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July 2nd, 2008:

British Pubs Closing Fast

British pubs closing fast as smoking ban stubs out profits

Tim Bryan – SCMP – Updated on Jul 02, 2008

It seems like an age ago, but yesterday marked only the first year of the smoking ban. Life seems to have changed little, except in the pub.

Pubs are closing at their fastest rate ever, four a day in Britain and one every other day in London, says the British Beer and Pub Association, which highlights a perfect storm of rising beer and energy prices, the smoking ban and the credit crunch. The association said 78 of London’s 3,879 urban pubs closed in the last six months of 2007 – one in 50.

Tony Jerome, of beer pressure group Camra, said pubs were being crippled by the smoking ban and beer duty, the highest in Europe, and the supermarkets.

“Supermarkets can sell alcohol cheaper than water,” he said. “They make beer and wine a loss leader to bring people through their doors and spread the cost over other goods. Pubs can’t do that. The smoking ban then makes smokers think twice about a pint.”

The ban has had many health benefits, with a study showing it had helped more than 400,000 smokers quit, the largest fall on record, the Health Behaviour Research Unit said.

London now has the highest proportion of smokers in Britain, at 29 per cent, says Time Out – 2 percentage points higher than the norm in Britain. Why, no one really knows, though Meriel Jeater, curator at the Museum of London, which is showcasing the changing attitude to smoking in London, has a theory.

She told Time Out that inexpensive, mass-market cigarettes were first made in London, fed by cheap tobacco streaming out of the docks in the 1880s. Londoners until then had preferred the pipe, with cigarettes seen as an effeminate European import.

Why 2 million Londoners still smoke is another matter, although their more bohemian and liberal attitude might provide a clue, plus the fact cheap smuggled cigarettes are sold in market stalls.

Ms Jeater said: “It occurred to me there must be lots of memories about smoking, which people would forget after the ban, so I created a record of smoking in London.”

The foyer display hosts smoking paraphernalia, from matches to advertisements, including an election poster from the 1920s of would-be prime minister Stanley Baldwin smoking a pipe, under the banner “Smoke Baldwin’s security mixture – vote Conservative.”

Most memories don’t stretch so far, though I can recall smoking on the Underground (it was banned after the King’s Cross Tube station fire, sparked by a cigarette igniting trash under an escalator, killing 31 people in 1987).

I still recall people smoking on the top deck of the bus, and it was only about four years ago that trains dropped smoking carriages.

Three years ago you could smoke in a corridor at work – a horrific thought, in hindsight, subjecting non-smoking colleagues, and your boss, to a pall of smoke as they walked by. Staff smoke outside now, by the bike shed, ironically where most smokers started at school.

Though many miss the days when friends could sit and drink together without half of them camped outside, there has been 99 per cent compliance with the ban in London, the highest rate in Britain.

Many boozers have adapted, building covered outdoor smoking areas or gardens. Those suffering were the “landlocked pubs”, said Mr Camra – those without any outside space, or scope for shelters.

Legco Chief Rejects Idea Of Flexibility In Smokers’ Fines

May Chan – Jul 02, 2008 – SCMP

Legislative Council president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai has rejected a proposed amendment to the anti-smoking law that would allow people caught puffing illegally to spend the amount of the penalty on a course to help them kick the habit.

The amendment, proposed by democratic legislator Andrew Cheng Kar-foo, was to have been raised for discussion in Legco today.

But Mrs Fan dismissed the amendment as irrelevant to the Fixed Penalty (Smoking Offences) Bill, which proposes a fine of HK$1,500 for smoking in places where it is banned.

The rejection was in accordance with Legislative Council procedures, which stated that an amendment “must be relevant to the subject matter of the bill”, she wrote in a letter on Monday.

Mrs Fan also pointed out that the proposed fixed-penalty bill did not provide or allow other options to relieve the offenders of their legal responsibility to pay the fine.

So it was not necessary to further discuss Mr Cheng’s proposal, including its implications for government spending, she said in the letter.

Mr Cheng accused Mrs Fan of being inflexible and ignoring the will of the wider public.

The Democratic Party conducted a telephone survey of 779 people last week, 22 per cent of whom are smokers. Of the respondents, 79.7 per cent supported the notion that, with the passage of the HK$1,500 fixed penalty for smoking, fined smokers should be given the choice to spend the money on smoking cessation services, which they agreed should not cost more than HK$1,500.

A similar percentage said the government should spend the revenue from the smoking penalty on setting up a fund to subsidise smoking cessation services.

Mr Cheng said he would seek to push the government to set up such a fund.

“I am most regretful over the council’s rejection of my proposal,” he said. “I don’t understand why the smokers’ money can’t be spent on smokers, to help them quit. It is a shame that my proposal is not even being given the chance to be debated and voted in the council, despite its popularity among the public.”

He went on to say that there had been a regression in democracy since the handover.

According to Mr Cheng, 31 proposed amendments had been turned down since 1997, on the grounds of being “out of the scope” of the discussion topic. That accounted for 53 per cent of the 58 amendments proposed to Legco from 1997 to 2008.

“Legco should not be rigid in following rules, and should consider options that are practical and responsive to the practical needs of the public,” Mr Cheng said.

The Food and Health Bureau had earlier written to Legco outlining the financial implications of Mr Cheng’s proposal. It could cost, they said, HK$18.7 million a year to provide extra clinics and subsidised services, as well as HK$7.9 million for an information system and HK$960,000 in yearly administrative costs.