March 2010

Majority, What Majority?

The smoking ban in pubs has never been supported by a majority of the population

It’s often claimed by supporters of the smoking ban in pubs that it is supported by a majority of the population. Sometimes the likes of fake charity Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) go so far as to say that it enjoys “overwhelming” support.

However, this quite simply isn’t true. The latest edition of the annual British Social Attitudes survey says: “In Britain as a whole, the majority support a smoking ban, with just seven per cent saying that smoking should be freely allowed. However, the level of restriction, whether a complete ban or simply restricted to certain areas, divides the public. While just under half (46 per cent) support a ban on smoking in pubs and bars altogether, a similar proportion (41 per cent) prefer limiting smoking to certain areas of pubs and bars.”

So, nearly three years after the ban took effect, less than half of those surveyed support it. In fact, this survey – which is carried out by a government agency and thus can’t be accused of having an anti-ban axe to grind – has NEVER shown a majority of people to be in favour of a blanket smoking ban in pubs and bars. This suggests that they do not regard them as genuinely public areas in the way that, say, station concourses are, but rather see them as part of the licensee’s space where customers are allowed in as guests.

Mandatory Madness

The new government code of practice will impact on responsible and irresponsible pubs alike

The government have announced the introduction of a new mandatory code of practice for pubs and bars. All you can drink promotions and speed drinking competitions will be banned from April, and pubs required to provide free tap water, while from October smaller measures of beer, wine and spirits must be offered and any customers appearing to be under 18 must be asked for identification. Now, I’m not going to rush to the barricades to defend all you can drink promotions, but it is na├»ve to think that well-run pubs have nothing to fear from this. Taken as a whole, these measures represent an unprecedented degree of interference in the way licensed premises are run, which will impose new burdens on responsible and irresponsible licensees alike.

While in reality I can’t see it happening very often, requiring pubs and bars to offer free tap water opens up the opportunity for bloody-minded people to occupy space and use glassware while contributing nothing to the overheads of the establishment. If you were running a pub in the Lake District and a party of eight thirsty hikers came in and demanded eight pints of tap water with ice you might not be too impressed.

I’ve no problem with requiring pubs and bars to offer 125ml glasses of wine, which after all are roughly equivalent to a half of 5% beer or a 35ml measure of spirits. But I’m puzzled as to what they mean by requiring them to serve smaller measures of beers and spirits. Do any pubs actually only serve beer in pints? Or do they mean they’re going to make pubs offer nips, which will involve a costly investment in glassware and possibly dispense equipment to meet a negligible demand? And, likewise, does it just mean pubs will have to offer single measures of spirits, or that a single must be defined as 25ml rather than 35ml, which will require all those pubs that have gone over to 35ml to replace all their optics?