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Debate: fired up about smoking

31 July 2009 by

The smoking ban has proved largely popular with the British public, as the unrest predicted by many has failed to materialise in the two years since its implementation. But with discussions within the industry already reigniting over whether changes should be made to the current legislation in the review next year, Caterer, in association with Heinz Foodservice, gathered together Lee Cash of Peach pubs, Ranald McDonald of the Boisdale restaurant and representatives of major lobby groups and the Government to discuss whether limits on smoking should be kept in their current form. Tom Vaughan reports.

DISCUSSION PARTICIPANTSLee Cash, founder/director, Peach Pub Company Ranald McDonald, proprietor, Boisdale restaurant, London John Tilley, senior policy manager, tobacco, Department of Health Simon Clark, director, Forest Dave Atherton, political liaison officer, Freedom2Choose Bernard Brindley, chairman, British Institute of Innkeeping, central region Oliver Griffiths, director, CR Consulting Daniel Thomas, news editor, Caterer and Hotelkeeper Tom Vaughan, senior features writer, Caterer and Hotelkeeper Chris Cannon, head of marketing UK and Ireland at sponsor Heinz Foodservice
Daniel Thomas Has the smoking ban benefited or harmed hospitality businesses in the two years since implementation? Lee Cash For the foodie pubs it hasn't harmed or benefited either way. There was a big fuss initially but people moved on very quickly. We've certainly not seen a detrimental impact on what we do, which is what I expected at the outset. I think people adapt very fast. Dave Atherton Some do more than others. Statistics show that, in 2005, 102 pubs closed. In 2006, the number was 216; then, after the smoking ban in 2007, 1,409 pubs closed; and in 2008, 2,750 went under - a number that represents 5% of the pub industry. In total, 78,000 employees have lost their jobs. The ones that have really been harmed by this are the community pubs that are wet-led. It's carnage out there. Lee Cash It is carnage, but there are a lot of issues converging. It's not just the smoking ban that is to blame. You could argue that those 5% of pubs needed to shut, as they weren't viable businesses. Oliver Griffiths Some say it is a necessary cleansing of the bottom end of the industry. John Tilley The same with a lot of those redundancies. It could be down to a whole number of factors. Lee Cash The popular line is that the smoking ban has killed pubs, but it's down to a whole host of reasons. Ranald McDonald Maybe not killed, but stabbed, slashed, repeatedly punched in the face! Banning smoking has played a big part. Simon Clark A lot of these pubs were going downhill even before the smoking ban. Lots of pubs have contacted us saying that before the smoking ban they were taking £1,000 a week; after the ban they were losing £1,000 a week. They were already on a slippery slope, but the smoking ban pushed them over the edge. People are very snobbish about backstreet boozers, but we've been contacted by people who say their working men's clubs are going out of business since the ban, and it's very sad. Ranald McDonald A lot of the customers at these places have paid taxes all their lives, sometimes fought for their country, and their one chance to socialise is these working men's clubs, and they are being denied them because they are closing due to lack of custom. I think it's appalling. Bernard Brindley Hear, hear. Lee Cash I have to say that I am a fan of the backstreet boozer, and there aren't enough of them. But I think a lot of factors have converged and it's very easy to blame the smoking ban. It's often the fact that the community no longer supports them and they aren't viable. Dave Atherton In some communities, smokers make up 50% of the customers at these places; that's why they don't support them. Oliver Griffiths The smoking ban has had a huge effect on the habits of customers in this country. Ranald McDonaldDaniel Thomas Has the ban prompted innovation in the industry? What steps have pub, restaurant and hotel businesses taken to make up for the shortfall in custom from smokers? Bernard Brindley Pubs are encouraged to do food, and a lot have gone down that route and not very well. It is now reaching saturation point. Lee Cash I think it's a great shame, but it is the way we have been going because of the nature of how we work these days. But I don't think the smoking ban is necessarily the enemy of that way of life; those old-style pubs have been dying out. Dave Atherton If the smoky pubs of the past were dying out, why did we need legislation? Lee Cash I'm not for or against the smoking ban; I am, however, against a nanny state and the Government fiddling with our industry, which it does so much more than most others. Has it prompted innovation? Yes, because necessity is the mother of invention. Simon Clark Ranald at Boisdale is a great example of innovation. They have created a great roof terrace that people come from miles around to use, but not everyone has the money and it is not necessarily a level playing field. Oliver Griffiths To a certain extent it's a redistribution according to wealth around the industry. Some pubs have invested what money they have