Sunday, 27 May 2018

Yer what?

The Morning Advertiser reports on Frazer Grimbleby (surely a character from an Ealing comedy) of Craft Union Pub Company talking about the resurgence of wet-led pubs. It would be good if that were true, but to be honest I see precious little evidence of it. It’s more like a case of old friends steadily dropping off one by one. Maybe a more honest narrative would be to say that some wet-led pubs were proving resilient to the long-term market decline.

However, he then goes on to make the jawdropping statement that “The smoking ban is the best thing that ever happened to the pub industry”. Presumably the huge tide of post-2007 pub closures has passed him by, and he is totally indifferent to the customers who have been forever alienated. I was tempted to make a Ken Livingstone-esque comment but, deciding that would be in bad taste, I’ll content myself with saying that it is akin to claiming that Christmas is the best thing that has ever happened to turkeys.

Again, honesty would result in something more like “the smoking ban has posed serious challenges for the industry, and we have had to work hard to salvage something from the wreckage.” And, if he is so cloth-eared to what has happened in his own industry, you have to fear for the future of the pubs his company runs.

58 comments:

  1. Bang on the smoking ban!

    Could it be that not every pub operators experience of the smoking ban is the same? That if you operate posh venues your experience may be positive. That it has cleaned up your expensive gaff and improved custom? That if you operate more down to earth venues you have suffered and seen a hollowing out of that part of the trade?

    This chap is not the first the first operator to suggest his business has improved. Someone with skin in the game.

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    1. The other Mudgie !29 May 2018 at 13:46

      Cookie,
      But surely nobody thinks "posh venues" as soon as Enterprise Inns is mentioned.
      Yes a tad more 'up market' than the much missed Winters was but not "posh".

      Delete
    2. I've been in mudgie land. A step free of blood, teeth & faeces is posh in stocky. Get the train and check it out, you know you're near when you hear screams from outside the window.

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    3. The other Mudgie !29 May 2018 at 19:04

      Yes, of course you've been in mudgie land. You live there.
      I've occasionally drunk in Mudgie land since 1972, most recently nine pubs on a Proper Day Out with the man himself in November 2016 and eight pubs on a half day out last November, and on neither occasion was there any need to include an Enterprise Inns pub.

      Delete
  2. I'm a member of a running and triathalon club and we definitely visit pubs more as a result of a pleasant environment. We do not, I suspect, come close to replacing all lost trade but our frequent haunts definitely have an uptick in business. We're not the only club there in an evening either.

    I'm with Cookie. Net overall is undoubtedly down but not uniformly and some have benefitted.

    All the smoking ban did was speed closures up. Eventually the same pubs would have closed as their staple diet of heavy drinking and heavy smoking clientele died off, quite literally.

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    1. "heavy drinking and heavy smoking clientele died off, quite literally."
      I am sorry but that is utter nonsense. By that logic pubs should have died off some 500 years ago. Why not go the full hog and ban drinking in pubs, by your logic the number of pubs would multiply exponentially.

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    2. That's unfortunate but probably a good thing. Long term adult social care can be very expensive. I don't like cyclists either though. Especially when they are on the pavement.

      Back to the topic though and a new generation has found other things to do.

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    3. The new generation has little choice. The bulk of pubs IMO are fighting over catering for middle aged non-smokers. I went to a wet pub the other day and of the 30 odd people in it no one was below the age of 50 not one of them smoked. Why would young people want to sit in a pub full of boring middle people? Ranks of grey haired people sitting with their arms folded - boring as hell. When I started drinking in pubs they were wall to wall with females of my own age and I can say that eating locally sourced vegetables in a 'smoke free' environment was the last thing in my mind. An environment that was abundantly available prior to the smoking ban.

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    4. You may wish to consider that the new generation has chosen not to spend significant parts of their life in a pub, rather than being forced to.

      Sure, I think overly aggressive I.D. checking and a general unwelcome vibe given off by pubs to 18 year olds hasn't helped, but the root cause is they just don't want to go. Certainly not as often as you or I do in all likelyhood.

      This doesn't please me. I think a pub is a wonderful place and often somewhere that momentous events in your life are celebrated. But the future is in high value, low volume though.

