Saturday 11 September 2010

A final word on ban damage

Apologies for the light blogging which will, I'm afraid, continue well into next week. In the last post, I asked whether pubs are traditionally 'recession-proof'. The answer is, as Facebook would say, "it's complicated".

At the IEA blog, Dave Atherton has been looking at pub closures since 1980, and finds that the secular decline in pubs closures was 0.65% up until 2007. This data set includes three recessions.

In the UK recession of the early '80s, pubs closed at an unexceptional rate:

1981: 0.72%

1982: 1.02%

1983: 0.59%

In the early '90s recession, the rate was somewhat higher with a notable peak in 1991:

1990: 0.94%

1991: 2.05%

1992: 0.96%

In only three of the years did pub numbers grow (1995, 1998, 1999) and in the years leading up to the English and Welsh smoking ban, the rate of closures was remarkably pedestrian, hovering around the long-term average of 0.65%:

2004: 0.67%

2005: 0.68%

2006: 0.68%

But since the smoking ban, closures have reached record levels, with each year far exceeding the previous high of 1991:

2007: 2.42%

2008: 3.47%

2009: 2.47%

2010: 2.74%

This period does, of course, coincide with another economic downturn, but it's worth noting that although this recession was the deepest since the 1930s, it was only slightly worse than that of the early 1990s. GDP fell in the early '90s by 5.6%; it fell in the last recession by 6%. Clearly the recession cannot explain all, or even most, of the decline in pub closures. Equally clear is the fact that factors combine to cause pubs to fail. Pubs that could have survived recession, or higher rents, may have been unable to deal with the added burden of the smoking ban (and vice versa).

Based on the secular decline, Atherton estimates that 3 in 4 closures since 2007 were primarily caused by the ban. He may be right. The 2008 figure, in particular, is so much higher than any previous year that an effect from the ban is obvious to anyone with eyes to see. It's also notable that previous recessions saw a brief peak, while this one has seen four continuous years of record closures.

Sometimes the raw data speaks for itself. But imagine for a moment that the figures for 2007-10 held steady at around 0.65%. Then imagine someone claiming that the smoking ban had closed many pubs and did so by arguing that the closure rate would have been much lower if the ban hadn't been enacted. Few people would take them seriously, no? It would be an unprovable assertion made by someone who plainly had an axe to grind.

And yet, that is effectively what Anna Gilmore did earlier this year when England's heart attack rate fell at exactly the rate one would have expected based on the secular decline. And so, against all the evidence, the popular narrative persists:

Heart attacks drop at the same rate as usual = the smoking ban slashed heart attacks.

Pubs close at the highest rate on record = the smoking ban has not led to pub closures.

Welcome to the parallel universe inhabited by anti-smoking groups.


Dick Puddlecote said...

"Then imagine someone claiming that the smoking ban had closed many pubs and did so by arguing that the closure rate would have been much lower if the ban hadn't been enacted."

Something akin to this kind of logic, do you mean?

Yes, it looks ridiculous at first glance, but Gilmore is actually boosting the UK's long tradition of producing world class liars.

C'mon, let's not split hairs here. ;)

James Burr said...

I've been inhabiting the alternate world of "smoky-drinky" for the last 12 months, but tonight I had to go to a birthday meal in town, the first time I've been there in about a year or so (I used to go out 4-5 times a week myself prior to 2007 but don't want to use my own experience to deliver an anecdotal tale.) However, as I came back from the pub I noticed that the taxi driver was just driving me back - no squawking radio, no calls for other picks ups. I said to the driver (bearing in mind it's Saturday night), "Blimey, you're not very busy are you?" Completely unbidden and without prompting, he says, "No we haven't been. Not since the smoking ban."

He then tells me that two of the town's nightclubs have closed and that three of the four pubs I used to hang around in 5 - 10 years ago (all of them insanely busy....... back then) have closed. I'd noticed all the corner of the road "local" boozers closed a year or more ago. But for these big names to close..... Incredible. Stourbridge seems to have lost almost half of its pubs now, since 2007. Wolverhampton has lost 40%, the last time I looked at the official figures, but that was 18 months ago. God knows what it's like now.

