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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.

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