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    5. " But the future is in high value, low volume though."
      You may well be right. But it's funny how the future of pubs never seems to involve giving smokers back the human dignity of shelter and to carry on treating us no better than filthy dogs.

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    6. Yes, some people may have visited pubs more following the smoking ban, but they're greatly outnumbered by those who visited them less. They just seem to be disproportionately represented in my blog comments.

      And there were loads of pubs with non-smoking sections before the ban, including every Wetherspoon's. If you were that bothered about it, you could always have used one of them.

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    7. Just a point of order on your last comment here Mudge. I'd happily be anonymous, but you did say that you would prefer it if people could use a tag, so that their reasoning could be followed through a thread. I trust that I'm playing with a straight bat by not using more than one on a thread, but I'll merrily ring the changes for frivolity's sake on others. I might not be alone in that?

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  3. And ... according to this article 1 in 4 endurance cyclists end up with atrial fibrillation which causes a five fold risk of stoke. I am sure that there will be plenty of new cyclists to replace the ones that die as a result of endurance cycling and endurance drinking - both of which are risk factors for death.

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  4. I think the smoking ban has had huge effect on the pub industry, good pubs have adapted, with many highly improved from their previous incarnations. Pubs that always relied on a steady flow of smokers, as the backbone of their business were always going to struggle, most were probably not that profitable to begin with, so pubcos that didn't see much scope for a rise in sales as a result of the ban didn't think it a worthwile investment risk. I have never smoked , and neither have most of the people I socialise with, so the ban from my personal perspective was largely positive, whilst I always enjoyed pub crawls before the ban, we have definitely visited more pubs on a regular basis since, whilst it is regrettable at the high level of pub closures, the overall number of pubs especially wet led was likely to be unsustainable in the long run anyway, the ban was merely the tipping point that pushed some over the precipice.

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  5. Plenty of pubs closed between 2000 and 2007.

    If you extrapolate that rate to today, then you will see that most (though by no means all) of the closures would apparently still have happened, even if there had been no smoking ban.

    You couldn't blame your favourite targets for those though, so carry on ignoring the fact.

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  6. "the huge tide of post-2007 pub closures"

    I've had a quick look for some figures. Here are three sources - no doubt there are others:

    BBC business news 27/03/18 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-43492043) Extracting figures from a bar chart is never easy and certainly not accurate, but they seem to have a drop in total pub numbers of about 650 pubs per annum between 2000 and 2016, including a period of greater decline (between 2006 and 2014) of about 800pa, and a more recent slackening to about 500pa.

    Institute of Economic Affairs (December 2014) (http://www.iea.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/files/Briefing_Closing%20time_web.pdf) Their figure of 58,200 pubs in 2006 is very close to the figure I have extracted from the BBC's chart (58,500), but their 2013 figure of 48,000 is vastly different from the BBC's (approx) 52,500 in that year (I estimate from the BBC chart 53.5K in 2012 and 51.5K in 2014). Admittedly, counting the number of pubs is difficult (cafe bars, restaurants, clubs, etc; the IEA report makes no mention of micropubs), but the change from a very similar figure in 2006 to a markedly different one on 2013 raises questions. About methodology, consistency, accuracy and getting carried away, for example. But particularly about the extrapolation of the decline since 2007 (see graph on page 13 of the briefing).

    statista (The Statistics Portal) (https://www.statista.com/statistics/310723/total-number-of-pubs-in-the-united-kingdom/ ) The bar chart in this one has yearly figures which help to take the guesswork out (see BBC above). Interestingly, these show a rise in pub numbers between 2009 and 2010, with the decline then bringing the numbers back to below 2008 the following year. Intriguingly, the 2008 figure of 54.8K is the only one that doesn't agree with the BBC figures - all the other (even year) totals for surviving pubs are within a reasonable margin of error of the guestimates I extracted from the Beeb's chart. For the overall period 2000 to 2016, statista agrees with the BBC: a loss of 10,500 pubs.

