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Smoking restriction around the world

31 May 2007
Smoking restriction around the world

The smoking ban that comes into effectin England in July is one of the most stringent in Europe. In the last of our series on the implications of the law, Emma Allen takes a look at smoking restrictions around the world

With the 1 July deadline just a month away, the pressure is mounting on businesses to get ready for when England joins the rest of the UK and bans smoking in enclosed places.

But with the furore surrounding the ban in Britain, it's easy to overlook how anti-smoking laws have already become a fact of life in many countries around the world.

New Zealand, Ireland and Norway have introduced a complete ban. So have 12 US states, including New York and California. Hong Kong went smoke-free this January, while Italy, Germany and Sweden have all brought in restrictive measures to deter lighting up. Even France - where it's hard to imagine breathing air free of the distinctive waft of Gitanes - will make smoking illegal in restaurants, cafés and bars in 2008.

From a health perspective, few can deny the benefits, particularly for hospitality workers. In Ireland, 12 months after the ban, a study by the Research Institute for a Tobacco Free Society reported that harmful airborne carcinogens and pollution in bars had been cut by more than 80%, making the atmosphere in the average bar comparable with outside air quality - clearly reducing health risks from smoke for both staff and customers.

Reports from Scotland a year on from the ban seem to echo Ireland's findings, with university research proving that the respiratory health of Scottish bar workers had dramatically improved in just two months following the new law. According to NHS Scotland, up to 22,000 of the country's 1.1 million smokers will try to kick the habit in the next year, potentially saving thousands of lives.

While it's still early days, the health benefits of banning smoking cannot be denied. But what other lessons can be learnt? Certainly in Ireland, in 2004 the first European country to bring in an outright ban, things seem to have gone pretty smoothly, with few breaches and high levels of public support. Speaking at the Smoke Free England Stakeholder Conference in February, John Power, chairman of the Irish Hotels Federation, stressed that the ban is now "a non-issue" in Ireland, adding that "it's as though we've had it for the past 50 years."

Post-ban sales

Business-wise, reports on post-ban sales appear mixed. While city pubs with outside space and a food offer have largely benefited, rural pubs, dependent on local trade, have fared less well. More than 800 have closed in the past three years, according to the Vintners Federation of Ireland.

Data from the British Market Research Bureau's Target Group Index survey shows that between 2004 and 2005 the number of Irish smokers who went to a pub for a drink once a week or more dropped by 18%. But Kathleen Quinlan, director of communications at Ireland's Office for Tobacco Control, stresses that other factors, such as rising pub prices and more people drinking wine at home, should be taken into account as well as the smoking ban. Random breath testing, introduced last year, has also dampened trade outside cities.

Laws were passed only a month ago in Wales, but a year on in Scotland the ban has largely been hailed a success. Like Ireland, compliance has also been high, with just one smoker and one employer taken to court so far for flouting the law.

At the Dragonfly bar in Edinburgh, manager Fin Wheelaghan says he's been surprised at how little the ban has affected business. "Not having any outside space was a disadvantage at first - we did lose business to pubs with patios - but everybody's got used to smoking on the street now, so things have evened out," he says. "Staff, even those who smoke, are happier not to be in a smoky atmosphere all the time, and it's a lot cleaner with no dirty ashtrays around."

Not every­one is convinced. As in Ireland, rural pubs have been hit hard in parts of Scotland, says Rory MacKail, vice-convenor of policy at the Scottish Federation of Small Businesses. "Pubs are massively losing out. People need to look behind the official line to get the true picture," he says. "We hear about more families coming to eat out, but it's nonsense. In many pubs, 80% of their customers smoke, and that's not going to change. The end result is that many pubs are selling up to housing developers."

For food-led businesses, though, experiences from abroad indicate a positive outlook. In New York, where a smoking ban was hotly opposed by the city's bar and restaurant trade, a survey of diners by influential guide Zagat helped to allay fears, with 23% stating they would eat out more and 73% remaining unaffected by a smoke-free policy. A report produced by city authorities in 2004 backed this up, showing an increase in restaurant business after the ban, coupled with the highest climb in the number of bar and restaurant workers in a decade.

