Could indoor vaping be good for business?

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Blowing smoke: as the smoke clears, will e-cigarettes be the answer at your pub?
Blowing smoke: as the smoke clears, will e-cigarettes be the answer at your pub?
Although smoking in pubs is illegal, operators could consider allowing customers to use e-cigarettes inside their venues to draw more punters in

PHE: No identified risks to passive vaping

Public Health England (PHE) said that while there is clear evidence exposure to second-hand smoke is harmful, which is why the UK has laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces, these laws do not cover vaping and organisations, such as pubs are free to make their own policies on the use of electronic cigarettes on their premises.

PHE’s evidence review found that to date, there have been no identified health risks of passive vaping to bystanders.

People with asthma and other respiratory conditions can be sensitive to a range of environmental irritants, which could include e-cigarette vapour, and PHE advised organisations to take this into account and make adjustments where appropriate.

The smoking ban in 2007 has been blamed over and over again as the reason why so many pubs closed and, while the e­ffects of nicotine have been widely publicised, smokers continue to turn to electronic cigarettes in a bid to cut down on the real thing.

According to NHS Smokefree, an estimated 2.9m adults in Great Britain currently use e-cigarettes and, of these, 1.5m people have stopped smoking tobacco.

The NHS states e-cigarettes do not produce tar and carbon monoxide, two of the main toxins in conventional cigarette smoke.

However, the vapour from e-cigarettes has been found to contain some potentially harmful chemicals also found in cigarette smoke, but at much lower levels.

The problem of vaping Steve Burnett, associate at licensed solicitor Poppleston Allen, outlined exactly where licensees stand when it comes to allowing vaping in pubs and smoking in and outside of the premises.

He said: “It is the Health Act 2006, which prohibits the smoking of tobacco or anything that contains tobacco or any lit substance, which could be smoked in public spaces or work places.

“Smoking cannot take place in an enclosed space, which is self-explanatory, but this covers whether a premises is wholly enclosed on a permanent or even a temporary basis and includes work vans, taxis, tents or marquees.

“Smoking is permitted in areas that are not substantially enclosed. If the premises has a ceiling or roof, but they are open on the sides, where there is an open area that is more than half of the premises perimeter area, then smoking in that area would be permitted.

“The rules were driven by desire to promote health and welfare of employees and was supported by a huge weight of statistical evidence with regards to passive smoking.”

Licensees’ discretion

While these are the rules around smoking cigarettes, vaping or using electronic cigarettes in pubs has no ­firm laws around it.

Burnett added: “Vaping avoids the above restrictions because, typically, it involves an electrical current passing through a liquid solution instead of lighting tobacco or other substances.

“Therefore, vaping is permitted in enclosed or substantially enclosed premises. However, the owners of the properties will then have the discretion as to whether they ban vaping.

“In fairness, many public and private organisations have extended the ban on smoking in public places to e-cigarettes despite them being exempt from ‘smoke-free’ legislation.”

Some pub companies have banned the use of e-cigarettes in their sites but these tend to be the managed arms of the businesses because leased and tenanted operators can impose rules at their discretion.

Confusion for customers

Pubco Mitchells & Butlers (M&B), which owns brands including Harvester, Toby Carvery and Vintage Inns, does not allow vaping in its venues.

Its website said: “For the comfort of all our guests, M&B does not allow the use of electronic cigarettes within our premises.

“Although we realise the fumes are just vapours and non-harmful, this is not clearly understood by everyone and can lead to confusion for others.

“Therefore to prevent this, we request guests do not use this product in our premises.”

A spokesperson confirmed this and emphasised the company’s stance on why it doesn’t allow vaping in its venues. The spokesperson said: “We do not allow the use of electronic cigarettes in our premises. This is out of consideration for other guests and to avoid potential confusion arising from the distinction between these and real cigarettes.”

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Smoking areas only

Similarly, JD Wetherspoon also does not permit the use of electronic cigarettes or vaporisers outside of the designated smoking areas on its premises and this includes hotel rooms and external areas.

Fuller’s said its position hasn’t changed since 2013, and a spokesperson said it was still very relevant today.

The spokesman said: “We feel that, for non-smoking customers, seeing a customer using one of these cigarettes is very disconcerting. “Indeed, it is often hard to discern whether the cigarette being puffed on is real or electronic, which causes added anxiety for our guests.

“Asking our staff­ to police this puts added pressure on them – when they should be looking after the needs of the vast majority of customers that do not use this device. ‑ is was not a decision we took lightly but, in light of the points above, we decided to no longer allow them in our managed pubs and hotels.”

Outrageous smells

When it comes to individual operators, they have the say on the usage of electronic cigarettes in their venues.

Paul Berry, licensee of the Swan in Bampton, Devon, said: “We used to allow vaping. Then we made a decision to ban it because some of the smells were becoming outrageously stupid. I mean who wants to smell a strawberry Margarita or Red Bull vape while eating a nice piece of delicate lemon sole.

“Or someone who is enjoying a pint or a glass of wine at the bar when a pu­ff of cloud appears that is far greater than any cigar smoke I have ever seen.

“Most of our customers are quite happy to go outside because they can have a chat with one of their mates.”

Boosting pub profits

However, vaping could be something to boost pub profits through selling the products inside the venue and keep people coming back, according to an electronic cigarette supplier.

Paul Rimmer from Hangsen, which sells electronic cigarettes, said: “If people have the products in [the pub], they will go back to buy their refill rather than buying it online.

“It is a great stream of revenue for operators thanks to the repeat sales for the refills. It keeps more people in the pub so they are then spending more money.

“[Vaping] can definitely reverse the smoking ban e­ffect. [Vapers] shouldn’t be left standing out in the cold, if someone has made that conscious e­ffort to quit smoking then they shouldn’t be ostracised.”

Increasing footfall

He highlighted how operators that make their venues open to vaping can increase footfall as well as takings.

“It is about the pubs making money,” he said. “If you, as a pub, are vape-friendly and users are considerate to others, using the right product that won’t set fire alarms off­ and can be distinguished from a real cigarette. [Vaping] should be welcomed.

People leave the pub to go and buy cigarettes or to smoke a cigarette, where they are outside for 10 minutes.

“If they are having a smoke every half hour and they are in the pub for four or five hours, it means they are outside for almost an hour of that, which could have been an extra two pints, at least £6 per person. If a pub has 50 smokers, that’s £300. It’s a lot of money.”

Therefore, while there appears to be a negative view of vaping in pubs because it can be mistaken for smoking cigarettes, there could be the opportunity for operators to create an additional revenue stream by embracing it.

Related topics: Health & safety

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