Four years on: More smokers support than oppose smokefree law - no evidence of adverse impact on hospitality trade
On the fourth anniversary of England's smokefree law, new figures show that public support for the measure remains high with 78% of the population in favour of the law. Significantly, almost half of all smokers (47%) support the law.
Or to put it another way, a significant minority of the public—millions of people—still oppose the ban four years after it was brought in and less than half of smokers support the law.
The very fact that a large number of people, especially including those who are most directly affected, oppose the ban is precisely the reason why it should be amended it so that everybody can be happy. Everybody, that is, except the lunatic fringe of the anti-smoking movement that is represented by ASH.
The survey complements an independent Government-commissioned review of the impact of the smokefree law which found no significant decrease in the number of people visiting pubs or restaurants before or after the legislation.
I'm going to start invoicing ASH for all the coffee soaked keyboards they've made me ruin with statements like this. If I remember correctly, the review in question was actually ditched by the Coalition when they came to power but the Department of Health produced it anyway because they had spent three years manufacturing the evidence to support a law they themselves had lobbied for. It was entirely written by Linda Bauld, a professional anti-smoker who is a member of the ASH Advisory Council, a member of the Smokefree South West Programme Board and a member of the International Network of Women Against Tobacco. It would be hard to imagine anyone less qualified to produce an "independent review". We shall come back to her in a moment.
These findings stand in stark contrast to the claims made by the 'Save Our Pubs' campaign - a tobacco industry funded font group...
You know what these font groups are like. They start off campaigning against the use of Times New Roman, the next thing you know they want a ban on Comic Sans.
...that the smokefree law is causing pubs to close. The real agenda behind this campaign is to amend the law to allow smoking in pubs
Oh no, they've been rumbled! And they would have got away with it too, if they hadn't put 'Amend the Smoking Ban' on every single piece of campaign literature.
However, the pro-tobacco lobby's claims that the smoking ban has led to pub closures are unfounded. In 2007, the year England went smokefree, the number of licensed premises for "on sales" of alcohol actually increased by 5% and there has been a net increase in the number of people reporting going to pubs since the smokefree law came into effect.
It's actually quite sad how ASH cling to this factoid as if it was proof that pubs aren't closing in huge numbers. As everybody keeps trying to tell them, the number of on-licenses is completely unrelated to the number of pubs. A license is required to sell alcohol and there has been a steady rise in the number of licenses granted since the Licensing Act relaxed the licensing laws in 2005.
The number of pubs, on the other hand, has fallen year after year since 2007, when the smoking ban came in. Nobody—other than the terminally self-deluded—disputes that there has been a massive and unprecedented fall in the number of pub since 2007. It has been one of the most thoroughly reported business stories of the last few years. People have come up with alternative explanations for why the pub industry has crashed but only ASH deny that there has been a crash at all.
If ASH had the slightest interest in seeking the truth, they could easily have consulted figures from the British Beer and Pub Association which show that over 4,000 pubs have closed since the ban came in.
Or they could have looked at the survey from the British Institute of Innkeeping, which found:
- The proportion of smoking customers dropped from 54% to 38%;
- 66% reported that their smoking customers were staying for shorter periods;
- 75% reported that smokers were visiting less frequently;
- 47% of businesses had laid off staff, although 5% had recruited additional staff;
- Income from drinks fell by 9.8%;
- Income from gaming machines fell by 13.5%.
They didn't do any of this. Would it really hurt them to at least acknowledge that thousands of pubs have closed? Do they really have to deny everything?
But wait, what's this? Is Deborah Arnott about to hint at the truth?
Commenting on the findings, Deborah Arnott, Chief Executive of ASH, said:
"Pubs, like all small businesses have been hard hit by the recession...
Nice try, but the recession didn't begin until late 2008 and it doesn't explain why Scotland and Ireland suffered a similar loss of pubs when they brought in their bans in 2004 and 2006. Since pub numbers declined at a similar level in different countries in different years, there really can be only one explanation for the phenomenon.
But the tobacco lobby group assertion that thousands of pubs in England and Wales are under threat of closure due to the smoking ban does not stand up to scrutiny.
Evidence or STFU. Pubs have closed and will continue to do so until their numbers have fallen to the level needed to satisfy the lowered demand for smoke-free venues. ASH's assertion—for that is all it is—contradicts every piece of evidence from Britain and abroad. It is at odds with what publicans, market analysts, customers, publicans and the stock market have said. It defies reason, common sense and the evidence of one's own eyes for ASH to continue with this charade. It's my view that the case has been proven beyond reasonable doubt. There simply is no other factor can can explain the data. However, even if you don't believe the evidence to be compelling, it is simply a lie to say that there is "no evidence of [an] adverse impact on the hospitality trade." There is plenty.
