Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - September 2004

* Dominoes in the Smoke Room *

The anti-smoking zealots are unlikely to compromise if they scent victory

THE SMOKING prohibition in Ireland’s pubs has apparently been claimed as a great success, with 97% compliance being reported. However, that statistic only tells half the story, because it may simply be a case of many smokers staying away. A recent survey of Dublin pubs showed that turnover was down by 16% and employment had fallen by 14%. In small towns and rural areas the impact has been even more severe, with many pubs losing a quarter or more of their trade, and licensees have petitioned the government to review the application of the ban, unfortunately to no avail.

A similar impact could be expected this side of the Irish Sea – there would be a noticeable but not catastrophic overall decline in the licensed trade, but the smaller, more traditional pubs would be hit much more than dining outlets and theme bars. And a 16% fall in business would undoubtedly push many already struggling locals over the edge into closure.

In the long run, of course, the tide of history is running strongly against smoking, and it is now easy to find non-smoking areas in a wide variety of pubs, while more and more are choosing to go entirely or predominantly non-smoking. Just in the past month I have learned of one local pub that has gone entirely non-smoking and two more that have decided to restrict smoking to a small area. If genuine customer demand is driving that trend then, as a non-smoker, I’m all in favour of it. In twenty years’ time it is likely that, even without any government action, smoking in pubs will have become a rare anachronism. But there is now growing pressure to accelerate the process by bringing in a total ban.

It is not difficult to see how a compromise could be reached that would allow people to continue to smoke in pubs if they wished to, without inconveniencing anyone who didn’t want to drink in a smoky atmosphere. For example, smoking could be prohibited in designated dining areas and anywhere children are admitted, and all pubs except the very smallest could be required to designate at least 50% of their floor space as non-smoking, if not covered by the previous two requirements. However, it is unlikely that anything short of an outright ban in every single room of every single pub will be acceptable to the anti-smoking zealots.

Then, of course, they’ll turn their attention to alcohol…

* Running the Gauntlet *

You may be unable to get into the pub without going through a cloud of tobacco fumes

ONE PROBLEM that would inevitably be caused by a smoking prohibition in pubs is the sight of a knot of smokers outside every pub door, just as there now is outside many office buildings. This will give a poor image to pubs in particular and town and city streets in general, and lead to pavements being covered by discarded butts. You may enjoy a smoke-free atmosphere once in the pub, but you’ll have to negotiate a haze of fumes to get inside. Surely it would be better all round if the smokers could be confined to a separate room at the back of the pub rather than being forced out onto the street.

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