in food, and when it goes wrong they seriously struggle. Daniel Thomas Has the ban seen the expected uplift in food sales? Bernard Brindley The answer is no: it has actually had an opposite effect. But you can't blame it on the smoking ban. It hasn't helped, but I don't think you can blame it on that. Ranald McDonald Would you say it's the most significant factor? Bernard Brindley I don't think you can. Ranald McDonald Well, I've got a pub and I would say it is. What is happening is that smokers are still smoking, drinkers are still drinking, and what we've got is a new class of people who are drinking at home. Bernard Brindley It's carried on the change to a different quality of food that has been happening for the last 20-25 years. We no longer have a French or an English restaurant in Rugby, where I live, because the quality of pubs are so good. Lee Cash Casual dining has soured, and pubs are the natural home of casual dining. It's a shame we've had to lose those 10% of pubs. Bernard Brindley Well, I don't think they deserved to be there. Ranald McDonald True. Pubs have become restaurants - more so, I think, since the smoking ban. Tables are laid up, you can't sit there for a drink, and so on. Daniel Thomas What, if anything, ought to be revisited about the legislation? Simon Clark Yesterday we launched a campaign called Save our Pubs and Clubs, aimed at amending the smoking ban. The aim is to tweak the ban to give landlords an element of choice. It's a long-term campaign aimed at the next Parliament. We already have 250 on board and we hope to run into the thousands soon. Bernard Brindley What I would fully support is the option of having pubs with smoking rooms. Where there are kids, no. Where there is food, no. But where there is proper ventilation and it fits in with European legislation, then yes. Simon Clark Smoking rooms would still divide people. Just as some go out for a cigarette now, some would leave for the smoking room. Dave Atherton But it would give people the choice. I'm a smoker. I smoke in my house, and my wife would happily come to the smoking room with me. At the end of the day customers would vote with their feet, and this would give them a choice. John Tilley Going back to the original factor behind the smoking ban, the health reasons - in any other work environment people wouldn't be exposed to health risks intentionally. Bernard Brindley In any other workplace you'd let people work with health risks if it was their choice. John Tilley So you would let people work with asbestos if they wanted to? Bernard Brindley I don't think that's a good example. John Tilley It's a cancer-causer. Bernard Brindley No one wants to go back to the small smoky bars that were around before the ban, but if people ask whether I support the ban, I'd say I do not in its entirety. Daniel Thomas Has a certain vibe gone from pub lounges, restaurants and hotels since the ban? Bernard Brindley People no longer go out and enjoy pubs with friends and colleagues. A lot of these people are non-smokers, but they don't go because their friends don't go. The heartbeat has gone. Ranald McDonald It's a different ethos, a different planet from what was before. Rather than people meeting in big groups, there are little splinter groups of two or three dining. Simon Clark It's very anecdotal, but if you add all the anecdotal evidence together, you get a picture of the effects. I know a pub where there was a local character who spent a lot of time in the pub and was very much the heart and soul. Since the smoking ban, he has made a little bar in his house and he stays there and drinks. The pub has lost that character and it is a poorer place because of it, and these sort of anecdotes are present across the country. Daniel Thomas Should the ban be overturned? Simon Clark No, nobody round this table would support a complete repeal. Dave Atherton Not even I would. Simon Clark What we'd support is tweaking it, giving landlords and customers the choice. There are green shoots from our campaign already. A lot of politicians got on board with the original campaign to ban smoking, not because they had scruples, but because they wanted to back a winning horse. If we can create some momentum with this and get MPs on board, maybe we can change things. POINTS TO CONSIDER IN THE WAKE OF THE SMOKING BAN â- Research from the British Institute of Innkeeping last year found that half of all publicans had laid off staff as a direct result of the smoking ban. â- Total pub sector sales fell by £1b in 2008 and are predicted to do so again in 2009, with the recession also culpable. â- Food is still seen as a means of plugging this gap. â- The pub trade has noticed a change in clientele. More women, families and older generations are to be found visiting pubs, with old regulars less frequent. â- Customers are less regular and have declined in numbers by around 2.5% since 2003. â- However, following research in July 2008, just 12% of publicans believed the smoking ban had a negative impact on the pub industry after its first year of implementation, with 38% believing it has had a positive impact. â- Thanks to our panel and to the Athenaeum hotel](, London, for hosting the round table, sponsored by [Heinz Foodservice
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