Tuesday 24 November 2009

Where there's smoke there's fire

The two blogs that sit either side of this one in Wikio beer and wine rankings this month also seem to sit either side of me in opinion on the smoking ban. Pub Curmudgeon has always disagreed with the smoking ban and in fact declares it is one reason his blog was started. Tandleman on the other hand seems to take a positive view of the ban.

Recently Mudgie, as he seems to have affectionately been called, takes a sentimental view of what the smoking ban has done to a number of pubs. Prompted by this Tandy bravely starts a poll on the whole subject, with a set of statements out of which we are to choose one. The ensuing comments seem to have caused Tandleman to regret having opened the subject. Many of the comments are forthright to say the least. I'd be bothered if it were my blog and I do feel a little sorry for Tandleman.

When the ban came in I was a smoker. However, my pub was not dominated by smokers and undoubtedly the people who smoked most were myself and my staff. With trade that is more food and accommodation led than wet led it was undoubtedly useful for me to be able to ban smoking altogether. Subsequently I gave up smoking myself, which Ann and I both wanted to happen but realised that would be impossible without completely banning it throughout the building. For me, my relationship, my family and my business, I am glad of the ban.

But, and there are lots of big buts, I don't agree with a blanket ban. Civil liberties and the effect on sectors of our traditional pub industry make it unacceptable and draconian in my opinion. I'll try and expand on these thoughts by giving my opinion to each of the questions offered by Tandleman. I've included the numbers on the poll, as of today, as I think they are illuminating.

Should never have been introduced and should be repealed 41 (29%)

Whilst I think it is inevitable that some form of ban was going to occur, and to expect it to be repealed is a bit of a flight of fancy, the strength of feeling towards this option does indicate a huge amount of bitterness towards the ban. For some sections of society the party in power is never going to be forgiven. For one, I don't think it cuts down by the normal left and right politics either.

Should have been in introduced in a modified form to allow smoking in some areas 26 (18%)

This is my favourite solution but with caveats. Indeed, I never did understand why there was a complete ban. It is now not possible to have a social gathering in any building that is not a private residence, if my understanding of the law is correct, where smoking is permitted. We are not permitted any form of regulated smoking in any enclosed public space whatsoever. Not even a private members club.

I will admit though, that if we'd have been permitted this option in my pub, we might well have tried to find a solution. I've talked before about the problems of segregating rooms in a pub and during that discussion I came in for criticism. I'll be honest and say I'm pleased now that I don't need to do so for smokers. As the comments on Tandleman's blog illustrate, to ban a smoker from smoking takes courage.
Is a progressive and positive thing 39 (28%)

Is it progressive and positive to deny a significant number of people from engaging in an activity that they enjoy and has formed a key part of socialising for centenaries? A large number of respondents think so. In fact I'm sure statistics would say that the minor difference between the numbers voting for this and the ones voting for the first statement are insignificant. I think this shows how divisive the subject still is.

Is regrettable, but inevitable and we should accept it and move on 3 (2%)

Well, the law is the law and this is one that is unlikely to change. The anti-tie lot are perhaps just upsetting themselves unduly by fighting anyway. The surprise to me is that very few pick this option, after all it's a middle ground choice. It would seem very few who want to move on see it as regrettable.
Has ruined pubs and changed them for the worse 5 (3%)

This is where I, as somebody who is in the trade, has some sympathy for the anti-ban view. Yes, pubs have changed because of the ban. Some have failed. Certainly I can see Mudgie's view that the atmosphere is different and sometimes not as good. However, changed for the worse, overall? I'm not sure, but the trade is now very different.

Is a dead subject which we shouldn't even be discussing 24 (17%)

I think it's true that the law is unlikely to be repealed or even modified any time soon. I suspect the next government, which is likely not to be Labour, is not going to touch it. Public opinion is strongly in favour, I'd suggest, for leaving it as it is.

I'm not convinced we should not discuss and leave it at that. I think the one thing that the anti-smoking ban people are convincing me of is that restrictions on beer is going to increase as a follow-on. Our ability to enjoy ourselves will be further inhibited for our own good. Boxing will get banned, for your own good, rugby will too, for goodness sake, people get hurt playing that game, it's barbaric.

How long will it be before our ID card has to be swiped when we purchase a drink at the bar, just to ensure we have not had too many already? We need to keep the smoking ban in mind if for no other reason that to make us realise that there will be more pleasures under attack. It'll never happen? They said that about the smoking ban.

I'm glad Tandleman opened the subject. The strength of feeling shown in the comments from one section of society shows the creation of a grossly upset minority. As a publican I also get the same feelings discussed by people here, and I don't feel they are just a few radical extreme right wing activists. In an age where we take people from all over the world and embrace their diverse cultures I feel it is extremely dangerous to alienate something that used to be an inherent part of ours.

I wish to apologise to Washy. He's one of my best and most loyal customers and a friend. He's a smoker and wishes he could still smoke in my pub. I also know he reads this blog frequently.


Curmudgeon said...

The smoking ban was the one reason why I started my blog, although the blog has never been solely about it.

