Sunday 22 February 2015

It won't lie down

You often hear antismokers claiming that the smoking ban enjoys overwhelming public support, it has now become generally accepted, it is water under the bridge and we now need to move on. But, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

A new poll carried out by the Institute of Economic affairs has shown that 51% of respondents supported pubs, clubs and bars being allowed to have separate smoking rooms, with only 35% opposing, the remaining 14% being “don’t knows”. Yet only one major political party is even prepared to consider the idea.

Far from being accepted as a milestone that will never be reversed, the smoking ban has created an abiding legacy of bitterness and remains very much a live issue. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that it has been a key factor in alienating the traditional working class from the Labour Party, when they see so many of their pubs, clubs and bingo halls going out of business.

No doubt in the middle of American Prohibition, many in the anti-drink lobby were stridently insisting that there was no going back, but eventually there was. There are some legislative changes that do mark a once and for all watershed, but this isn’t one of them.

Another interesting snippet from the same report is that considerably more people think the duty on spirits and wine is too high than think it is for beer.


  1. First question would be about how broad the sample was. Second would be how important do people rate the issue. I mean, I would have answered that pubs should be allowed indoor smoking rooms but I wouldn’t place it high up on issues of importance and it would not be factor in how I choose to vote.

    For all the moaning, Britain is one place that there has been no movement on the issue, whilst other countries have amended it after public outcry. There has not been the same level of defiance and protest here. Sure, the hospitality industry got a rude awakening when smokers decided the inhospitable pub offer was no longer worth the money and hordes of none smokers failed to arrive, but the pubs that shut, shut and the ones that didn’t shut are now casual dining restaurants and beardy types just pretend they are still pubs.

    I suspect most smokers would not return to smoking pubs and pay pub prices after discovering the magic of cheap supermarket grog. The pub habit was broken and the smokers moved on.

    On tax, most European countries try to get around the spirit of the single market by favoring domestic produce where they can. France tax beer more than wine, as wine is a domestic product and in spite of the Alsace region, most beer is imported. In the UK most beer is domestic; even that has a foreign brand. Most spirits are domestic and most wine is imported. English wine is a cottage industry. So you might expect a domestic tax break to help domestic industry.

  2. 4,135 adults is a bigger sample than most headline-grabbing opinion polls.

    And Brits don't tend to be very keen on civil disobedience - they just quietly seethe.

    "It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
    Our wrath come after Russia's wrath and our wrath be the worst."

  3. Cookie, you're absolutely right that for a lot of smokers the pub habit has been broken, perhaps for always. But I expect it could still be rekindled in a large section of them.

    I used to be a regular pub-goer but now go once a month at most. When I do, though, I'll happily pay a premium to go to one with a £50,000 smoking area in London which is as close as you can get to being inside. If somewhere more local was available with a sensible law rather than the extremist-led one we have had inflicted, I'd be there far more often and it would become a habit again even if it was more expensive than its neighbourhood competitors.

  4. Even now, a higher proportion of smokers go to pubs than non-smokers. As Legiron said on his blog, the "healthies" don't do either smoking or drinking.

    If indoor smoking was allowed, they would move indoors, and I'd expect quite a few more would join them.

    A tiny handful of antismokers would stop having their weekly half of weak beer in the pub.

  5. It isn’t so much the number polled it’s the broadness of the sample, Mudge. If I asked 4,135 people stood outside pubs I’d expect a lot would want to go inside. If I asked 4,135 people sat in vegan cafes I’d expect the answer would be to ban fags completely.

    Whilst there has been a collapse in trust in mainstream politics across Europe, sod all is due to smoking in pubs. If you look at creditor & debtor nations, the left are on the rise in recipient nations and the right are rising among those that write the cheques. Whilst Americans feel American, no one in Europe feels European, with the exception of the Germans who eschew national pride for historic reasons. But even they are getting sick of writing the cheques. The grand dream is dying as Europeans get poorer.

    The rise of the kippers is down to immigration. Some don’t like society changing and others notice the minimum wage becomes a ceiling rather than a floor once better educated and harder working EU nationals arrive because their own country is in the economic shit heap, and a few middle class guardian readers that benefit from the produce of a lower wage working class bleat about racism and how they like polish deli’s. You can see the mainstream trying to out kipper the kippers on immigration and EU referendums, but not funnily enough smoking in pubs.

    If the smoking ban was significant why hasn’t call me Dave used it to, ahem, stitch Nige up like a kipper? It would be easier than promising an EU referendum.

  6. 'Don't know' could be be construed as 'don't care'. At the very least it implies it's not a big issue. In effect, that'd would be over 60% (with the majority still being non-smokers presumably).