The British public are enjoying the benefits of smokefree drinking and dining and there is little appetite for a return to the bad old days of smoky pubs."
This a straw man argument. The Save Our Pubs campaign is calling for ventilated smoking rooms adjacent to the bar, not for "the bad old days of smoky pubs" (y'know, those bad old days when pubs weren't closing in their thousands). There has always been public support for a law that accommodates smokers and nonsmokers alike because the British, in general, are a tolerant and reasonable bunch. This makes ASH a profoundly unBritish organisation. As with all extremists, compromise and tolerance are their natural enemy, which is why ASH will fight tooth and nail to make sure that tools of denormalisation and social exclusion remain law.
There is one simple way of testing whether the smoking ban has been popular and successful—get rid of it. If people really don't want to go back to the days of smoky pubs, there is really no reason to have a law forcing pubs to be smokefree. Get rid of the law, let the market decide, and if pubs remain entirely nonsmoking we'll know that ASH were right all along. If, however, pubs decide to accommodate smokers once more, we'll know, if we hadn't realised already, that ASH cannot be trusted.
That, however, is not what is being proposed. All the Save Our Pubs campaign is doing is suggesting that if publicans want to, they should be able to have separate, ventilated smoking rooms on their own property. This would bring us in line with most of the other countries in the world which have smoking bans and would be such a small and reasonable exemption that only a zealot could oppose it.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.
...which is run by Peter Kellner, who sits on the board of ASH. Does ASH have any evidence that is not directly or indirectly supplied by people who are members of their organisation?
And this brings me back to Linda Bauld's abomination. I didn't write about her effort when it came out because it didn't get much media coverage and everything in it had been debunked long before the document was published.
Imperial Tobacco, on the other hand, have now decided to tackle it. They've released a report (PDF) which shows very clearly how Bauld misrepresents the truth and ignores evidence that doesn't suit her case. Its conclusions are refreshingly forthright:
We have become used to the public health community and the anti-tobacco lobby groups churning out made-to-measure studies to suit their objectives.
Bauld’s review should be submitted to public scrutiny. Without such transparency how can
anyone have confidence in Government policy going forward?
The report is of interest because it comes directly from the tobacco industry, whose campaign of doubt regarding smoking and lung cancer in the twentieth century has been well documented. There is, then, good reason to treat what they say with scepticism. And on the opposing side, we have an anti-tobacco industry with a dreadful record of using misleading data and junk science in the twenty-first century. Each side have obvious partisan interests—one is financial, the other is ideological.
Who to trust? The answer, surely, is to trust no one and instead trust the evidence—a pretty good rule of thumb in general. You can make up your own mind. Imperial's report is here. The Bauld report is here. From where I'm sitting it looks like a slam-dunk for Imperial.
Of course, ASH et al. will keep squealing "tobacco industry, tobacco industry" as if this somehow changed the facts. In recent weeks, the anti-smokers' reliance on this ad hominem has reached fever pitch. An online squabble at Liberal Vision saw a number of tobacco control freaks emerge from the woodwork, apparently worried that ASH's image as a grass-roots charity is falling apart. Amongst those who added a comment was none other than Linda Bauld who said that ASH is...
"...a small organisation working to reduce death and disease from smoking, not demonise smokers or restrict liberties [sic], as the tobacco industry and its representatives (who have contributed the majority of the posts above) would have us believe."
This is a pretty explicit claim. Bauld is saying that the majority of comments on the Liberal Vision article were from tobacco industry representatives. How could she possibly know this? She can't and she doesn't. She has no evidence for this allegation and it is almost certainly untrue (I know a number of the people who posted and they are certainly not in the pay of tobacco companies). This is how she appears to operate: make a wild claim without any facts to back it up and hope it sticks. The scientific credibility of ASH has been in free fall for years, so we shouldn't be too surprised by any of this, but their increasing reliance on misguided ad hominems suggests an unhealthy paranoia and desperation as they try to defend the indefensible. If they had the facts on their side, they wouldn't have to resort to name-calling.
You can't blame Imperial Tobacco for sticking their oar in on this one. The anti-smokers have produced a document which is effectively one-stop shop for all the heart miracles, bogus studies and distorted facts that have characterised their defence of the smoking ban in the last four years. It positively begs for derision and that, quite rightly, is what it has received.