Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - July 2007

* Intolerance Triumphs *

Supporting the smoking ban displays a shortsighted attitude to the future of the pub

SUNDAY 1 JULY, the day the total smoking ban came into force, will be remembered as the blackest day for the English pub for forty years. In many previous columns I have explained how it will inflict severe damage on traditional pubs, but even if this was not the case it would still be highly objectionable.

The ban has been promoted as a health measure, but in reality the evidence behind this is flimsy in the extreme. No study has ever established a link between second-hand smoke and health that meets accepted scientific confidence levels. Indeed, the most comprehensive long-term study of all found evidence suggesting a reverse correlation, which meant it lost its original funding and ended up having to seek support from the tobacco industry.

While it is generally agreed that smoking is likely to damage the health of smokers themselves, the effect of smoke is very much linked to concentration, so it is hard to see how the far lower levels in the atmosphere can made any difference. Sir Richard Doll, the eminent scientist who first proved the link between smoking and lung cancer, went on record as saying that he wasnít particularly concerned about second-hand smoke. It may be irritating, but it is not poisonous or carcinogenic to any significant degree.

Even if it is accepted that second-hand smoke may have a slight influence on health, these concerns would have been fully answered by only permitting smoking in separate rooms. But that wasnít good enough for the government, which reveals that their true agenda was not to protect people from othersí smoke, but to attack smoking as such. This has disturbing implications for anyone concerned about individual liberty.

Smoking remains a legal activity and, while it undeniably causes increased health risks to people who engage in it, so do heavy drinking, eating fatty foods, motorcycling, playing rugby and many other activities. In most cases it is accepted that adults are allowed to assess the risks and make a free choice as to whether to do these things, but apparently, in the case of smoking, people must be protected from themselves. People will not be allowed to smoke in a so-called public place even if everyone present is entirely happy for them to do so. A private club specifically for smokers will similarly be outlawed. This is astoundingly intolerant, yet it seems that nowadays the concept of freedom does not get a look-in when government policy is being framed.

Even if you abhor smoking, if you enjoy going to pubs and drinking alcohol you are sadly deluding yourself if you think this has nothing to do with you. In the US, anti-drink groups are now running seminars on the implications of tobacco legislation for alcohol policy, something that inevitably is going to spread to this side of the Atlantic. Over here, respected medical professionals have expressed the view that further curbs on alcohol sales and promotion are a logical follow-on to the smoking ban. The anti-smoking lobby are basically the same people, with the same motivation and the same funding, as the anti-alcohol lobby. If you claim to support pubs and yet are in favour of the smoking ban, you are taking a very naÔve and short-sighted view.

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