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Smoking ban will hit pubs harder

02 March 2006

First, I declare myself a cigar smoker and someone who has a passion for the English pub.

I firmly believe the overall effect of the smoking ban in hotels and restaurants will be minimal. After all, if permitted, you will still be allowed to smoke in the privacy of your hotel bedroom. Many restaurants have already evolved a culture where smoking while others are eating is not encouraged.

However, customer culture in the average pub is far removed from that in hotels and restaurants. While in public the corporate pub estate PR machine applauds the move, in reality they are running around evaluating their sites, particularly where they have more than one unit in the same town.

Those pubs where the predominant income is beer sales are now at high risk. One senior executive of a pub group told me privately that as much as a third of its estate was likely to suffer, and it was already preparing plans for possible closures.

For the poor tenant in a town pub where food is an afterthought, what option does he have if the customers dry up, apart from bankruptcy? How else is he going to exit his tenancy obligation?

Off-licences will, of course, become the next winner as people choose to drink and smoke at home.

In Scotland the carry-out business is booming, and no doubt we shall soon see an increase in smoke-related diseases in children.

I'm also surprised at the comments from property agents. While I appreciate they're trying not to worry potential vendors, when valuing a wet-led pub the valuer cannot expect the current profit to be sustained.

It seems to me the only thing left to do now if you want to smoke is to look forward to a retirement home, join the Army, sell the house and take up residence in a hotel room, or get sent to prison.

Or one could try to get elected to the House of Commons, as it's also exempt.

Hugh Caven
Managing director, Walbrook Commercial Finance, Tunbridge Wells, Kent

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