  7. The link in the IEA paper to the original research (the poll by COmRes) seems to be broken, so it's not clear how we find out what the survey methodology was. Odd that.

  8. It is missing the point to argue about what percentage of people want to change the smoking ban. There are things about it that would be flat-out wrong even if only a handful of people cared - e.g. governments lying and scaremongering, using atrocious junk science, trampling on property rights and crossing the line between public and private. Those things are not OK because 'only a minority' are affected. And it's not OK to support some minorities (e.g. the 3% who happen to be gay) and not others (the 20-25% who smoke).

    Let's ban gay bars 'because they're a minority'. Most people will say 'I'm not gay, I'm not bothered about it'. Of course, in 2015, quite a lot will pretest out of principle. But they wouldn't have protested in 1915, when they were being told every day that smokers - sorry, I mean gays! - were the scum of the earth.

    Anyway, a democracy is not supposed to be a place where 99% of the people get to dictate to the other 1% - or 51% dictates to the other 49%. A democracy is supposed to give everyone a look-in. The numbers are not the issue. If there are enough smokers in your town to support one smoking pub, there should be one smoking pub. Who knows, if it's a good pub with decent ventilation, nonsmokers may go too. Or not. It's called free choice and a free market, and if it can't apply in the world of social life and nightlife, it's a pretty sad state of affairs.

  9. Oh absolutely. I've always been a supporter of the "bumming carriage" model.

  10. I’m not sure whether I would bother to go back to pubs (or, indeed, other places) regularly again as much as I used to, even if smoking was re-allowed. Perhaps a bit more, but who knows? Whilst I think that many non-smokers (now) realise the damage which has been done to their local pubs, I don’t think that the average non-smoker (a category in which I don’t include you, Mudge!) recognises quite how humiliating and slightly embarrassing it is to be expected to stand outside like a naughty schoolkid whenever one wants to indulge in what is an adult pastime, or alternatively how unpleasant it is to go without a cigarette for a whole afternoon/evening, constantly stealing surreptitious glances at one’s watch and wondering how soon it’ll be before you can reasonably make your excuses and leave (I’ve worked out that it can be achieved in about an hour, if the meet-up is just for a drink, or two if a meal is obligatory, provided one announces on arrival: “Can’t stay long, I’ve got to … [insert plausible excuse].”

    And anyway, there’d always be the sneaky suspicion that landlord whose pub you were sitting in, enjoying a cigarette, privately, would rather you were still banished to the outside so that they didn’t have to clean up any ashtrays, and who, at the slightest nod from the Government, would send you back outside again in a heartbeat. And who wants to take the chance of swelling the profits of an anti? Pubs betrayed their smoking customers in huge numbers by rolling over like puppy-dogs before the ban; even if the law were changed now, they’d have to do a lot more than just provide a grotty side-room with some dirty tables to re-establish the goodwill they once had. Trust, once lost, takes a long, long time to get back.

  11. I know how you feel. But I don't want people to think that I and other smokers don't care about the ban, so by the same token, I don't want people to think that I don't care about being able to smoke in a pub again. If or when it happens - even if it's a separate room, or just some pubs - I will be there like a shot.

  12. I wonder what would happen if they did legalise smoking in pubs, I bet the take-up would be absolutely tiny. Any pub that did would probably lose all their staff and 90% of their customers. Who wants to sit in a horrible smoky room? Even smokers agree that it's a completely foul environment to stay in for more than a couple of minutes.

  13. If you're so confident about the outcome, where's the harm in giving it a try?

  14. Py has evidently never been in a smoking venue with a good ventilation system, and also, has difficulty distinguishing between personal prejudices, and what governments should be passing laws about. All pretty typical these days, but what I can never understand, as Curmudgeon suggests, is why antismokers are so sure of the righteousness of their position, and yet so terrified of the free market. If 90% of people hate smoking so much, it should never be too hard to find a nonsmoking pub - and if one pub out of ten allows smoking, I will happily go there and Py need never set eyes on me. Why are antismokers so anxious to ban smoking in rooms or venues they don't ever have to go into, and mostly would never have gone into in the first place?

  15. As a pub landlord and a smoker I'll give my view. If the ban on smoking was fully reversed tomorrow, I wouldn't allow smoking in the main room downstairs of my pub, even though we have no smoking area and people have top smoke on the pavement of a busy road. We may be the exception, but the majority of my customers don't want to see the return of smoking in the main bar. We're pretty busy these days and probably less than 20% of our customers smoke.
    What I would do however, is ventilate the upstairs room well, and permit smoking in there. I don't see the problem with well ventilated and designated smoking rooms.

