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Hospitality Leaders Worry Smoking Curbs For Younger People Would “Damage Pubs”

(Alamy)

4 min read

Hospitality groups are concerned that that tougher anti-smoking laws that government is reportedly considering would “damage pubs” and “undermine” pub culture in the UK.

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was looking at introducing some of the strongest anti-smoking laws in the world.

Government sources told the newspaper such plans were similar to those put in place by New Zealand, which has outlawed selling tobacco to anyone born on or after 1st January 2009.

Pressure from local authorities has recently increased to ban smoking in public areas. In September, sixteen local London authorities wrote to Levelling-up Secretary Michael Gove and Health Secretary Steve Barclay urging them to ban smoking outside restaurants and pubs.

But industry figures are concerned that tougher anti-smoking laws could damage the hospitality sector even more after pubs and restaurants have already taken a significant hit from the pandemic.

Greg Mulholland, Campaign Director for the Campaign for Pubs, told PoliticsHome he believed tougher measures on smoking would “damage pubs” and “undermine our pub culture”.

“Everyone is aware of the damage to health from smoking and it makes sense for Government to both communicate that and also to discourage young people from starting smoking, but at the same time, adults who already smoke should be allowed to smoke outside pubs,” he said.

“A ban of smoking outside pubs will do nothing to stop smokers from smoking but will damage pubs and undermine our pub culture, so any Government proposals must look to other ways to discourage younger people from starting smoking and not an outside pub ban that would simply shift smoking from pub gardens to people’s own homes.”

He added that pubs have spent considerable sums of money on installing smoking shelters since the indoor smoking ban was passed in 2007.

Mulholland claimed if smokers were not allowed to smoke outside a pub, they would choose to smoke at home, which would be a “significant blow to many pubs already facing the cost-of-living crisis”.

UK hospitality figures suggest almost 5,000 venues closed permanently in the last year. The House magazine reported almost three-quarters came in the last quarter of 2022. Its analysis suggested that, in the current economic crisis, bars and pubs would have had to increase their revenue by 120 per cent from 2019 just to break even. 

Data from Altus Group, a real estate company, found 383 pubs had closed within the last year – equating to two a day. This is compared to the 383 pubs which closed its doors in 2022.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, told PoliticsHome would harm the industry further, and would deter customers from going out to pubs and bars. 

“Pubs are doing everything they can to remain welcoming spaces for their customers, both old and new, whilst navigating their way through tough trading conditions. Pub gardens are a key part of that appeal to customers," she said. 

“The idea of a complete smoking ban in open air areas that will only deter some customers is the exact opposite of the policy support that the beer and pub sector needs from the Government at this critical time of economic recovery for the industry.”

A government spokesperson said it was committed to encouraging people to quit smoking and reach its ambition to be smoke free by 2030, where fewer than five per cent of the adult population smoke. 

“Smoking is a deadly habit – it kills tens of thousands of people each year and places a huge burden on the NHS and the economy,” they added.

“We want to encourage more people to quit and meet our ambition to be smoke free by 2030, which is why we have already taken steps to reduce smoking rates.

"This includes providing 1 million smokers in England with free vape kits via our world-first ‘swap to stop’ scheme, launching a voucher scheme to incentivise pregnant women to quit and consulting on mandatory cigarette pack inserts.”

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