Of 2,000 adults polled by Populus on behalf of smokers’ rights group Forest, 57% were in favour of allowing pubs and private members clubs the choice of operating well-ventilated designated smoking rooms.
Earlier this year, a separate opinion poll of more than 4,000 Brits commissioned by the Institute of Economic Affairs arrived at a similar conclusion. Only 35% opposed the suggestion outright.
So is it time to revisit the law? Chris Snowdon, director of lifestyle economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs thinks so.
“There is obviously a market for people who want to drink and smoke in the pub,” he told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser.
“That market cannot be satisfied so we have seen the largest spate of pub closures for more than a century. Other factors have played their part, but if there is one policy that would do more to revive British pubs than any other, it is relaxing the smoking ban. As the survey shows, a reasonable compromise that respects smokers and non-smokers alike would be popular.”
Simon Clark, director of Forest, which campaigns against excessive tobacco control regulations, believes the issue is not just about health. “Tobacco is a legal product and
Government must take into account other factors such as choice, personal responsibility and, dare I say it, pleasure.”
It’s a contentious affair. According to the Department of Health (DoH), scientific evidence shows that ventilation does not eliminate all the risks to health caused by second-hand smoke in enclosed places.
And there are the statistics. In the year after the introduction of smoke-free laws there was a 2.4% reduction in hospital admissions for heart attacks in England, says campaigning public health charity Action on Smoking & Health (ASH).
“This resulted in 12,000 fewer admissions to hospitals and saved the NHS £8.4m in the first year alone,” Emily James, policy and campaigns officer at ASH, pointed out.
“In the year following the implementation of smoke-free laws, there was also a 12.3% reduction in hospital admission for childhood asthma, equivalent to 6,803 fewer admissions in three years.”
British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) chief executive Brigid Simmonds says it is unlikely the smoking ban will be reversed or amended, despite admitting it “hit the pub trade hard” and led to pub closures.
“The Government needs to address the ban’s adverse impact on pub sales overall by continuing to cut red tape and regulation for pubs, in particular taxation and business rates reform, which is vital for pubs,” she said.
So do publicans think the ban on smoking should be looked at again? It seems not. “We must not forget the number of pubs and clubs that closed because of the legislation,” insisted Peter Gilbert, licensee of the Weavers Arms, in Bulkington, Warwickshire, which, in ‘the early days’ lost 15% in trade as a result of the smoking ban.
“It affected the industry dramatically. A pint and a cigarette had gone together for a long time. But now we have the balance between the smokers used to going outside to smoke and the non-smokers who come in the pub. I think the happy medium is met, but it was difficult to get there.”
Alan Vaughan, licensee of the Countryman Inn, Shipley, West Sussex, agreed. “The smokers are few and far between these days. I think the smoking ban should stay as it is — the outside areas are good enough. You don’t need well-ventilated rooms because then it’s just an outside area on the inside,” he said.
Janet Dooner, licensee of the Railway Tavern, Stratford, east London, is also against any changes having experienced the perils of working in smoky environments for decades first hand. “I suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and have never smoked a cigarette in my life. It’s a disease you can get through passive smoking and, during the years of working in a pub, that’s what I’ve ended up with.”
Despite the public sentiment in favour of smoking rooms, it seems the trade has, mostly, moved on and the Government has no appetite to amend the legislation.
“There are no plans to change the law around smoking in pubs,” a DoH spokesman said. “The smoke-free law has proved to be popular and is an effective way to protect people from the dangers of second-hand smoke.”