Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The smoking ban in pubs is here to stay - and landlords who improve what their pubs offer the consumer will prosper.

In a piece in The Daily Telegraph today Peter Oborne blames pub closures on the smoking ban in such premises and calls for it to be reversed. He even says that the ban was Labour's "defining legacy". You are never quite sure with Peter whether his tongue is in his cheek - I  suspect that on this one it might be - but if not it needs to be said that he is fundamentally and preposterously wrong ! It is not just the British Pub that has had to bow to public pressure but bars and restaurants across the civilised world. "Public pressure" ? Absolutely. In the modern world the vast majority of adults are non smokers. And even smokers accepted that smoking in such facilities was wrong - or many did. The arguments  should not really need restating and anyone who remembers the bad old days will despair that there are those who think that our right to sip a pint and munch a pie in a smoke-free environment should be questioned. 

Even CAMRA supported the smoking ban in pubs and they were right to do so. And the idea that this was some Labour Party vendetta against the smoking classes does not stand up at all. Remember the first major city to ban smoking in bars and restaurants - it wasn't Labour's London but Bloomberg's New York. The New Yorkers, not known for their easy acceptance of rules and regulations, complied. As did the French when France did the same. If men and women can forgoe their Camels, Lucky Strikes and Gaulois in the common good we could do the same - and we did! Hooray!

The closure of so many pubs is to be regretted and no doubt in a few cases they closed because patrons could no longer smoke (and cough and spit) there. But if a pub relied on its smoke filled bars to sustain its business it couldn't have been much of a pub - and if it couldn't change we are well rid of it. Many pubs did change, of course, and many of those that modified what they did and how they did it have prospered. The Pub is the classic free enterprise business but like all such businesses, especially those running public service offers, there have to be rules. Above all the environment has to be safe. A room full of smoke is a threat to those who go there and especially to those who work there. Ask the family of non-smoking musician the late Roy Castle, who died of lung cancer, if you doubt that one.

Pubs close because the offer they make to the public is rejected - it's as simple as that. In the main the landlords who prosper are those who look at what they do in the light of understanding what prospective customers might need. They will never compete with home consumption of alcohol on price and no fiddling with supermarket prices will change that. And if people want to smoke when they drink then they better do that at home as well - unless the pub can provide a decent, heated outdoor area for them that is - many do. Pubs which offer better beer, better wine, better food, a better welcome and a more convivial as well as clean atmosphere will do well. Those whose landlords winge and moan and seek scapegoats for their own failures will close. That's how it works, and ultimately the consumer benefits.


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