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?