I actually started my own poll about it (which I hope gives a fair range of options) - this can be found on the main blog page.

And I appreciate you making an even-handed post about it - now prepare for WW3!

Tandleman said...

I sympathise with the Big Brother argument. Our liberties are hugely at risk in this country, usually in a creeping and underhand way.

Sometimes though, things are just inevitable in this risk averse society and we may find the truth of that out as drinkers too, in due course. That doesn't mean we have to roll over and have our tummies tickled though. It's a fair guess that there are more drinkers than smokers.It'd be a brave Government that took that one too far.

I'll stand aside now for the usual arguments.

Anonymous said...

Just an observation that down my local the doors were shut at about midnight last Saturday and the new gaffer got the ashtrays out and asked us to smoke if we wished to. Only one non-smoker was present in our spit and sawdust real ale-dominated boozer and he was happy for everyone else to smoke. He really was not being a wethealth-facist.

The ban has been detrimental to some traditional community pubs. However I suspect for the foody pubs and the wacky warehouses it has been of benefit. I am a member of a working man's club and I feel that it was wrong to impose it for places such as this. If a vote of members had been allowed to take place, and the wish was for a ban, then I would have no complaints.

But to look on the positives at least you get to meet the more interesting customers (ie. smokers) outside, whilst the non-smokers stay inside in glorious isolation (much like The Woolpack where I am outside talking to the excellent and fascinating Alan the Barman whilst boring old Dave and Ann are stuck inside talking to other non-smokers!) ;-)


Anonymous said...

I find it hard to be objective on the subject of the smoking ban because it's a very emotive subject for me - my wife has a serious medical condition and one of the potential side-effects of the medication she's on to control it is badly exacerbated by exposure to cigarette smoke. So when the ban came in it vastly changed both our social lives for the better.

Which is the main reason why I just can't accept the anti-ban-lobby argument that it should be repealed because it robs smokers of their freedom of choice. I'm sorry, but simply by lighting up in an enclosed, public space, just one smoker immediately robs every other person in the vicinity of the freedom to choose not to smoke. And why should the harmful activities of a minority be allowed to take precedence over the preference of the majority to remain smoke-free?

The analogy I like to use: if someone enjoyed the sound of an air-horn, should they be allowed to repeatedly let their air-horn off in an enclosed, public space to the detriment of the enjoyment and possibly the hearing of those around them?

That might be an extreme example, and it is from someone with an extreme and non-typical reason for being fiercely pro-ban, I know. But that's how it goes.

And actually, even having said all of the above, I'm not fully in favour of a blanket ban - I think smoking clubs / pubs should be allowed. They'd have to have clear exterior signage, simply to help people with a smoke-free preference or a health problem that requires smoke avoidance steer clear, but if the staff are fully aware that they'll be working in a smoke-filled environment and choose to do so, then why shouldn't smokers be allowed to sit in comfort and have a fag if they want to? Just please don't breathe in our direction afterwards and don't be offended if we have to get up and move if you sit down next to us on the tram on the way home...

Brian, follower of Deornoth said...

"The analogy I like to use: if someone enjoyed the sound of an air-horn, should they be allowed to repeatedly let their air-horn off in an enclosed, public space..."

To continue with this analogy: because I don't like the sound of air-horns, nobody should be permitted to use one ever.

I could add that if you frequent Edward's or Yates's establishments, your hearing will be in considerable danger and you certainly can't hear anyone speak, but I won't because I can predict what would happen.

Anonymous said...

But Brian, the smoking ban doesn't prevent anyone who wants to smoke from ever smoking, does it? Just in enclosed, public spaces.

John West said...

'simply by lighting up in an enclosed, public space, just one smoker immediately robs every other person in the vicinity of the freedom to choose not to smoke.'

This is the clincher for me. The ban is a progressive piece of legislation that exactly fits with my - actually very liberal philosophy - that you can do what you like when you like so long as it doesn't bother others.

To wit, I strongly agree with those worried about our civil liberties under this government, having supported NO2ID, campaigned against 90-day detention without charge, written letters about CCTV and complained vociferously about Think25 and other nannying measures. I believe drugs, broadly, should be legalised and addiction to them treated as a medical condition and not a criminal status.

But it is not incoherent to say that in enclosed public spaces people ought to be able to breath the air without smoke.

I like Lagavulin. Not everyone does. When I have a dram, I don't - by the mere act of drinking one - force others to do the same. This is, however, true with smoking.

People have taken umbrage at the 'having no smoking areas in pubs is like having no pissing areas in pools'. I find it rather apt.

The healthcare concerns are there - debtated, but there regarding cancer. Regarding flare-ups of respiratory illnesses, they are unquestionable.

But for me, I just don't see why I should suffer the appalling stench of smoke in my surroundings and on my clothes. Drink yourself stupid, take drugs, etc. But don't make me do any of it with you.

StringersBeer said...

I had to walk out of a local boozer because of a bunch of women spraying perfume about. Disgusting.