    Of course, there may have been a data point entry error in either the BBC or the statista bar charts, but the figures used by IEA to show a change in the rate of decline after the smoking ban, are vastly different. The graph on page 16 shows 55K in 2008, which agrees with statista, but after that there's a rapid decline to the 48K figure in 2013. Why is there such a big difference? Is it an error? As it is central to the perceived accelerated decline after 2007, this would be a critical error.

    If anyone knows of any more accurate and consistent data sets, I'd be interested to see them. As I said above, I've only had a quick look online and have quoted the first three that I came across with figures or graphs for the relevant period. The IEA briefing looks faulty to me (I've not read the whole document); someone please point me to where I have gone wrong. (Or tell me it was discredited four years ago!)

    On the statista figures, the "huge tide" after 2007 (56.8 to 50.3 in nine years: just over 700 per year) seems not very dissimilar to the decline between 2000 and 2007 (60.8 to 56.8 in seven years: just under 600 per year).

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    Replies
    1. Well, composing that comment was twenty minutes of your life you'll never get back...

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    2. Litanies are important to the devout, Mudge.

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  7. "In 2015 across the UK, 19.3% of men and 15.3% of women smoked cigarettes." - Office for National Statistics who also confirm that rates of smoking continue to decline.

    There is NO doubt that the smoking ban had an detrimental effect effect in 2007, but that is now nearly 11 years ago: things have moved on. There is a generation now aged nearly 30 who have never drunk in smoky pubs and bars, and seeing that the biggest drop in smoking is among young people, I doubt they'd want to. They are the future.

    As for all those smokers who stopped going to pubs in 2007: I can only think they thought having to walk a few yards to the door for a fag was too much of a price to pay to continue to seeing their friends, engaging in the banter and socialising in a busy pub, drinking a decent pint (as opposed to supermarket take-outs), and enjoying just getting out of the house. I just hope they like endless re-runs of Taggart. They do not have my sympathy.

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    1. RedNev,
      As I have pointed out to you many times in the past, if you were forced to drink your booze in the outside in all weathers even if you soldiered on your friends would not. Smokers do not like being cold and wet any more than drinkers do.
      Why not make the rule that you will only drink alcohol outside from now on and see how long you last.
      You can convince your self that it is a minor inconvenience but if you had to drink outside of every pub and restaurant in all weathers for 11+ years you would quickly
      realise it is a major inconvenience and on top of that humiliating too.
      Denying human beings shelter for no good reason is degrading and spiteful.
      Pigs are treated better.

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    2. That's about the best argument that I've heard for packing it in for ages, Fred.

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    3. Fredrik Eich: the fact that you repeat something doesn't make it correct. The reason why smokers have to go outside is because their smoke pollutes the atmosphere everyone else breathes, smokers and non-smokers alike. In contrast, drinking a pint affects no one else. Your pretentious attempt at human rights pleading, "Denying human beings shelter for no good reason is degrading and spiteful", is ludicrous. No one is denied anything: smokers are welcome in every pub - provided they don't pollute everyone else's air. Life is full of legal activities you can't do anywhere you feel like, including in many town centres (such as where I live) drinking in public, except in designated outdoor drinking areas. Perhaps I should see this as "degrading and spiteful".

      One of my oldest friends is a lifelong smoker: he prefers pubs now they are smoke-free and is quite happy to go outside to smoke.

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    4. RedNev,
      If a pub operator is happy for me to smoke in their pubs then I am not polluting anyone's air, anymore than you are 'polluting' peoples air with the carcinogens for your stinky beer that you love so much. You have been invited to drink in the pub therefore you are by definition not polluting and the same applies to smoking. I notice you never respond to my invitation for you to drink your beer outside in all weathers. Could this be that you are perfectly happy for others to be treated like dogs but when it comes to keeping your own precious hair dry you feel some sense of entitlement?
      Now when are you going to commit to start drinking your stinky beer outside ? Or would it not be just easier to admit that drinking outside would in fact be the very definition of a chronic inconvenience. But you are not going to are you? So long as RedNev is warm and comfortable that is the main thing right?

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    5. No one forces you to go outside Fred. You could simply not smoke.

