Sunday 6 June 2021

Smoked out

The Covid crisis has provided a golden opportunity for the Puritans and bansturbators of the public health lobby. Not content with just delivering patronising lectures to the general population about their behaviour, they have been able to actually ban people from doing a wide range of activities. The fact that pubs have either been completely closed or operating under severe restrictions for fifteen months must have gladdened their stony hearts.

However, as the Covid curbs start to be slowly and grudgingly eased, they will be looking at other ways of pursuing their joyless agenda. One obvious candidate is further limiting people’s ability to smoke outside pubs. Several local authorities tried to do this when pubs were given extra temporary pavement licences, but were told that during an emergency this would be unnecessarily divisive and further erode pubs’ ability to trade profitably.

Now, the Morning Advertiser reports that five local authorities have already included no-smoking conditions in pavement licences. And Oxfordshire is going one further and declaring an ambition to become the first smoke-free county in England. It does need to be pointed out that all these measures apply only to licensed public areas, and not to outside areas on the pubs’ own property, but the desired direction of travel is crystal clear.

After the smoking ban came in, many antismokers claimed that pubs could still cater for smokers as they could pop outside for a puff. This was always a pretty weak argument, but it is rendered completely void if they are unable to smoke anywhere near the pub.

While some people find environmental smoke unpleasant, there is no convincing evidence that it is harmful in an outdoor environment where it is rapidly dispersed. And there are many other things that people find objectionable, but aren’t banned, such as screaming children or fat sweaty blokes in T-shirts with brewery logos. In any case, pubs are quite at liberty to ban smoking in outdoor areas if they think it will benefit their business.

Although they are treated like pariahs, smokers are still more likely to visit pubs than non-smokers, possibly because they are by nature more convivial and less health-obsessed. But if they can’t smoke at all, they’re not going to be inclined to go in the first place. For landlocked pubs with no outside area apart from the street, this could a threat to their viability. And presumably licensees will be held responsible for enforcement in the area attached to their pub, just as they are with the indoor ban, as opposed to just leaving it to council jobsworths, which might positively invite mass non-compliance

The range of outdoor spaces where smokers are tolerated is steadily being diminished. It is a classic example of the technique, seen over the centuries, of “othering” despised and marginalised minorities. The targets may change, but the tactics don’t. And can we honestly believe this will never be applied to drinkers too?


  1. Well, I'm off to Durham to clandestinely dump some cigarette butts into the market place. I will be using the same method as the WW2 POW's when they were dumping sand from the escape tunnels. The book and the film The Wooden Horse comes to mind. So there, you recently elected non-Labour council!

  2. I'm no fan of smoking in pubs but when people are forced by petty local authority rules to leave the pavement area of one of my locals and go a few inches away on the other side of the fence to smoke, things become farcical.

  3. Spot on. Whether you are a smoker or not it is inevitable drinking will be frowned on in the same manner inside the next couple of decades


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