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 naïve 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?


  1. If the ban smoking ban is so popular in pubs and clubs let
    us put it to the democratic test.
    Allow the venues decide, smoking
    or non-smoking then we the people
    can vote with our feet.
    If the anti smoking chatterers are
    right they have nothing to lose.
    But they know what would happen, dont we all.

    Anyway if a total ban was so
    popular ,how come the pubs did,nt
    have one before July 07.

    One total jerk of a non smoker
    told me he wanted fresh air with his "craft" brew. I asked if he was a regular in England's 50 odd
    thousand pubs.. What a complete
    wacko he(it) was.

    Pale Ale

  2. I think those opposing the smoking ban shot themselves in the foot on this one. According to the figures quoted 87% seem to favour some sort of restriction on smoking with only 7% saying there should be complete freedom. I was certainly one of those who supported some measures that stopped short of an outright ban; however I kept coming across the argument that any restrictions on smoking were an affront to freedom. As a consequence, as it seemed that my freedom not to breath in second-hand smoke was subordinate to others' freedom to do be as selfish as they liked, I became more hardline on the issue, and I certainly couldn't see why I should be concerned about ensuring smokers' rights when as a collective they didn't seem to care about my rights.

    So, as things stand I support the current ban, as it has changed the game so that the assumption is that you cannot impose your smoking on others. Now that we are where we are I would support a relaxation of the rules to allow, say, specific smoking rooms in pubs etc. but it must start from the premise that my rights are as important as the smokers, and any outbreak of the sort of intolerance of others previously prevalent in the pro-smoking camp and I'll swing back behind supporting a total ban

  3. I agree with Quinn that objecting to any restriction may not have been the best strategy for smokers to adopt. However, he should bear in mind that the anti-smoking industry does not debate the issues in a scientific or rational way. It wants to get rid of smoking and any concession is a step forward and then there is always another step.
    Also,You might in some sense have a right to smoke free air in your town hall, but I don't think you have such a right on private property. I don't have a right to loud music or child free pubs. They are there because the market senses a demand. I wish that, 10 years ago, those who detest smoke had detested it a little more, so that non-smoking pubs (several tried it) had been more successful. Would private smoking clubs, staffed by smokers, infringe your rights? They would certainly affect your right to a jolly night out as they would be full and your pub might close down. Private smoking clubs are banned under the Act - even those staffed by volunteers. Oh yes, they thought of everything. In fact, it should be more accurately called a ban on smoking in all non-residential buildings and in secure mental hospitals where people may be kept against their will for an indeterminate period. If you agree with that then God help us all.

  4. I've argued before that, in practice, relatively few people were so bothered about smoky environment when going out for a drink that they actively sought out non-smoking premises.

    Therefore, as the market did not meet this demand (as the level of genuine demand was so low) the antismokers had to resort to legislative diktat.

    In contrast, well before July 2007, the vast majority of restaurants and food-led pubs already provided substantial non-smoking areas.

  5. I'm anon above and I've just read your July 09 post. You are right about non-smoking pubs. There were more than most people might think. The Laurel pub chain was one I remember finding after a discussion with a non-smoking colleague. Many others had a go. I remember in Todmorden, West Yorkshire, the Hare and Hounds tried it in 1994. It failed to work. To open a non-smoking pub in Todmorden might seem a crazy business decision, but it showed that a mainly working class town of ten thousand could not support even one non-smoking pub. Now many of the pubs are boarded up.

  6. If the market was necessarily so perfect at providing what people want then there wouldn't be a need for CAMRA to exist in the first place.

    (Special "missing the point" bonus for anyone who says that there is a difference between government legislation and an independent pressure group.)

  7. There's no inconsistency between a free market and organisations that promote and champion particular products. You might as well say that if the free market was so good there wouldn't be any point in the Alfa Romeo Owners' Club.

    And CAMRA - regrettably - has often advocated statist solutions that restrict the free market.

  8. Congratulations. The "missing the point" bonus it yours.


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