Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Tobacco Fumes Ban:

Thoughts on the Public Health White Paper, with some asides about asbestos; by a card-carrying non-smoker who doesn't want a ban. This paper.

So it's finally going to happen.

I'll have to wait till my mid-thirties, but I will be able to enjoy the services of the British hospitality industry without their insisting that I be immersed in poisonous fumes. Long ago, I noticed that other industries do not insist on any such process. I can buy a CD or a fish, travel anywhere, go to the cinema or purchase insurance with money only. There are no poisonous foul-smelling fumes or airborne carcinogens of any description involved in the contract. As they make a partial restriction on tobacco fumes, I am pleased to see that there is no corresponding loosening of the regulations elsewhere. I am exactly as unlikely to be encouraged to introduce particulate asbestos into my lungs as I have been since 1987.


On the other hand, tobacco fumes remain an exception. If the regulation of asbestos is a guide, with the first half-assed restrictions in 1931 (of a product that was reputed to kill since ancient times and known to do so by 1890) and a final ban in 1985 (although the lying murderers who carried out the killing are happily able to continue doing so elsewhere in the world where people count less), I should be able to do more or less anything without inhaling tobacco carcinogens in 2048, when I'll be 78. Of course, asbestos (3,500, but I've seen estimates of a rise to 10,000 by 2010) only kills about six times as many people per year as drink-driving (560) in the UK while tobacco kills 214 times as many(120,000), which makes its exceptional status all the more odd.

But I'm not in favour of this ban. You can chew asbestos if you want, or light it and inhale its wholesome vapours to 'ease your stress' or 'aid concentration' (as long as you do it in an airtight suit) and my attitude to the release of tobacco fumes is much the same: I just don't want to be nearby when it happens. I only want some pubs without fumes. Then I can go to them. There are currently about 10 in England. It happens that none of them are near my house or work. As a non-smoker, the hospitality industry has decided not to market its products to me and not to make them available without the strange insistence described above.

The hospitality industry doesn't like the White Paper either. If you read to the bottom of this article you'll find that the ban will cause 'inevitable commercial damage'. This point was made very forcibly by a publican on the radio today. He said that he ran the only pub in his village, and 85% of his customers were smokers. He wanted to know if the Government would buy his lease, as he was going out of business. A strong argument. No it's not. But at least a powerful business case. No it isn't. Only 20% of the UK population smokes. (26% of adults...under 15s & families are potential hospitality industry customers too!).

If it came down to a straight fight, leaving aside the kids and the pregnant, there are more ex-smokers than smokers and non-smoking adults out-number smokers three to one. The publican should consider that for every 85 smokers in his pub, there are 410 non-smokers who stay away (drinking wine at home, perhaps). So all our publican needs to do is market to non-smokers, offer products they want, and he's sorted, right?

Well, apparently not. There are a good number of reasons why not. One of the secret concerns of the pub trade is fruit machines. It's the same morons who put their money in them as smoke. More obviously, smokers drink more--and food isn't where the profits are. Pub staff are not trained enough and not paid near enough to deal with a drunk psychopathic tobacco addict. Of this generally low-income 20%, just under a third don't plan to give up. Real pro-smokers therefore make up about 6% of the population. These people might be expected to kick up a fuss. It should be considered that they spend a good deal of their life disabled and then die early. They are out-numbered and out-gunned.

So what are the non-smokers doing? Don't we want a pint? We have been completely defeated, leaving it to the Government, after so many decades of pussy-footing, to lurch to this curious food-related diktat of which the obvious result is pubs ceasing to sell food and restaurants becoming members clubs. And we'll pay for these fine distinctions to be enforced and ruled upon and whatever other unintended consequences. We should be ashamed of ourselves. We should have used our influence and insisted that we be given the product we want without this drastic step. When they sound the all-clear I don't want to turn up at that publican's bar and join the"85%".

The reason I'm staying away now is that I resent his business and want no part of it. I want it to die. I don't want the Government to interfere with the market to save it. They are coming between us and our vengeance.

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