I had an interesting chat with the boss of a smallish pubco last week. Sitting in his office based deep in the North of England we discussed the problems currently besetting the trade and inevitably got around to the subject of the smoking ban.
"The ban is without question the major reason why so many pubs in rural and community locations are suffering," the executive told me. Things weren't being helped by a number of companies - particularly the listed pubcos who simply could not afford to "tell it like it is" for fear of having an adverse impact on their share price - not coming clean about its effects, he added.
Playing Devil's Advocate™, I suggested that while it was doubtless extremely tough on many pubs they had no choice but to work around it. Besides, what political party with a realistic chance of gaining power would call for a repeal of the ban as part of its electoral manifesto?
Inevitably the human rights argument reared its head as well. However we eventually agreed to disagree over what I see ultimately as a draconian but positive step towards improving the health of people in this country and which my pubco friend sees as an affront to people's ability to decide for themselves how they want to conduct themselves in a lawful manner. A one-all draw then.
Meanwhile, the pro-smoking lobby has been heartened by a German legal argument that has ruled that the banning smoking in bars of a certain size - eg, the pokey little ones - in that country was unconstitutional. Such establishments can now welcome back smokers with open arms. "Wunderbar!" you might say.
Yet I reckon the part-repeal will, if anything, simply confirm that an outright and comprehensive ban is the only practical route forward. Piecemeal legislation leaves room for obfuscation, and boy, don't legislators hate the 'o' word. It will take a year or two more but mark my words, a full-blown ban is inevitable in the land of Rammstein, Wagner and Vorsprung Durch Technik.
Back in Blighty I believe there's another factor behind the decline of the traditional pub, which is that many young people just don't 'get' them.
Many pubs by their very nature don't - or can't - appeal to the kids of today. Consequently the latter, many of whom are potentially the pub stalwarts of tomorrow, are deserting the former in droves.
True, it's not a completely bleak picture. Go to any town with a student population and boozers of all sorts will be heaving. But student-oriented drinks offers are a big draw, and these are coming under fire now too.
Whereas when I was in my late teens the pub was the place I went to spend time with my mates, this doesn't seem to be as much the case for the 'yoof' of today.
The poor lambs get bombarded with so much stuff that it must make their little heads spin. It's all fashion bars, shopping precincts and multiplex cinemas and of course the local park where they wile away the hours not with a pint of Flowers but with a 3 litre PET of dodgy cheap industrial strength cider.
A significant demographic, cultural and socio-economic shift is taking place at the moment and while I admit this is a purely anecdotal observation I nevertheless think it is playing its part in the decline of the British pub. The thing is, what to do about it?
So c'mon, what do you think?