Inside Track by Katherine Rose
Sometime around 350BC, Demosthenes, the Greek orator and politician, stated that "You have no choice at all; you have but one just and necessary measure to pursue," a sentiment that has passed the current government by, certainly when considering the proposed smoking ban. Last week’s announcement on England’s smoking ban served to confirm yet again the detachment that our current government has both from the business community and the public at large. "Unworkable," said the TUC. "Farce," said Spirit Group. "The worst (option) of the lot," said ASH. The overwhelming reaction to the proposals was that they just don’t make sense. If it was about health, then why are pub workers in non-food pubs suffering? It’s about choice, we are told. The legislation deals with the irritant factor, not the health implications. It’s not nice for people to eat in smoky environments we hear. Yet there is, as yet, no legislation protecting us from the unpleasantness of people eating with their mouths open. Changing public opinion has meant that it’s rare to see anyone smoking in a restaurant and the majority of coffee houses, certainly branded sites, already have smoking bans in place. But then Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, spent Thursday touting the opinion that the proposals were a good thing, because 99% of people would be covered by a workplace ban and thousands of lives would be saved. So it IS about health. But, once again, not the health of bar workers in non-food pubs or membership clubs. It’s all very "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". And we all saw how well that worked out. While we are hardly a Communist state, the Bill does show how far from its roots Labour has come. The government is now trapped between the cliché of the new Labour voter, sipping Chardonnay in a smoke-free Islington restaurant and the cliché of an old Labour voter, downing pints in a fug-filled Northern working men’s club. One only has to look at licensing laws to get an idea of how a government with a fondness for legislation, but a lack of understanding of how to make it work, operates. Intriguingly, the proposals could see a resurgence in the old school boozer, as pubs which had started to diversify by adding food and make themselves more family oriented may decide that they can do better business by going food-free and focusing on smoke and alcohol. Good news for those who had complained about the gentrification of the nation’s pubs. But withdrawing that bowl of Thai noodles to sop up the drink is hardly going to help the alleged binge-drinking epidemic. Hewitt has said that, not only is a total ban inevitable, but the whole regime will be revised after three years. So any pub deciding to dump food for fags now because of the fear of lost trade must face the likely cost in three years’ time of competing with pubs who have had that time to build up their offering to attract non-smokers, most likely dominated by the family market. There will also be a consultation on how to protect staff in smoking venues, possibly with the use of sealed smoking rooms. So pubs must pay for these rooms, in the knowledge that in three years they may have to scrap them altogether. The industry must now shake its head in wonderment and work out how to deal with the legislation it faces – safe in the knowledge that it only takes a word from Jamie Oliver or the Daily Mail for everything to change.