Happy smoking ban day everybody! – don’t believe big tobacco’s corporate spin

Four years on, the smoking ban is popular and defintive claims that it has led to more pubs shutting are unsubstantiated.

By Amanda Sandford, Research Manager of Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)

England’s pubs and restaurants went smokefree four years ago today. To mark the event ASH has released new data which shows that public support for the measure remains high: 78% of the population are in favour of the law, including almost half of all smokers (47%).  Now more smokers support than oppose the law. Meanwhile, an independent review of the impact of the smokefree law found no significant decrease in the number of people visiting pubs or restaurants before or after the legislation.

How very different to the claims made by the Save Our Pubs and Clubs campaign that the smokefree law is causing pubs to close and that the way to solve the problem is to bring the smoke back into pubs.    

So who exactly would support such a move? And who is behind the thinly disguised campaign to amend one of the most popular pieces of health legislation every introduced?

A handful of MPs have put their names to the ‘Save Our Pubs’ campaign but the main protagonist is the tobacco-industry funded pressure group, FOREST and Japan Tobacco International. The claim that many pubs blame the smoking ban for the loss of business is hardly proof of cause and effect.

Other shaky data were revealed in a briefing on the pub trade pre- and post the public places smokefree law which claims that there has been a “marked decline” in the number of pubs in the UK since the implementation of the smoking bans.

This appears to be an update of earlier research by the same organisation – Corporate Responsibility Consulting – which established a “very close relationship” between the rate of decline of pubs and the implementation of smoking bans.

The authors don’t appear to disclose their funders but they have form. Their client list includes the Tobacco Manufacturers Association.  The calls might be new but the claims are as stale as the air in a smoky pub.   

These reports use what they call a “subjective” definition of pubs. Such surveys have been known to reclassify pubs as restaurants and so claim they have “closed” as pubs when they are simply selling more food.  In fact the business stays open, the staff keep their jobs, the name of the bar doesn’t change.

But why not use an objective measure? After all, we know precisely how many licences were issued and the number of premises licensed for on sale and off sale increased by 5% the year England and Wales went smokefree and has risen every year since.    

Of course pubs, like all small businesses have been hard hit by the recession. But the tobacco lobby group assertion that thousands of pubs in England and Wales are under threat of closure due to the smoking ban does not stand up to scrutiny. The British public are enjoying the benefits of smokefree drinking and dining and there is little appetite for a return to the bad old days of smoke-filled pubs.

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