The hard fact is that over 75% of the UK population doesn’t smoke, never has done or has given up. In which case, why are the nation’s pubs still apparently spending so much effort looking after the interests of the 25% or less who are smokers? Big market or small, and diminishing, market? You would have thought the choice would have been obvious. The debate over smoking has, by and large, moved on from the pro and con stage to addressing the commercial realities of life post-ban. Prohibition in Scotland and the prospect of a mass stub-out south of the border some time next year is seriously concentrating minds. Top of the agenda for many seems to be the building of smokers’ shelters and more outside terraces to allow pub customers to light up in some comfort. Good tactics arguably, but surely not a long-term strategy? Rather than keeping the dwindling band of cigarette users onside, shouldn’t pub operators now be fully concentrating on the big opportunity of getting non-smokers back into the pubs and bars? After all, cigarette smoke is one of the major reasons putting large numbers of people off going to pubs. The problem for large swathes of the pub trade is that smokers provide such a large part of their income. They tend to drink more and put more cash into gaming machines. Losing them overnight would spell commercial suicide. There is, of course, an assumption that somehow smokers will stop going to pubs if they can’t smoke there, just as they are no longer travelling on buses, trains or planes or going to the cinema, theatre or even work. However, the challenge is how the industry moves from its dependence on the smoker towards a smoke-free future and a new largely non-smoking clientele – and how fast that transition can be made. You can argue that making smokers welcome outside in pub gardens or patios is only moving the problem. By inference, welcoming smokers is the same as making non-smokers unwelcome. Why would I want to take my wife or family to a pub garden on a hot summer’s day, when I know I’ll have second-hand cigarette smoke wafted over us? The answer is probably to have both smoking and non-smoking areas outside. It’s an action that probably ought to be introduced now, if pubs are serious about changing. Outside bans are probably on the way anyway. Smoking is already prohibited on certain beaches in Spain and California, for example. No-one said the transition was going to be easy or that there won’t be casualties. Managing change will take no little skill and finesse, but operators do need to have a firm vision of what the end game is. There is always a case for catering for a minority, but even that decision needs to be done with eyes open. It is understandable that local management when urged to do something by head office will likely focus on short-term solutions and their current customers – hence the sprouting of smoke shelters – but that just means that directors and owners have to be crystal clear in their objectives, communication and support. There remains much emotion around smoking, which can still blur the central business implications of current and future prohibition. The fact is that smoking has gone beyond the civil liberties debate; it is about what the bulk of consumers actually want.