Friday, June 24, 2011

Half a loaf

Let me make it quite clear that my personal view is that there was no need for any form of legislation restricting smoking in licensed premises. Prior to July 2007, the market was already responding to meet the demand for non-smoking areas. The vast majority of food-oriented pubs had a substantial non-smoking area (including all Wetherspoons). Many were over 80% non-smoking; some had banned smoking entirely. A growing number of community and wet-led pubs were also providing non-smoking areas. Although some antis will exercise selective memory and deny this, in most areas of the country it wasn’t at all difficult to find somewhere you could have a drink in a non-smoking atmosphere, if that was what you wanted.

Realistically, if they believed in freedom of choice, anyone who wanted to promote non-smoking areas should have been trying to convince licensees to provide them, and demonstrate that there was a genuine demand, rather than campaigning dog-in-the-manger style for a blanket ban.

Both before and after the ban, various compromise solutions were proposed that would have restricted smoking to some degree but not outlawed it in all indoor areas. These included:
  1. Banning smoking in pubs serving food, but allowing it in those that didn’t
  2. Allowing smoking to continue in private clubs, but not in pubs
  3. Allowing separate smoking and non-smoking pubs (much the same as 1)
  4. Allowing smoking in separate rooms in pubs without either a bar or table service
  5. Allowing smoking in pubs and bars that have no staff apart from the proprietor
  6. Allowing the current “smoking shelters” to be expanded to fully-enclosed, heated “smoking huts”
All of these have their advantages and disadvantages, which I don’t propose to go into in detail. Some are more practical than others. The first two were for a time declared government policy. All are a step backward from the pre July 2007 situation. But, in their different ways, all would be an improvement on the current position, and would at the same time give some succour to the licensed trade while enhancing social life for both smokers and non-smokers. Half a loaf is, after all, better than no loaf at all.

But, of course, the real reason why the antismokers are not prepared to concede any ground whatsoever is that it would rapidly and clearly demonstrate the lack of demand for entirely non-smoking venues, at least as far as wet trade was concerned.

Imagine, for example, the pub that has been allowed to erect a fully-enclosed, heated smoking hut. Inside the hut, it’s rammed and there’s a lively flow of banter. In the main part of the pub, there’s a handful of diners, a white-bearded bore holding his glass up to the light saying “The London Pride’s drinking well tonight” and a constant troop of merry hut denizens to and from the bar.