  16. In other words, you would exercise your right to set your own policy in your own place, instead of the government doing it for you. Fine with me.

  17. If the smoking ban was fully reversed (which is not what is being proposed anyway) then in general I wouldn't expect a return to allowing smoking in areas where meals are served.

    Some of the more upmarket dining pubs would remain 100% non-smoking - not least because it keeps the proles out - but I'd expect most pubs to set aside at least a small indoor area for smokers.

    On the other hand, many of the smaller wet-led working-class pubs would reintroduce smoking throughout like a shot.

    And in my experience a high proportion of bar staff are smokers anyway, so they wouldn't be concerned.

  18. Thanks for this post -- the smoking ban is a burr in my side. I would certainly go back occasionally if the ban were repealed.

    Three brief points:

    1/ On my visits to the US to my better half's and my favourite pub/restaurant (a 'local'), we saw the amount of time the customers lingered from 2 - 3 hours when smoking was allowed with an excellent ventilation system to one hour and a bit at most post-ban six or so years ago. The establishment closed at the beginning of 2015. Not enough custom anymore, which is a shame, as they did the best (and cheapest) prime rib dinner (with baked potato, veg, salad) within a 30-mile radius.

    2/ Let's give a government-approved trial to wet-led pubs to reintroduce smoking areas. If it takes off, great. If not, the publican can decide whether to continue, with the government's permission.

    3/ Duty on alcoholic drinks other than beer is madness. Has been since 2011.

    If some berk in government now or in future suggests minimum pricing, well, they must not be buying anything from sherry to dark rum.

    I haven't seen a litre of anything of these drinks in UK shops (excluding duty free) since 2011. It's all in 75 or 70 cl bottles. Furthermore, the prices have skyrocketed since then. I bought a 50 cl bottle of Bacardi rum the other week for £15.99 at a local supermarket and a 70 or 75 cl bottle of Lamb's Navy for £17.99 just last week.

    Sorry, not a beer drinker anymore. Too many carbs. Am on a high fat, low protein and very low carb eating plan for the foreseeable future.


  19. As a publican with a wet-led pub, I'll be honest about what I'd do if there was an amendment to the smoking ban: I'd bottle it. The instantaneous negative reaction one would get as the pub was suddenly smoky would produce an instant drop off in trade. It might build again as smokers began to use your pub more often, but it would be too risky.

  20. For the odd grotty pub about to go under anyway it might be worth the risk For most pubs, no chance. Why jeopardise years of hard work?

    So we're really flogging a dead horse here.

  21. @py - not what I said at all. If the ban was completely reversed, I'd expect maybe 80% of pubs to make some provision for indoor smoking, with 20% - typically, the smaller, working-class, wet-led pubs, allowing it throughout. Even those who chose not to allow it at all inside could alter their outdoor smoking areas to make them less exposed to the elements.

    I'd think Spoons would find it very hard to resist making some accommodation to smokers.

    @Jeff - of course you'd have to suck it and see, and if you basically have a one-room you can't please both smokers and antismokers at the same time. In the longer term, if you found you were losing trade to other pubs, you might have to consider bringing back some form of partitioning.

  22. But Mudge, if all the focus groups told Ed & Dave this was a live issue people cared about, why don't they fillet the kippers and propose an amendment?

    Why are they banging on about the NHS, Economy, taxes etc when what people really care about is smoking in pubs?

  23. @ Cooking Lager:

    How many focus groups are comprised of smokers and/or libertarians, though? Not many, it would seem.

    How does one get on to a focus group, anyway? Sure, one could enrol, but most of those who answer 'yes' to 'Are you a smoker?' get assigned online shopping surveys, nothing about national politics.

    To publicans: there are excellent ventilation systems which do away with cigarette smoke so well you'd be hard pressed to think anyone was smoking. I have been in many in the US when travelling, including the aforementioned local. An ex-colleague of mine told me that Butlin's had them 12-13 years ago in their dining room. No physical barriers, just this type of ventilation system between smoking and no-smoking areas. He said it was amazing.


  24. Very true, with a good air-cleaning system smoke is barely noticeable. If the 'powers that be' had wanted to promote that, plus an attitude of tolerance, there would have been no smoking 'problem'. Instead they promoted the opposite.

    Re the comments of Cooking Lager et al. though . . . those of us who hate the smoking ban are not trying to argue that everyone likes smoking, or that it's at the top of everyone's agenda, or anything like that. We're saying that it's a misuse of authority and a bad law, and that the situation should be addressed by the free market. It's not about what percentage of people rate it as a key electoral issue as compared to Iraq or the EU or whatever. . . If a law was passed against Morris dancing, there wouldn't exactly be riots in the streets either - but would that make it it a good law?


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