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British pubs support smoking controls but strongly resist outright ban

the question is whether the UK government will bow to pressure from the health and medical sectors, as well as the anti-smoking lobbying groups, and impose a total ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs.

THE SMOKING in public debate is set to gather even more steam over the coming months as we approach the release of a government paper on the subject.

The public health white paper, from the department of health, is set to be released some time before Christmas, but until then the UK on-trade is left to worry and speculate about how far the paper will go and what the cost will be.

With a blanket ban implemented firstly in New York and then in Dublin last March, the question is whether the UK government will bow to pressure from the health and medical sectors, as well as the anti-smoking lobbying groups, and impose a total ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, pubs and clubs, or if more moderate interim measures will be taken?

The best case scenario is that smoking areas will be allowed to remain but they will be much smaller than current sizes, that the bar will be a completely non-smoking area and that effective air extraction units will be installed – a situation which the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) fully backs.

"We believe in freedom of choice and while customers do want more restrictions on smoking, only 20% would support a total ban in pubs – that’s from a department of health survey on this," says, Mark Hastings, BBPA spokesman.

Five of the major UK on-trade chains have, in fact, already signed up for the BBPA initiative which would see around 80% of pub space designated non-smoking within five years.  Mitchells and Butlers, Punch Pubs, Scottish & Newcastle, the Spirit Group and Enterprise Inns are among those committed to further restricting smoking areas in their outlets in the near future.

A much more severe outcome would be, of course, a blanket ban on smoking such has been seen in New York and Ireland, where many claim business has been adversely affected.  A report in the New York Times last month, for example, cited bar owners in the Big Apple claiming business was 40% down since the ban and some have suggested that falling sales of Guinness in Ireland (Diageo posted results that showed sales of "the black stuff" down some 6% in the region) can be attributed to the ban.

Furthermore, The Telegraph, reported last month that trading in Ireland could be down as much as a half and 2,000 people had lost their jobs, since the ban was imposed.  Any recommendations either way, will be yet another headache for an industry already faced with changing legislation and a crackdown on underage and anti-social drinking.

Will consumers, who have to spend less time inside and at the bar, end up spending far less on drinks? If they are drunk and out in the street for a cigarette, how can they be controlled? What will the cost be for security outside premises to watch customers?

Are there likely to be noise pollution issues if half your clientele are spending half their time on the street? In short, is this a measure that the industry should be embracing as forward thinking or opposing as detrimental to growth and survival of the sector?


Gordon Harrison, director of field operations, Enterprise Inns

"We believe in the concept of freedom of choice and strongly favour the proposed voluntary industry response as an alternative to a possible central or locally imposed smoking ban. We are clear in our views on smoking and are committed to the objectives laid out in today’s letter from the BBPA to the secretary of state for health, John Reid.

We aim to encourage our licensees to engage with us in considering the issue of smoking in pubs and, having considered all the evidence and facts surrounding the matter, determine and implement their own house smoking reduction policies."

Deborah Kemp, property and development director, Punch Taverns

"We are working with both the government and trade bodies, including the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR), to devise effective solutions that satisfy the needs of all customers, smokers and non-smokes alike.

 We have written to all pubs outlining our recommendations and targets so they can formulate action plans and ensure that control of the issue is not lost.  The plan outlines a coordinated approach to a situation where either smoke-free premises or no-smoking areas end up becoming the norm in the majority of outlets.

At every step we are urging retailers to be proactive in tackling the issue and responding to customer needs.  We also want them to recognise the positive aspects of this and treat it as an opportunity, not a threat.  A well thought out smoking policy can actually enhance a pub’s overall offering and improve trade."

Lisa McGovern, press and pr, Conran Group

"As a restaurant group we are witnessing an increasing preference among our diners to eat in smoke-free environments.  This is offered in a number of our restaurants, either throughout the restaurant or is accommodated by nosmoking sections.

However, a proportion of our customers do wish to smoke during their meal, and we wish to continue to provide this choice for them.  If a ban were to be enforced smokers will adapt to the restrictions imposed on them."

Simon Ward, public affairs director, Mitchells and Butler

"The evidence is that a total ban on smoking is not what most pub goers in the UK want, so to implement one would be too far ahead of the market at the moment.  Attitudes are changing but we do not want to get ahead of our customers, thus our policy is to progressively reduce the smoking area in our premises steadily.

A good analogy, I think, is the airline industry that gradually reduced the number of smoking seats available until there were none left and now everyone just accepts it.  That’s the best policy – to take it steadily and move with the market."

Jonathan Downey, founder, Match Bar Group

"I think that there is no doubt that this government will phase in a ban slowly over time and that will destroy the bar scene in the UK. Look at California, no-one is drinking and even New York, which used to be the most exciting place in the universe is as dull as 1950’s Bournemouth since the ban.

It’s sterile and bossy and just not as much fun.  What this government fails to understand, however, is that the market will take care of itself.  If there remains a demand for smoking in bars – and in our experience there definitely is – then nonsmoking bars will spring up.

There should be a choice for people, that’s what it’s about for me. Consumers, employers and owners should all have a choice in whether or not they smoke and frequent smoking bars."


We asked visitors to our website to give us their opinion on the possibility of a ban on smoking in the on-trade.

Do you think that the government is likely to impose a smoking ban for the UK on-trade?

Yes                    56%

No                     34%

Don’t know         12%

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