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    6. Hatter, What ignorant twaddle. The Health Act 2006 ensures that bar staff enforce the will of the anti-smoking lobby. They will be fined for failing to prevent the horrific crime of me smoking with a roof over my head. If they don't pay that fine they will go to prison. I am totally forced to smoke outside.
      Got it?

      If people could change their skin colour would that justify colour discrimination? All you have to do is become white and we will stop discriminating against you! I am sure protestants would stop discriminating against catholics if they would just become protestants and visa versa.
      I don't want to stop smoking, it is my choice to make and not yours. I want you to stop discriminating against me and give me back the human dignity of shelter. I do not deny you the dignity of shelter to drink in , I am asking for you to accord me the same courtesy.
      How is that not reasonable?!?

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    7. Hilarious. I demand the right to barge into any pub, and to play a mangled accordion tunelessly, because That's Just What I Do.

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    8. Hatters, if people are invited by the pub operator to play a mangled accordion tunelessly
      then it is OK.

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    9. And, because you don't like people playing mangled accordions tunelessly, it should be illegal to do so in any pub anywhere, even ones you're never going to go in? That's antismoker logic for you.

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    10. Fredrik: are smokers not allowed to drink their beer inside the pub?

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    11. David,
      Yes, clearly. I don't understand your point. I simply point out to people that if they had to drink outside in all weathers then they would get fed up with it pretty quickly , they would visit pubs fewer times and therefore pubs would be harmed as a result. It is all pretty self evident but some people are so attached to treating people like me like obedient dogs that they are incapable of one iota of empathy. Such is the nature of discrimination, sadly.

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    12. You're confusing issues. That of the rights of pub customers, and that of private property rights for the pub owners. There are all sorts of things that the latter cannot do, such as to build without planning permission or to burn things on land which create a public nuisance through smoke, or to hold an open air pop concert which would do alike by noise. The SB falls into the latter category. The effect on a minority of customers is secondary. You lost. Get over it.

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    13. I am not confusing any issue. I will never get over people like you trying to justify treating me like a second class citizen - like some fucking dog. If you can't spare me the human dignity of shelter then that speaks volumes for you.

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    14. "You lost. Get over it."

      What an unedifying piece of triumphalism. Antismokers really are such nice, tolerant people. And, to be honest, you're skirting very close to the edge of unacceptability with comments like that.

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    15. @RedNev - of course forcing smokers outside, and forcing drinkers outside, are not precisely comparable. But the point of the analogy is to try and explain how smokers feel about how they are treated in pubs. For a smoker, being able to enjoy a cigarette with a pint is a key part of pubgoing, something you seem to struggle to understand. Prevent them doing that, and it significantly detracts from their experience of the pub, and makes them less likely to go. And, if you had to go outside to drink your pint, it would make you a lot less likely to go as well. You are demonstrating a woeful lack of empathy with others.

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    16. If smokers were being victimised, then, even when they were not smoking, they would be treated differently from non-smokers.

      Pubs are not required to do this.

      However, there is a lobby, who think that the NHS very much should. I am not part of that.

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    17. Fredrich
      My point is that no one, smoker or not, is forced to drink outside. In my experience of public houses my smoking friends drink their beer inside the pub and go outside to smoke.

      The ban is on SMOKING not SMOKERS

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    18. Apologies. I missed out the quotation marks around "You lost. Get over it".

      Cheers.

      Delete
    19. David,
      Correct. If drinking were banned inside pubs the drinking ban would not be a ban on drinkers , it would be a ban on the act of drinking inside pubs. In my experience as a drinker I prefer to drink inside especially when it is cold and wet. And if tee total people don't like it they are at liberty to open up dry pubs but what I find totally unacceptable is for a tee total person to expect everyone else to drink outside just because they don't like it.
      I don't believe you would like to be forced to drink outside in all weathers any more than I would.

      Hopefully, we are in the same page now.

