Monday, 22 May 2017

Smoking and drinking

I'm pretty familiar with the history of laws regarding young people and alcohol, but the introduction this weekend of new rules supposedly stopping them from starting smoking, by making twenty the mininum number of cigarettes you can now buy, legislating for plain packets and further restricting the sale of rolling tobacco, amongst other illiberal and no doubt ineffective measures, got me wondering what the equivalent history of the laws around children and tobacco is.

It turns out that the Children's Act 1908 which introduced a minimum age of 5 for drinking at home and banned those under 14 from drinking in pubs (raised to 16 in 1910 and, unless it's beer, cider of wine, not spirits, consumed with a meal and purchased by an adult, 18 in 1923), also made it an offence to sell tobacco to those under 16 (raised to 18 in 2007). Not that I remember the law being enforced when I was a teenager in the 1980's and purchased cigarettes for neighbours from local shops; some of my classmates at secondary school also popped out most morning break times to buy them for their own consumption.

It seems that my generation will be the last to have experienced the once ubiquitous sight of someone enjoying a fag with their pint. Although as a non-smoker I personally endured rather than enjoyed smoky pubs before 2007, it's hard to argue that the ban hasn't had an impact on already struggling businesses and that it was entirely a question of political ideology that a compromise, such as separate smoking rooms and exemptions for private members' clubs, wasn't found.


  1. Absolutely - surely it would have been better all round if some kind of compromise solution short of a blanket ban could have been found.

    And of course the chickens are now coming home to roost as the tactics of tobacco control are increasingly turned on alcohol, food and soft drinks.

  2. I wouldn't use the phrase 'political ideology'; perhaps you are referring to vociferous health campaigners.

    My local in Southport, the Guest House, had a non-smoking room when the current licensee took it over. After a while, she removed the non-smoking designation. When I asked her why, she explained that the room was being seriously underused because many non-smokers chose to drink in the areas where smoking was allowed to accommodate their smoking friends. I did this myself: when I was in the non-smoking room, I used to move to the smoking area to join any smoker friends who had entered the pub. Smokers and non-smokers are not separate tribes, and this would have continued to happen if we'd kept separate smoking rooms.

    The same licensee who removed the 'no smoking' signs pointed out to me that the smoking ban was implemented as a health and safety at work measure. Staff would still have to enter the smoking rooms to collect glasses, empty ash trays, tidy up, clean and generally keep an eye on things. Bearing in mind all the smokers would be in one room, as opposed to being spread around the whole pub as previously, the concentrations of smoke would be many times greater than before the ban. A smoking room would therefore be incompatible with a safe and comfortable working environment for staff; your union background can surely relate to that.

    I was in favour of the smoking room option until I had that conversation with the licensee; as a former halth & safety rep, I had to accept the point immediately it was pointed out to me.

    I've even read suggestions that staff could sign disclaimers, which is quite extraordinary. Assuming they were legally binding, which I seriously doubt, it is asking staff to risk their health and surrender any rights to recompense for damage sustained in the course of their work - just so smokers don't have a 10-second walk to the exit in order to smoke a cigarette.

    The younger generation have plenty of chances to see "someone enjoying a fag with their pint" in beer gardens - quite often the smokers are their parents.

  3. as a compromise, what about introducing ventilation via heat exchangers or other green tech? Clean warm air being pumped in and old smoky air being pumped out?