by Esmerelda Weatherwax (Nov. 2007)
We were on holiday last week renting a caravan on the same site where we stayed during October half term in 2004 and 2006. It was an opportunity to consider how the England smoking ban has changed things in the 4 months since 1 July.
I have never smoked, and my father died of a smoking related cancer so I was very relieved when my husband gave up the habit a few years ago. Even before then he smoked only in the garden from the day we decided it was time to start our family.
20 years ago, had you told me that smoking was to be banned in all public places, I would have been overjoyed. But something about the way this has been done leaves me uneasy. Even at the time of my father’s illness I was irritated that his developing cancer of the larynx was immediately attributed to smoking. His job in a dusty atmosphere, his war service as a fireman during the London blitz, drilling, training and fighting in an asbestos lined gas mask were all as nothing. No, the one pleasure, a half ounce of Boar’s Head, of a hard working, clean living man, whose every action was for the benefit of his family was the only cause considered.
Strangely it was my two cousins and I, non smokers all who developed cancer the youngest at age 39, 40 and 43. Our smoking fathers didn’t develop their cancers until they were 15-20 years older.
But it is not a healthy habit and I am relieved that my husband does it no more.
On the 1st July 2007 not only was it the law that there was to be no smoking in virtually all indoor public premises and workplaces in England but it is compulsory for a notice to that effect to be displayed at every entrance. Of at least a certain size, and an exact wording and picture. Those cafes, probably the majority, which were voluntarily non smoking already, would be breaking the law anyway if they only showed their existing signs. “Thank you for not smoking”, and “For the comfort of other customers please do not smoke” have to be accompanied by a Smokefree England compliant sign. Even the picture has to be different. The cigarette has to be a different angle with a cloud of curly smoke, not a wisp of straight smoke. Everywhere has to have a sign, even sex shops and places where no normal person would dream of smoking, ie churches.
I know a plumber who has never smoked. His van was inspected to ensure he had a compliant no smoking sign in the cabin. It is a workplace. Only he drives it, he does not smoke, but he has to be reminded to continue not to smoke so as to keep within the law. He could actually smoke while working, were he working in a private house and invited to do so by the householder. But not in the privacy of his van on the way home.
Private members clubs have to comply with the law. They are not public places but they are workplaces.
We heard tales from Scotland and Ireland of pubs closing through lack of trade. At first it didn’t seem to make much difference. Most of the cafes and tea shops I use were already non smoking by choice.
The first chance we had to go to a pub in the evening on our own for a drink was the first week in August. One pub in the town centre had been closed for several months. We walked past two pubs popular with the young set which were crowded and bustling and for which we felt too old, heading for the 16th century inn that had been our favourite and regular haunt before the days of needing a babysitter. We found that it had shut down the previous week. We ended up at the pavement table of an Italian restaurant with bottled beer and a plate of garlic bread. Nice, but not what we set out for.
Pavement tables in the continental style have sprung up everywhere, even outside the pie and mash shop. One pub has given up its car park and filled the whole area with tables and benches. “Largest smoking area in Town” boasts the sign.
But despite the crowds of that warm August night most pubs are now only getting customers for food. The Wetherspoons has changed its no children under any circumstances policy and has so much of the pub set aside for family meals, and so much tea and cake on the menu that it is virtually a restaurant with a very good beer list. Publicans are speaking optimistically of their trade in food and soft drinks but they should be pubs, not restaurants. There is a difference and the English pub is something special.
The bingo hall has a compliant smoke shelter for their customers, mostly elderly ladies. These smoke shelters have to be so many sides open to the air to comply. Some establishments who already provided them because the employees were not allowed to smoke inside found that they had to rip sides down, or find they were breaking the law. This bingo hall’s provision looks like a cage. So we have the situation where decent old ladies sit in a cold and windy cage to have a cigarette, while muggers and burglars roam free. This is not really about smoking; it is about "compliance”. Everything must “comply”.
How long the outside smoking areas will be permitted remains to be seen. My husband’s colleagues told him of a pub in their village where the people living next door to the pub have complained to the council about smoke drifting from the pub garden into theirs.
Even the ethnic group usually allowed an exemption for their particular cultural needs was refused this time. Shisha smoking cafes are now smoke free.
In October I posted an article by the Chief Rabbi in which he quoted the Wolfenden committee in 1957, which recommended that homosexual behaviour although a sin, should not be a crime. Now we have an activity which is not a sin, but has become a crime.
It was reported, although this was not local that a council dog warden reported his colleagues from, it think, the parks maintenance depot for smoking in their lorry which is both enclosed and a place of work. Meanwhile my local council have so disregarded the listing of historic building regulations that a pizza chain have been allowed to turn the interior of the 16th century inn from a place of beams, fireplace and open brickwork into a bland white cube that could be any age. Outside a breeze block extension competes in ugliness with the big bright letters proclaiming the name of the chain. This is not Pizza Hut btw, our Pizza Hut 200 yards away is decorated inside with paintings and photos of local historic buildings, one of which is of the inn in its prime, which is funny really.
The changes were most noticeable on holiday. There is a bar at this caravan site and an entertainment room which can sit about 180 people round a stage and dance floor. Next to that is an adults only bar and a games room. In previous years the entertainment room was packed every night. It started with bingo, then a children’s hour with visit by the anthropomorphic mascot. After that a disco, or a comedian, or a singer.
