A study from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), out this week, scrutinises the credibility of economic arguments used by the industry to fight back against legislation. For example, when Christopher Ogden, chief executive of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association, said in 2010 that the smoking ban had severely threatened the pub and bingo industry because of lost jobs and livelihoods, the reality was a little different.
Really? Then the Independent obviously knows something that the country's biggest bingo operator doesn't.
Gala Coral, operator of Gala Bingo, says growth prior to the smoking ban was running at 10 per cent. "Since the ban, we have seen a very sharp fall in revenue and admissions," says Neil Goulden, chief executive of Gala Coral. "The smoking ban is entirely responsible for that, he adds."
So what's ASH's evidence?
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows a net increase in the number of people visiting pubs since the smoking ban.
No it doesn't. This is what the ONS survey reported:
Three-quarters (75 per cent) of drinkers who visited pubs said that the change had not affected how often they went to pubs. Respondents were as likely to say that they went to pubs more often now than before the restrictions (12 per cent) as they were to say that they went less often now (13 per cent).
The percentage of women who visited the pub about the same amount since the smoking
restrictions were introduced has decreased from 80 per cent in 2008 to 73 per cent in 2009.
Conversely [sic], the percentage of women who said they were less likely to go to the pub following the restrictions has increased from 9 per cent to 14 per cent over the same period.
The survey says nothing about how long people spend in the pub—much less, if beer sales are any indication. Self-reported evidence of this kind can be unreliable because respondents can use it as a chance to express their approval/disapproval of the ban, rather than tell us whether it's actually changed their behaviour. Nonetheless, this survey certainly doesn't suggest an increase in the number of pub visitors. And that's hardly surprising as you would have to be living on Neptune not to have heard that pubs have been closing at the fastest rate in British history. Pubs closing at the rate of 50 a week despite more people going to them sounds rather incongruous, does it not?
We can argue about the reasons for the great pub crash that began in 2007 until the cows come home, and it's clearly multi-factoral, but ASH are not prepared to settle for saying that they don't think the smoking ban has been the main cause. They have to go further and deny that pubs are in crisis at all. In fact, they think pubs are flourishing.
The next factoid in the Independent article is only ever used by ASH, so there can be no doubt that it was they who offered it to the clueless hack responsible for the article...
When England went smoke-free in 2007, the number of premises licensed for alcohol increased by 5 per cent, and it has continued to grow every year since.
It is indisputable that Britain has lost more than 6,000 pubs since the ban came into effect in 2007. (The figures are here.) And yet ASH try to imply that numbers have increased. Their figures don't relate to pubs, of course, but to alcohol licenses, and since the Licensing Act came into force in 2005, there has certainly been a big increase in the number of licenses handed out. This is partly because it's easier to get one, and partly because the law now obliges you to get one for even the smallest occasion. ASH might think it's jolly nice that there are more coffee shops and garden fetes that have alcohol licenses, but it's got nothing to do with the smoking ban or the pub industry.
This Canute-like refusal to face reality is only possible in the world of single-issue zealot. As I said last time I wrote about this subject, every fact supports the view that the smoking ban has seriously damaged the pub and bingo industries.
It fits what publicans have been saying:
The readers' poll showed 77% of licensees think that trade has suffered as a result of the ban. Almost two thirds (63%) say business is worse than expected, and 72% predict a "challenging" or "very challenging" outlook for their business. Three out of five licensees said they had let staff go or reduced their hours. In addition, 73% want the ban lifted.
It fits what market analysts have been saying:
Pubs have sold 175 million fewer pints in the past year as a direct result of the smoking ban, according to market analysts AC Nielsen.
It fits what pubgoers have been saying:
There's no need for any fancy statistical analysis of trends over time. Just ask the customers.
It fits what the share prices of the Pubcos have been telling us:
You'll notice that the collapse of the share price began almost on the dot of July 1st 2007. Recession? No—that didn't start until October 2008, by which time the company had lost 75% of its value. Supermarket booze? 'Twas ever thus. Bad management? Perhaps, but the story is the same for all the pub companies.
It fits what economic theory predicts will happen when a externality is imposed on a business; it fits what the pub industry did predict would happen; it fits what has happened in other countries, in other states and in other cities.
The only thing it doesn't fit is the rhetoric of anti-smoking groups like ASH:
"Smoke-free polices are not only good for health, they are good for business. Evidence shows that in countries where smoke-free laws have been introduced, trade has generally increased."
Amanda Sandford, ASH, 2003