinogens.

    The clean living chap that I am.

  42. It's what I have been saying Fred. Won't somebody, please, think 0f the children?

  43. pyO, you say "If you reintroduced smoking in every pub..."

    I wasn't suggesting that, and you know I wasn't. I was suggesting that pubs be given the choice. Maybe pubs below a certain size if that's more acceptable. In any case, you destroy you own argument. Suppose all pubs did allow smoking - highly unlikely, and business plummeted. What do you think they would do? Stubbornly persist with allowing smoking? No, they would go back to a no smoking policy. What do you have to worry about?

  44. You're right, most likely nothing would happen. Most pubs would either have a small smoking room or do nothing at all. I can't see much chance of the government repealing one of the most popular and successful pieces of legislature in recent times though.

  45. A similar argument to the old "just let the pubs decide" line would be that we should repeal all health and safety legislation; after all, any companies that endangered their workers' and customers' health would surely lose both trade and workforce?

  46. Popular? The official Social Attitudes Survey has never shown a majority in favour of a blanket smoking ban.

    Successful? In what way? Slowing the decline in smoking? Closing ten thousand pubs?

    And do you think it's OK for majorities to suppress minority pursuits simply because they don't like them?

  47. Successful in the improvement in public health. Fewer smoke & closing pubs improves public health too. As for is ok to suppress minority pursuits? Yeh, why not? Few will complain, they're a minority, sod 'em.

    Child friendly canteens are nicer than pubs, Yeh for Tony Blair.

  48. @py0, have you ever thought of starting your own blog, as you seem to post a lot more on here than I do at the moment?

  49. I don't think smoking in pubs was supressed because the majority "didn't like it", it was supressed because it was directly affecting other people.

    Kinda like how we surpress the minority pursuit of driving down the pavement. Its not that it doesn't look fun, its just that it creates negative externalities for other people.

  50. No, the declared aim of the smoking ban was to denormalise smoking and reduce its incidence. The protection of bar staff was just a figleaf.

    And, even if you accept that they were being put at risk (which I don't), then that objective could have been achieved simply by preventing smoking in rooms with bars. After all, smoking in hotel rooms is still legally permissible.

  51. "A similar argument to the old "just let the pubs decide" line would be that we should repeal all health and safety legislation" - py0

    No, it would just mean let pubs decide.

    As I pointed out earlier
    "The evidence shows that shift workers have twice the risk of heart disease as passive smokers and I see no one asking for pubs and restaurants to close during the evenings, early morning and weekends . Cooking in kitchens has many fold more risk for lung cancer than passive smoking and I see no one asking for restaurants to serve cold foods only."

    If you want pubs (childrens canteens!) to close at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon and only serve sushi and other cold foods - way to go. And none of those risks are even remotely comparable to road traffic accidents.

    If you want health and safety we can give you health and safety in abundance.

  52. I agree with Fredrik. The fact that the Authorities appeal to H&S when it is convenient shows that the smoking ban was never about health. In fact, many of the anti tobacco industry have now admitted as much. The choice of spending 30 minutes each evening collecting glasses in a smoking room fitted with an extraction system, or working shifts, is a no-brainer in health terms.


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