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    20. This is getting ridiculous now. We can all see the point you are making. That you feel discriminated against and that your freedom has been compromised. But your drinking outside argument just doesn't work. For the simple reason that there is no such thing as passive drinking! The whole point of the smoking ban is to protect people from secondhand smoke. There was talk of lack of empathy. Well what about empathy for the people who don't want to breathe other people's smoke. And I don't just mean non smokers. I am a smoker and I don't want to either. I much prefer pubs now they are smoke free. I went on holiday last year and went into a smokey bar and it was disgusting. I am a smoker and have been for 25 years (off and on!) and yes I moaned about the ban when it came in. But I adapted and got used to it. For years now I've barely given it a thought (except when I read this blog!). I haven't changed my pub going habits at all and come to think of I can't think of a single person I know who has stopped going to pubs as a result of the ban. A lot of pubs have, where possible tried to cater as best they can for smokers with outside shelter. And to be honest, is going outside for a smoke really that much of an inconvenience? As I said I have smoked for 25 years and it really doesn't bother me. For what it's worth (and I work in the drinks industry) I really don't think the smoking ban has had as much of an overall negative impact on pubs as some people are claiming. There are so many other factors contributing the decline of the traditional pub. And there are so many new types of drinking establishments opening up to replace them (micro pubs, craft beer bars and tap rooms). These places might not be to your taste but it's all about supply and demand. Put simply, the demand is shifting, you can't escape it...

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    21. For me the biggest downside of the smoking ban is that people now have to smoke outside. And that is a nuisance. Before the ban yuo could sit in the beer garden of a summer evening and enjoy the ambience. That ambience is now totally ruined by smoke. Before the ban you walk down the high street past public houses without having to walk in the road because of the crowds of smokers on the pavement outside the pub door is full of smokers. Before the ban the pavement outside a pub was, the odd Technicolor yawn apart, quite clean. Now it is knee deep in tab ends.

      If people want to smoke - and I occasionally do - they should do it indoors in private, not in the public great outdoors.

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    22. Just a thought - and I know this is a pretty radical idea - but why not let them smoke inside the pub instead?

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    23. "There's a hole in the bucket, dear Lisa, dear Lisa, there's a hole in the bucket, dear Lisa, a hole."

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    24. Nice piece of lateral thinking, 'mudge :-)

      In a rational world, rather than one led by neo-puritans, there would be smoking and non-smoking rooms in every pub. The smoking rooms would have no connection to the rest of the building other than a conveyor belt, going through a triple decontamination system, to deliver the drinks. All payment by card to avoid staff having to touch tobacco contaminated money.

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    25. Oh noes! The thought of touching tobacco contaminated money! You're not being a tad hyperbolic there, are you?

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    26. The other Mudgie !5 June 2018 at 10:15

      David,
      "Before the ban you walk down the high street past public houses without having to walk in the road because of the crowds of smokers on the pavement outside the pub door is full of smokers" but pedestrians like myself can't walk to the pub without suffering the obnoxious vehicle fumes from selfish motorists, and I don't know when the government is going to do anything about that, probably only when motorists become a minority of the adult population.

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    27. OM
      That, of course is the real flaw in the puritan's argument that smoking affects non smokers with their secondary smoke. The fact is that the evidence about passive smoking is not very conclusive but it is conclusive enough to show that passive smoking is far less harmful than passive driving. Motor vehicles in fact do far more harm, both from fumes and from, noise to those outside than to the drivers.

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    28. As opposed to the selfish public transport passengers sitting in buses belching toxic diesel fumes?

      Of course the streets were so much nicer and cleaner when they were covered in horse shit.

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    29. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 14:12

      Nearly 9,500 people die early each year in London due to long-term exposure to air pollution and other cities, including Birmingham and Leeds, have been in breach of EU safety limits on NO2 for five years and I’m sure it would be even worse if all those now on public transport instead drove a petrol or diesel vehicle.
      It was before my time when many people were employed clearing it but I’m not aware of health hazards from horse shit on our streets.
      Anyway, getting back to the smoking ban I doubt if any Londoners before the ban, and certainly not 9,500 of them, died from ‘passive smoking’ in the capital’s pubs.

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    30. Mudge: I said "Motor vehicles" not "Motor cars" and I readily admit that large old diesel engines are the worst polluters (though it is particulates rather than fumes which are the most dangerous. Fortunately most bus operators are moving towards much less polluting petrol/electric hybrids. As, indeed are many private drivers.