Mr Woolpack, is there any point in yanking these particular chains apart from getting your stats up?
(That's a japanese wink, that is.)

Unknown said...

Stringers, it is a healthy and accurate cynicism you have there. Indeed Mr Tandleman has accrued over 70 comments so far on his post. I'll have to think of a more controversial stance for the next topic.

Seriously though, I do see both sides of this argument and it disturbs me a little that the legislation was so decisive one way. Some form of limited licensing for establishments that allowed smoking for instance would have been nice. Making smoking the exception rather than the norm was fine. Changing the face of the industry overnight was wrong.

Equally, some establishments prior to the ban were oppressive to the extent of being disgusting, even to me as a smoker. Something needed to be done. I feel for the establishments that made efforts to improve ventilation no end before the ban and now have thousands of pounds wasted. Or those that built three sided shelters in readiness only to find the government changed it to the 50% rule late in the passing of the bill.

More importantly, despite many wanting the smokers to shut up and go away, they won't. The comments on Tandlemans blog shows that. The two sides of the argument are not listening to each other.

StringersBeer said...

"...wanting the smokers to shut up and go away, they won't..."

They will though. That's the thing about smokers. They "go away".

Curmudgeon said...

I would remind you that I am not a smoker, and nor am I going to shut up and go away :-)

It's a bit difficult to "listen" and have a dialogue when all the antismokers seem to come out with is absolute, foaming-at-the-mouth hatred. I don't detect the remotest willingness to compromise there.

Of course what the Save Our Pubs And Clubs Campaign is proposing is a compromise - allowing pubs and bars to have a separate indoor smoking room if they chose to. Probably most wouldn't - and in every single establishment you would be able to have a drink in a non-smoking environment. But that doesn't appease the antis who want to ban smoking even where it will never affect them.

Paul Garrard said...

Am I the only one that is getting fed up with this smoking ban nonsense?

Unknown said...

Paul, I rather think you are not the only one. I suspect the sensible pro-ban people are keeping quiet now in the hope that the anti-ban brigade mumble off complaining elsewhere.

My overall assessment is that beer fans generally support smoke free pubs.

Tandleman said...

'simply by lighting up in an enclosed, public space, just one smoker immediately robs every other person in the vicinity of the freedom to choose not to smoke.'

Of course that's it. Libertarian arguments, while superficially attractive, in this case don't add up.

And Dave - Chasing ratings is pointless. It's the quality of what you write that counts. Want to be like certain other blogs or want to be you?

Tim said...

Whats teh fuss about blog ratings. Wikio only meaures how many blogs you link to and in return link to you. Its no reflection of teh number of people who actually read what you write.

Wikio - Schmikio. Although I do fall outside of their UK remit now and had to remind them as such.

Tandleman said...

I agree Tim. Things like Wikio distort in many ways and nobody, but nobody actually understands it. But of course we are all in the mix and it gets (wrongly) competitive.

Curmudgeon said...

My overall assessment is that beer fans generally support smoke free pubs

Hmm, there seems to be a strong does of hypocrisy and contradiction inherent in that statement :p

Anonymous said...

Curmudgeon, it looks more like an effort on Dave's part to stir the hornet's nest on this topic because, quite frankly, it has not aroused as much interest as the similar original topic on Tandleman's blog.


StringersBeer said...

Smoking's old hat Dave. What about noise? Will cover air-horns I expect.

Unknown said...

Tandleman, Tim and Washy, blogging is media. OK, unpaid and fairly minority, but if we are just to write for ourselves then we might as well just park the text on our hard drives. Wikio, like site visitor numbers from web stats, are an indicator of how interested people are in what I write. Every such indicator has it's flaws. But, if I were not interested in such things then I would not have the inclination to write.

However, I write what I believe in. The subject matter will be chosen based on what I think people are interested in and my web stats show that the more controversial the topic the higher the hit rate. When I write about a controversial subject I try to analyse the overall situation and form my own conclusion.

But, irrespective of that, any competitiveness on my part, I hope is good natured and gentlemanly. And on that note, well done on getting over 100 comments Tandleman. That's good that is.

Now, back to the original point:

Mudgie, I only meant that the majority of people who regularly read the beer blogs seem, from the comments on Tandleman's blog, to support the smoking ban. The anti-ban people are not the ones that normally comment I believe. It is important to stress that my position has not changed from my original post.

To put it succinctly, I disagree with the ban in it's current form and moreover disagree with the speed with which it was imposed on the industry. However, I acknowledge that the majority want a smoke free environment and the industry was too slow to combat that before the ban.

What bothers me is the ever increasing way in which we are being told how to run our lives. Smoke, noise (thank you Stringers) animal fat, any fat, sugar, salt, alcohol, high risk sport and many other things. When is it going to end?

Curmudgeon said...

I don't actually get the impression that any of the highly rated bloggers are deliberately doing it to boost their traffic. If you start consciously playing to the gallery you are likely to lose your distinctive voice.

I only meant that the majority of people who regularly read the beer blogs seem, from the comments on Tandleman's blog, to support the smoking ban.

I have never disputed that as a statement of fact.