Why we want government to amend the smoking ban
Thousands of pubs and clubs in England & Wales are under serious threat – if not universally of closure, then of having to lay-off staff and reduce opening hours. This threat is substantially exacerbated by the comprehensive ban on smoking in public places introduced on 1st July 2007.
Even on a “generous” reading of the statistics relating to the health risks associated with secondhand smoke (SHS), the social and economic impact of the ban is seriously disproportionate to the risks of SHS.
Alternatives to the present ban, falling short of full repeal (which we do NOT support), are both viable and practical and would constitute a “win-win” public policy outcome for any future government.
Pub and club closures
Pub closures in the second half of 2008 reached 39 a week, with a total of 1,973 pubs closing in 2008. This equates to approximately 3% of pubs and clubs closing in a single year.
Given the deterioration in the UK economy, there is every reason to believe that this trend is continuing and quite possibly accelerating.
Over 40,000 jobs were lost in the pubs and clubs sector in the five years to 2008, with a further loss of 40,000 expected over the following five years.
The difficulty is in calculating how many of these closures and associated job losses can be attributed directly to the smoking ban as opposed to other factors.
First, it is important to note that there is a long-term decline in the on-trade. In 1871, there was one pub for every 200 people. This fell to a ratio of one pub for every 458 people by 1921 and one for every 761 people by 1971. So some ongoing closures of pubs and clubs may reflect part of this long-term cultural trend.
Second, a non-benign economic environment, combined with punitive tax rates may have caused a proportion of the pub and club closures even without a ban on smoking in public places (SIPPs).
However, there is good evidence to suggest that the SIPPs ban has measurably contributed to pub and club closures.
AC Nielsen’s study in June 2008 compared on-trade alcohol sales in Scotland (where a smoking ban had been in place since March 2006) with on-trade alcohol sales in England and Wales, where a ban only came into force in July 2007. Nielsen concluded that 80% of the drop in on-trade alcohol sales north of the border was due to the smoking ban.
Nielsen has since been quoted as hypothesising that half of the decline in beer sales in England and Wales since July 2007 has been caused by the ban. Even ASH seems willing to hypothesise on the basis of these figures.
It stands to reason that the SIPPs legislation is likely to have had a downward impact on sales in pubs and clubs. According to research in 2004, approximately 41% of pub-goers are smokers (compared to approximately 23% of the population).
On the basis of Nielsen, it seems reasonable to predicate that up to 20 pub closures a week are due, in part, to the ban on SIPPs. Other factors may be involved, but the SIPPs legislation is often the final straw. Assuming a work force of 600,000 in the sector , this equates to approximately 200 job losses a week – or around 10,000 per annum. This would be in addition to the number of jobs lost in pubs and clubs that are reducing staff without actually closing.
The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, has concluded that there is no doubt that the smoking ban has had an impact in leading to pub closures
Health impact of secondhand smoke on bar staff
For many, the clinching argument in favour of a ban on SIPPs was the supposed evidence that SHS presented a measurable health risk to those exposed to it.
There is an enormous amount of published research on the possible health risks of SHS, showing varying and contradictory results.
There is an ongoing epidemiological debate about the risks, if any, of exposure to SHS. Probably the main report affecting public policy on SIPS in the United Kingdom was the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH) report published in November 2004.
SCOTH concluded that the increased risk of contracting lung cancer for those exposed to SHS was 24% and for heart disease was 25%.
Even if these numbers are accepted, they are utterly trivial compared to the risks we are willing to accept – or expose others to - in many other areas of our lives.
For example, according to Cancer Research UK, the increased risk of contracting lung cancer if you work in a profession that regularly exposes you to diesel fumes is 47% - twice that of exposure to SHS assumed in SCOTH.
Those living in areas with high levels of nitrogen oxide (usually caused by vehicle emissions) have an increased chance of about 33% of contracting lung cancer.
Workers in the ship-building or construction industry have been estimated to have an increased chance of contracting lung cancer of up to 50% - twice that assumed for workers exposed to SHS by SCOTH.
One study even suggests that women who don’t smoke, but have a wood-burning fire at home, may have an increased risk of lung disease in excess of 300%.
A French study in 2003 suggested a typical barbecue in one’s garden releases the same number of dioxins that would be emitted from 220,000 cigarettes.
So, even if one accepts the SCOTH report’s numbers on the increased risk suffered by those working in smoke-filled pubs and clubs, these risks pale into utter insignificance compared to risks we readily and unquestionably accept elsewhere.
Furthermore, any presumed risk - to those working in environments with SHS - needs to be compared to the alternative. In a deteriorating economy, the alternative for many of those who no longer work in pubs and clubs is measurably less income as a result of unemployment.
In terms of overall public health, there is no evidence to suggest that the SIPPs ban has reduced the overall smoking rate. In fact, in Scotland, smoking has risen amongst the 16-24 year old age group since the ban was imposed.
The conclusion is clear. Even if one accepts the evidence of the SCOTH report, the risks do not justify a comprehensive, blanket ban on SIPPs. This is likely to hit already low paid bar staff, who are risk losing their jobs, hardest.
An amendment to the ban
In the current circumstances – of a severe economic downturn – government should be seeking to remove unnecessary burdens on hard-pressed businesses.
An amendment to the smoking ban could make a measurable and crucial difference to the economic viability of many pubs and clubs.
Although some may argue for a full repeal of the ban on smoking in public places, this is unlikely to command overwhelming public support. However, an amendment, allowing for the possibility of catering for smokers, could well find favour.
It is surely possible to find a compromise that is fair to smokers and non-smokers alike.
An amendment to the comprehensive SIPPs ban would assist pubs and clubs in times of economic hardship and ensure that both smokers and non-smokers can consume on-trade alcohol in a well-ventilated environment that is tailored to their desires and needs.
The government is committed to a review of the impact of the smoking ban in 2010, three years after the legislation has taken effect.
We believe this review should include a full independent audit of the impact the ban has had on pubs and clubs. It should also take into account job losses in the hospitality trade since July 2007, and the social impact on millions of customers, smokers and non-smokers, including those who have stopped going to their local pub or club since the introduction of the smoking ban.
Amendments which should be considered include, but are not limited to:
• Adopting the Spanish model – whereby venues with limited floor space can choose to be smoking or non-smoking, but venues larger than 1002 metres can have a designated smoking room if this constitutes less than 30% of total floor space, is fully partitioned and separated from the rest of the venue, and can be wholly avoided by non-smokers.
• Allowing the smoking of tobacco only in venues that can secure a licence by ensuring an agreed level of ventilation and air quality in both smoking and non-smoking areas.
• Allowing some discretion for local authorities in determining the nature and extent of smoking regulations.
The banning of indoor smoking everywhere is damaging the viability of many licensed premises where people wish to smoke.
Rt Hon Greg Knight MP