This year we entered the hall to find three families, then five. We felt so sorry for the entertainment manager that we entered her quiz, there not being enough people to merit her running bingo. There were so few entrants that we won it, by some margin which was quite embarrassing. Our prize was a bottle of sparkling Perry, produced and bottled in the UK for Soandso of Liverpool. Chateau Toxteth or Veuve Scouse. There wasn’t enough trade to merit an entertainer so next she got the karaoke songbook out. Eventually we were able to make our excuses and leave, reducing the attendance by 15%.
A night out in the village pub was very pleasant and very good food which I didn’t have to cook or wash up but everybody except one man was there for a meal. The one man not eating was a Frenchman who was drowning his sorrows after his woman done him wrong. That was his story and he stuck to it. Listening to him lamenting the woman who done him wrong with two couples waiting for a table, and their conversation moving on to the smoking ban got me thinking about this article.
The general consensus of opinion was that indoor smoking rooms or a small smoking bar should have been options available for employers and proprietors. I would want the family entertainment room and anywhere serving food to be smoke free but cannot see why it could not be permitted in the adult only bar. The government answer to that suggestion is that the idea is to provide a smoke free workplace. Staff in that bar, or even the cleaners of that room would be exposed to some smoke.
Which brings me to the sight I saw along the sea front early the next morning.
How many waiters does it take to wipe three outside tables and straighten 12 chairs? Answer 5. All with cigarettes in their mouths, which they could not smoke inside, but could on the pavement.
The latest development is the raising to 18 of the age at which a young person can purchase tobacco. 10 years ago there was concern about the moves to lower the age of consent by young men to homosexual activity from 18 to 16. This was because it was considered discrimination as the age for consent for heterosexual activity by boys and girls is 16.
I had the following argument with my then MP. “If parity is considered necessary then raise the age for all sexual activity to 18” I said. “Can’t do that”, he said, “people won’t accept having the age entitlement to do something taken away”. I replied that “I had my age entitlement to my old age pension raised from 60 to 65 so why not?”
And about this, now it suits the government, and there is no strong lobby to pressure them, the age entitlement has been raised. A boy of 16 can now consent to all forms of coital activity, but cannot buy a post coital cigarette.
We were warned that the smoking ban was only the beginning and that prediction has been proved right. In the last month we have had headlines of “Middle classes drink too much” and “Schools to write to the parent’s of fat children”. The sweet counter in Tescos is getting smaller and so are the sweets on it.
Meanwhile old gentlemen are beaten by vicious thugs who don’t get sent to prison and the street price of cocaine plummets.
If the news from Scotland and Ireland is anything to go by then a noticeable number of pubs and bingo halls in England will fail and close. This is more relevant than it might seem at first glance.
It was said that the three things at the heart of an English village are the Church, the post office and the pub. The Royal Mail has cut thousands of Post Offices as “uneconomic” and is due to cut thousands more. Some resourceful villages have opened up facilities for those villagers who cannot drive to the nearest town frequently in, you have guessed, the Church or the pub. Some Churches do not have the resources to put a Parish priest in every church in every village. Team ministries mean three or four vicars spread themselves over 8 or 9 rural parishes. Churches close and I know of more than one vicar who has taken to holding services in the pub, so as to be able to reach his parishioners. If the pub as the last centre for the community flounders the village can rapidly become a mere dormitory estate.
Bingo is more of an urban phenomenon. It is not just elderly women who enjoy a game and a chance to socialise in pleasant, safe, respectable surroundings but they are the ones who will be affected most if the Bingo Hall fails. I can’t find a link to this story but in Scotland Bingo Cruises are proving popular. In southern England we have the concept of the “booze cruise” where people take advantage of cheap day fares from the Channel Ports to go to Calais to stock up. Not just on inexpensive alcohol and tobacco, which is where the trips got the rather derisory name from, but cheese and fancies, or just a chance to see the town and have a good French meal and a fun day out. I believe that from the North Sea ports ships set sail for a day or weekend where the entertainment includes bingo and a chance to play in an area where smoking in comfort is permitted.
I want people to give up smoking of their own accord, but I applaud such ingenuity that confounds the nanny state.
I wish I could be convinced that these measures are prompted by concern for public health. But if the government was truly concerned about our health there are a dozen things that could be done which would have immediate results. Like putting hospital cleaners back on the ward team, under direct supervision of the ward Sister which would ensure that they felt valued which would mean a higher standard of work. No one can feel loyalty to an agency that underpays them but takes a fortune from the place where they labour. With cleaner wards and less bed capacity turn round MRSA and C-diff will become less of a problem.
The emphasis is so much on compliance with the regulations rather than encouragement to take up healthy habits and drop unhealthy ones. Restaurants were not praised for being non smoking of their own volition – they were harried to have the correct signs. It is the type of control freakery that has all the jars in a cupboard in date order while the filthy sink wants bleach and a scrub writ large on a national scale.
What will be next?
Update, I assembled these pictures this afternoon. On the left the Wimpy goes continental with tables and ashtrays on the pavement: below that a church is smoke free compliant. To the right a mild mannered bingo fan sits in the "sin bin".
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