Soulless town-centre shite palaces (like Wetherspoons) and country pubs that do great food are all that's left now near me. No pubs for drinkin' and eatin' or the pubs where you can have a boozy evening chatting up girls and having fun.

Oh yes, and the legendary JB's Rock club in Dudley is on the verge of administration, I saw today. Been going 40 years and launched Led Zeppelin, Sabbath, Wonder Stuff and Ned's Atomic Dustbin and been a staple in the live music scene for decades.

They'll be gone by Xmas.

Anonymous said...

Mr A, as a taxi driver myself,since 2006, I can only agree with yours. It's not just the pubs and clubs though, there's a noticable decline in bingo - one member of staff told me that she reckons that they're just making enough to cover the wage bill - and community centres. Then there's the obvious, to me, knock-on to us.

What the anti-smokers don't realise is that without the smokers there's no atmosphere in these places, so non-smokers stop going as well, thus accelerating closures. I'm sure that many other places have been affected, but just not so obviously.

PS Excellent blog Chris. Been following it for a couple of years now. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Yes most non smokers are nowhere near as intolerant as the Anti's would wish them to be.
Trying to turn people against each other is creepy.

Christopher Snowdon said...

Cheers Dick. Hadn't seen that before. Remarkable stuff.

Anonymous said...

I hope this will not be your last comment on Anna Gilmore Chris.

She plumbed new depths, if that is possible, for public health earlier this year when she published a junk science paper in the BMJ not for any scientific, social or medical value but purely as a means of generating publicity for the "success" of the smoking ban in improving health. Why care about lying through your teeth if the media idiots will print what you say anyway and you get promoted to Professor for doing so?

I note that this mendacious waste of public money failed to last more than a few months in any job as a medic before she found refuge in that safe haven for liars and charlatans, public health . Ken Judge should be eternally shamed for promoting her. She epitomises everything that is warped twisted and wrong in our society.

DaveA said...

Wetherspoons pre ban voluntarily banned smoking in pubs pre ban and here was the result. Seems the microcosm of Wetherspoons morphed into the curent climate.

"JD Wetherspoon ends no-smoking trial· Proposed ban in 630 pubs is scrapped. Chain sees profits plunge as customers.

JD Wetherspoon has called time on a bold experiment to extend its smoking ban beyond 49 of its pubs after the company faced plunging alcohol and slot machine revenues and a backlash from increasingly disgruntled regular customers.

Profits from 37 pubs that were converted to non-smoking dropped by 20% for the three months to January 22 (new pubs are automatically designated non-smoking). Revenues dropped 7.6% with alcohol sales believed to have declined by 17% and fruit machine earnings down by about a quarter. Lower margin food sales grew by about 10% and now represent about 39% of the sales mix at the non-smoking pubs.

JD Wetherspoon has called time on a bold experiment to extend its smoking ban beyond 49 of its pubs after the company faced plunging alcohol and slot machine revenues and a backlash from increasingly disgruntled regular customers.

John Hutson, chief executive, confirmed the experiment was to be ended, with no more smoking bans to be introduced until the industry is compelled to do so by legislation"

Anonymous said...

That there can be so much dispte about this is largely down to the lack of a control population. Although not ideal and not actually a controlled experiment, the comparison with Ireland and Scotland, who both and particularly Ireland had bans introduced before England and, in the case of Ireland, well before the current recession should provide additional evidence either way. A plot of the three graphs would go a long way to deciding whether or not bans have a large effect.

johnny.savage said...

An interesting study on smoking bans and heart attacks that will certainly not be given as much publicity as those of Gilmour et al:

"U.S. state and local governments have increasingly adopted restrictions on smoking in public places. This paper analyzes nationally representative databases, including the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, to compare short-term changes in mortality and hospitalization rates in smoking-restricted regions with control regions. In contrast with smaller regional studies, we find that smoking bans are not associated with statistically significant short-term declines in mortality or hospital admissions for myocardial infarction or other diseases. An analysis simulating smaller studies using subsamples reveals that large short-term increases in myocardial infarction incidence following a smoking ban are as common as the large decreases reported in the published literature."