Similarly, the Hospitality Association of New Zealand had loudly opposed the laws, predicting large-scale job and income losses, but on the whole these haven't materialised. Sales in New Zealand's bars changed little in the first 12 months but, on average, cafés and restaurants saw sales shoot up by nearly 10% as they attracted a broader clientele. Numbers of hospitality workers also rose by a quarter, and public support increased to 80% a year after the laws were brought in.

Certainly, public "buy-in" is crucial if laws are going to be taken seriously. In France, home to one of Europe's heaviest smoking populations, with a reported 66,000 tobacco-related deaths a year, smoking in all bars and restaurants has been - in theory - banned since 1991, except for small designated zones. But, in reality, customers can still light up almost anywhere in most premises, with ashtrays freely supplied and owners reluctant to enforce an unpopular law.

Countdown to a ban

All that is set to change, though. In February smoking was banned in offices, schools and other public places, while restaurants, bars and clubs are now on a countdown to a ban from January next year. It remains to be seen how strictly it will be enforced, although special "cigarette police" have been trained and offenders face a fine of about £50.

Just over the border, in Spain, a partial ban imposed in 2005 has created a similar situation. Smoking is strictly forbidden in most public places, but in bars and restaurants the law is pretty relaxed. Premises over 100sq m are merely obliged to provide smoke-free zones, while smaller bars can opt to stay fully smoking. Hotels can also nominate up to 50% of bedrooms as smoking rooms.

For all these reasons, according to Salvador Vilches, chairman of the Costa del Sol Hoteliers Association, the ban has made little difference and compliance hasn't been a problem. Hotel customers can continue to light up as long as it's not in a public area such as a lobby.

For Dean Appleton, owner of the Black Horse bar in Barcelona, it's simply better for his business to remain smoking, which legally he can as long as a separate smoking area is provided. "The law seems pretty meaningless when it comes to our industry," he points out.

He doesn't see it as an issue, though. "Spain is just a smoky place. I've been here for seven years, and I understood that when I came here."

For more information on the ban in England visit the website www.smokefreeengland.co.uk

Around the world

• In Iran, smoking was banned in hotels, restaurants, airports, cinemas and all other public buildings in 2003. But according to news reports, the ban was relaxed two years later to re-allow smoking in restaurants and cafés.

• Hong Kong introduced a strict smoking ban in January, covering restaurants, offices and karaoke lounges. Massage houses, mah jong parlours and nightclubs have until July 2009 to comply.

• The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan became the first country in the world to ban the sale of tobacco products, in December 2004.

• In Germany, watered-down proposals to ban smoking in public places mean smokers could light up in bars and pubs but not nightclubs. If passed by the government this year, the laws will also allow restaurants to provide separate areas for smoking customers.

What's the situation in New York City?

In New York's bar scene, the biggest change since the ban in March 2003 is in the atmosphere, according to Jon Bloostein, chief executive of Heartland Breweries, which owns Spanky's BBQ restaurant and five large pubs in downtown Manhattan. "On a Friday and Saturday night, it's just crowds of people in transit, going from one bar to another and having a cigarette on the way," he says. "Most places have lost that casual, relaxed feel, because customers are always getting up to leave for a smoke."

As a non-smoker, Bloostein says he was in favour of the law, brought in four years ago, but says there is no real benefit for bar owners - "except fewer cigarette burns in the furniture".

On a business level he is more upbeat. "It really didn't make any difference to our turnover," he says. "People have to go somewhere, and we were all on a level playing field." He thinks smaller bars have found it tough. "The real gin mills, where everyone smokes, have really suffered. But it's the law of natural selection. Manhattan's high rents are more of a problem for these guys than the smoking ban."

Bernard Ros, owner of the Meli Melo restaurant, is still strongly against the ban. He estimates a 20% drop in sales in the first year and doesn't think things have improved much since. "We've lost the high-spending younger crowd, because they go to liquor stores now and have parties at home instead," he says. "That's made a huge difference to our turnover." Smokers, according to Ros, also spent more. "They ordered a second drink, a dessert, maybe an after-dinner drink. If they can't do that, they go."

The so-called "dine and dash", when customers go outside, apparently to smoke, but disappear without paying the bill, has hit his bottom line, too. "It happens everywhere, but it's so much harder to control now with people coming in and out," he says.

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