Smoking Ban-
6 years on

The Smoking Ban- 6 years on

The Smoking Ban- 6 years on.  (July 2013)

Six years have already passed since the total ban on smoking inside public spaces was introduced.

It would seem that the matter is done and dusted and there is unlikely to be any change to that.  But the debate rages on with calls from some bodies for some amendment to the ban- not a repeal: I have not heard anyone calling for a return to the smoky old days!

As a non-smoker myself, I see (and smell!) the benefits of smoke-free social environments but, unfortunately, I also see the downside to this ban which is a lot more draconian than in other EU member states.  I have visited other countries such as Germany and Austria where they have separate smoking areas in bars and cafes, usually divided off by a glass screen and door.  Those who wish to smoke whilst sipping a Viennese coffee or glass of white can do so without having to huddle outside. 

If you ask many club people why they think clubs are suffering so badly financially and losing members, many will simply say ‘it’s the smoking ban’.   I hear it all the time as I visit clubs or talk to those involved in the club movement.   Every time a club closes these days, this is what you might hear as the single most important factor for the demise of clubs.  

The fact that you can no longer sit and smoke a cigarette with a pint, whilst watching a games match in a club, chatting with friends, having a game of snooker or bingo, is simply the law gone to extremes for many people.  Having to stand outside on the streets in cold, wet, windy weather is not a welcome prospect for many smokers, especially those in their senior years and women, some of whom may feel threatened on the streets.  

Thousands have voted with their feet and decided to stay at home instead, buying cheap supermarket drink.  Since the blanket smoking ban was brought in back in July 2007, the arguments have raged with those on one side claiming the ban is killing not only club life but helping to shut down pubs, bingo halls and other forms of social life especially activities related to the working classes.  It is reckoned that several thousands have been lost.  Many clubs have been claiming rebates for loss of business related to the ban. 

On the other side, government and health officials claim the ban has been beneficial, with people generally being healthier as a result.  They cite figures indicating success of the ban and point to more people giving up the habit as a result of not being able to smoke when and where they like. 

The statistics, however, are far from conclusive and are disputed by pro-choice campaigners.  As a former social scientist myself I know how difficult it is to pin any one ‘cause’ on any particular outcome.  Take heart attacks for example.  There have been numerous campaigns encouraging people to take more exercise and eat their ‘5 a day’.  These have probably had some impact on the decline of heart attacks so change cannot be attributed to the smoking ban alone as some health officials claim.  That is too simple I’m afraid! 

I won’t go into the statistics and figures here- if you want to learn more about those or any of the issues around the smoking ban, you can turn to Justice4smokers, a pro-choice campaign group run by the formidable Phil Johnson.

Make room for smokers

Make Room for Smokers

The issue of human rights is raised by both sides- the freedom to smoke and the freedom to breathe clean air.  Those arguing on all side all have their information and viewpoints and it’s not so straightforward to draw conclusions even six years on.  Clearly many clubs were in trouble before the law was introduced, with other factors contributing to their decline, such as changes in social life with a more stay at home culture prevailing.  Cheap supermarket booze is often cited as well and the recession. 

For many, however, it was the ban which became the ‘final nail in the coffin’ of many clubs, the ultimate factor that look sets to close down many more clubs.  Clubs were originally meant to be exempt from this ban in the planning stages of the law as they are private members clubs.  CIU officials were promised that clubs could decide for themselves by consulting members and exercising local democracy.  

But at the last minute, the then Blair-led government changed their mind and suddenly clubs were included in the law which meant hasty preparation of ‘smoker’s dens’ for many of the members.  This, for many club members, was a betrayal by the Labour Party, the supposed Party of the working people.  

Club Historians has to raise this issue because it is still a major concern of those in clubland and the CIU want their clubs to have the freedom to decide about having a separate, well-ventilated room where members can smoke, without a bar.  Ventilation these days is much improved and some descriptions indicate that a well-ventilated room is much less polluted than our average street! Traffic pollution is on the rise and is a serious health issue especially for young children.

Another health issue is that of loneliness amongst older people who might love to use their club but find that one day it’s gone out of business, and the doors locked for good.  I’ve been told far too many times that the loss of a local club is like ‘solitary confinement’ for many older people.  Is this how we should be treating our older people?

What is your view? Do you think that clubs should be exempt from the ban and be allowed to decide for themselves? Is it really the smoking ban that is finishing off struggling clubs, and if so, what can be done?  Is this government taking the ‘nanny state’ too far by telling us what we can and cannot do when we go out to socialise?

We hope to keep the debate going about the possibility of an amendment to allow for separate smoking rooms in clubs. 

Ruth Cherrington


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