      In 1894, transport planners were concerned with how to deal with the amount of manure that would be produced by horses in the foreseeable future. One commentator estimated that, if nothing were done, by 1950 the streets of London world be nine feet deep in manure. It didn't happen of course because technology moved on.

      But there is a lesson there for the proponents of the HS trains. They are projecting a two hundred year old technology another fifty years into the future when it will inevitably be obsolete.

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    31. The Stafford Mudgie5 June 2018 at 16:54

      It was the congestion from slower horses, rather than all their shit, that prompted motor vehicles in London a hundred years ago.
      Some technologies last well over two hundred years and I live within a mile of HS2 but welcome it given how congested the West Coast Main Line now is.

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  8. I do not dispute the overall market impact on smoking. However the idea that either growth or decline in any market in spread evenly amongst all participants is a fallacy. It is possible to be a pub operator in a market of pub decline and enjoy growth in your operations and say so and even credit a factor that contributed to overall decline as helping your own segment or operation.

    If the smoking ban assisted gentrified pubs and has contributed of the gentrification of the pub market then then what you need to decide is what the effects of that change are. On you personally as a customer. On those excluded from the market. On whether pubs are more or less significant to general society.

    My personal opinion is that both beer enthusiasts, CAMRA types, campaigners will come to regret a hollowing out of the lower end of the market even though they themselves don't use it. Drinking and pub going narrowing to niches of society will allow it to be picked off easily.

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    1. The wet-led end of the market was where brewers got most most of their volume from. That significant chunk of volume has largely been transferred to the off-trade and you can't blame supermarkets for embracing it - they just reacted to an opportunity, generously assisted by the big brewers looking to maintain volume. So, as you say, the pub sector is largely for more 'gentrified' folk and a great many operators do very well indeed, helped offering food, but many of them don't sell large volumes of beer, particularly cask, which offers volume brewers less reason to produce it and more reason to produce 'craft' or at least premium keg. Craft brewers are equally finding that there's no long-term future in cask where quality is going to be difficult to maintain. There's always going to be niche cask brewers so maybe in ten years or so we'll find the GBG returning to the thickness of the Protz edited era?

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  9. The freedom to choose smoking or nom smoking pubs would certainly be a positive step. It may allow some bottom end wet-led pubs to stagger on for another decade but then we would be back in the position we are now.

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    1. Provided smoking was not generally outlawed, I think it would prove a lot more resilient than that. If a limited among of smoking was permitted in some pubs, then they would tend to become meccas for smokers and their tolerant friends.

      However, if there was some relaxation of the ban, what I would expect to see most is pubs giving existing smoking shelters more protection from the elements rather than allowing it in indoor rooms.

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  10. Syd Differential29 May 2018 at 19:03

    As an occasional cigarette smoker ( mostly after about six pints ) and long-time cigar toker I,like most of the other smokers I know,would probably not like to see pubs going back to the old days.
    However it's the lack of compromise in smoking legislation that pisses me off.
    My local has a perfectly good outside covered smoking area with heaters and a TV.Yet the insistence that at least one side of the structure remains open no matter what the weather just strikes me as being petty and vindictive.
    All governments are happy to take taxes from drinkers and smokers to pay for,among other things,the healthcare system to looks after them when they develop illnesses associated with these pleasures.
    Yet they don't treat smokers and non-smokers equally.
    If a pub can provide a well-ventilated room solely for the use of smokers it should be able to do so.

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    1. The law doesn't treat all sorts of groups equally, such as benefit claimants and non-claimants, the qualified and the unqualified, those entitled to bus passes, or disabled stickers, and those not, and so on.

      Yes, smokers have been identified, just like many others.

      It's normal enough.

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    2. "Yes, smokers have been identified, just like many others.

      It's normal enough."

      Do you want to read that again?

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    3. Well Syd, all that I can say is that you'll have to try and weigh up the importance of this.

      If it really is crucial to you, then find out which party, if any, proposes to change the law to your liking, and vote for their candidate.

      If there isn't one, then join one, and try to get like-minded people to shape their policy.

      I'm not anti-smoker. The love of my life was one. I managed to get her to give up though, and happily, her feet still walk this blessed Earth, even if not with me.

      Delete

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