To listen to a lot of people, you would imagine that, before 1 July 2007, the interior of English pubs was a wall-to-wall fug of tobacco fumes, and non-smoking provision varied between extremely rare and non-existent. Indeed, in many quarters, this has become the received wisdom. But, in reality, it simply isn’t true.
For a start, my recollection is that pretty much all pubs majoring on food were either predominantly non-smoking in dining areas, or at least had a substantial non-smoking section. Added to this, every single Wetherspoon’s had a non-smoking area, and in some of them Tim Martin had jumped the gun and imposed a complete ban, albeit at the cost of wet sales plummeting.
While less general, non-smoking areas were also far from unknown in pubs of a more wet-led nature. To give three examples familiar to me, the staunchly traditional Griffin in Heaton Mersey had designated one of five rooms as non-smoking, the customers of the Davenport Arms at Woodford had voted to make all of the interior non-smoking apart from the tap room, and the main bar area in the Railway at Heatley (now sadly demolished) was also non-smoking.
In the absence of a time machine, it’s difficult to prove this conclusively. However, we do have a kind of time machine at hand in the shape of the 2007 Good Beer Guide, the last one to be published before the ban. Selecting a few counties gives us, for example:
Cheshire: 73 pubs, 34 (47%) with a non-smoking area
Isle of Wight: 22 pubs, 11 (50%)
East Yorkshire: 43 pubs, 20 (47%)
Now, I’ve got better things to do than trawl through the entire book, but the picture is clear. In most areas, getting on for half of pubs provided a non-smoking area, so if that was important to you it wasn’t too difficult to find one. People made considerably more effort to seek out pubs with real ale in the early 70s. Maybe the GBG isn’t representative of the entire pub stock, but I’d say it goes light on both backstreet boozers and family dining pubs, so overall things balance out.
Clearly it was the case that you were much more likely to find a non-smoking area in a dining section than in one for general drinking. It was often observed that, in wet-led pubs, even when non-smoking areas were provided, they tended to get little use, as most people were in mixed groups including smokers. “Why do I have to use a smoking area to be with my friends?” the cry would go up.
However, it’s hardly very amicable to seek to deny your friends the ability to smoke just because you don’t like it. Friendship surely involves a bit of give and take. If your mates like going to a pub that plays loud rock music, then it’s up to you whether you go with them or not. It’s a classic case of revealed preference – that what people actually choose to do is more important than what they say. And it was quite clear that the vast majority put sociability ahead of avoiding tobacco smoke. At the end of the day, if you weren’t happy with your friends taking you to smoky places, maybe it was time to find some new friends.
The claim is also often heard that having a no-smoking section in a pub is like having a no-pissing section in a swimming pool. However, as Michael J. McFadden demonstrates in his book Dissecting Antismokers’ Brains, the two bear no comparison. “This claim is off by a factor of at least 15,000 air/water changes. In percentage terms, the antismokers are exaggerating by one million, five hundred thousand percent.” It’s loaded language akin to cyclists (both motor and pedal) describing car users as “cagers”, or people referring to isinglass in beer as “fish guts”. If these phrases come out, you know that you’re not going to get a measured, rational argument. And, really, if you think someone smoking thirty feet away is going to do you any harm whatsoever, you are being utterly hysterical.
Despite the claims, it wasn’t generally difficult to find non-smoking provision in pubs before 2007 if that mattered to you. But it seems that self-delusion, if not outright lying, is a defining characteristic of homo antismokerus.