Monday, 18 July 2011

The Smoking Ban: Four Years On

You may not know it but this month marks four years since the introduction of a ban on smoking in public places in England. The original arguments of 2007 may have died down, but as a major campaign to amend the smoking ban gains momentum, the same issues continue to rumble on.

Thinking back four years, opinions couldn’t have been more divided. I was a 23 year old beginning a career in public relations and with a list of food and drink PR clients supplying the foodservice industry, I kept a close eye on developments.

While non-smokers cheered, smokers stubbed out their cigarettes in anger. Tobacco companies ran scared and suppliers of outdoor garden furniture, including shelters and patio heaters, rubbed their hands with glee. Many licensees were understandably up in arms about a law which they argued would kill their livelihood. So, four years on, what has been the impact?

One thing is for sure, pubs are in decline. They were in decline long before 2007 though and how much of that is down to the smoking ban needs expert analysis from someone far better positioned than me. While it has clearly had an impact, there is no doubt that supermarket pricing, the rise of social media and of course the recession, have all had their own input to this continued decline over the last four years. According to the campaign to Amend the Smoking Ban, “it is reasonable to predicate” that as many as 20 pub closures per week are due, in part, to the smoking ban.

The ban did signal a shift in attitudes by licensees and many venues looking to recover trade turned to a strong food offer. Pub dining has improved drastically and I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that there are more Michelin starred pubs in the UK than ever before. That must be a good thing?

And what about health? This one’s more difficult. One year after the ban, a survey claimed as many as 400,000 people quit as a result of not being able to smoke in public places but others disagree, including Amend the Smoking Ban - which claims there is no evidence to suggest that the ban has reduced the overall smoking rate.

So what next? Retain, amend or repeal? I get the impression this one will drag on.


  1. Out of interest, how has social media contributed to the decline of pubs?

  2. Thanks for your comment, it may only be a small contribution but social media gives people another platform to interact with friends. People can stay in and have conversations with their friends online, where in previous generations they would be having the same conversations in the local pub over a pint and packet of nuts. I guess it's part of a bigger debate - is social media changing social interaction?

  3. Of course you could argue the reverse in that location based services and fan pages are actually adding to the popularity of certain pubs/bars.