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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The UK smoking ban, one month on

Filthy criminal!

So, the smoking ban’s been in force for a bit over a month, and no one seems to care too much, because the weather’s perked up a bit so smokers can shuffle outside without too much annoyance. The effects so far seem to be:

1) My favourite pubs being rather less busy, and frequented by far fewer regulars

2) Pubs having lost much of their atmosphere (ho ho, etc.), and feeling a lot less relaxed

3) Pubs appearing to have more than the usual number of idiots with no concept of pub etiquette getting in my way, queue-jumping, and failing to realise that pubs exist to provide alcoholic beverages, not cappuccinos that take the bar staff five minutes to make when they could be pulling me my pint

4) An increase in the number of vehement non-smokers who now think they have a God-given right to tell (note, not *ask*) smokers to stop puffing away, even when said smoker is my father enjoying a quiet cigar at an outside table next to a busy, highly-polluted main road, thus ruining my parents’ trip to the big smoke (geddit?) due to unnecessary aggression (easily soothed by nicotine, I find) caused by a moronic assumption that smoking has been banned in *all* public spaces, rather than just enclosed ones (despite months of expensive publicity)

5) Pavements outside pubs being impossible to walk along after about 6pm each evening due to the large number of smokers and their friends who have been forced outside

6) The untimely death of one man

7) The small, pointless plastic sign industry receiving a lovely, government-sponsored boom, as the bloody things must be displayed pretty much everywhere

Prime example of the last point – and the insanity of an inflexible blanket ban: wandering around central London in the sunshine over the weekend, for the first time I noticed that *every single public phone box* has been fitted with a “No Smoking” sign.

This despite the fact that:

a) fitting more than one adult into said booths is tricky at best, making passive smoking in the things a highly unlikely occurrence

b) the law was supposedly introduced to protect the health of employees who may have to breathe other people’s smoke while going about their jobs, and phone boxes have precisely no staff

c) pretty much everyone in the UK owns a mobile phone, making telephone boxes pretty much redundant

d) there are thousands of phone boxes in London alone, each of which will have been fitted with a government-approved plastic sign at a cost of £7.50 a pop (not to mention the additional cost of labour, adhesive, etc. to fit the things) – even with bulk-buying discounts, we’re talking tens of thousands of pounds pointlessly wasted

I, meanwhile, have cut down considerably to avoid mid-drinking-session nicotine withdrawal pangs, meaning that the government has already lost (based on approximate figures of percentage tax per packet) about £30 in tax from me alone in the last month.

Assuming, as an erstwhile ten-a-day smoker, that I’m moderately representative (and bearing in mind that I smoke the cheaper rolling tobacco, rather than factory-made fags), and that the number of smokers in the UK is still around 26% of the population, (or around 15.6 million), I make that a loss of £468 million in tax revenue in just one month – which, over the course of a year, would amount to 5.6 billion (more than the cost of the Iraq war from 2003 up to last summer).

And that’s before I even bother mentioning the tedious arguments about potential longer-term costs of a healthier population living longer, thus costing the government more in terms of pensions and old-age health care, or the likely drop in revenue (and thus taxes) in the pub trade.

So, could anyone who knows economics (Chris? Tim?) explain to me how the smoking ban can be remotely viable for the government in the long term? Surely the one-off sale of hundreds of thousands of little plastic “No Smoking” signs alone isn’t going to be anywhere near enough to replace the lost revenue?

(Oh, and sorry for the lack of posts of late – I’ve been both busy and lazy…)

15 Comments

  1. So regarding point six – he asks people to put out their fags, they shoot him. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that the people rather than the ban are at fault there. They’d have killed him for asking to use a spare barstool.

    At least it’s one small step towards resolving “the longer-term costs of a healthier population living longer”, I suppose. An elderly boxer might have all sorts of joint problems.

  2. “remotely viable for the government in the long term?”

    In a financial sense, it isn’t.

  3. Well, point 7 is OK. There are a couple of logical flaws with the others, though. Let me try and see if I get this:

    Pubs are less busy because the smoking, drinking regulars have been replaced by cappuccino drinking wankers, except when it magically reverses after 6pm when the establishments are so busy with smokers that the pavements are impassably crowded with them. OK.

    My (non-smoking) experience – pleasanter atmosphere in our usual local, my missus on the Friday reported it ‘packed’, myself the following afternoon for a couple of quiet ones found it as chilled out as ever with the bar staff chatting about how packed it had been on Friday, the blues bar I moved onto was as jammed as ever but you could see the band in the absence of smoke (this wasn’t an improvement). Finally a trip to the nearest riverside boozer with a smoker mate where the pub was so packed everyone was standing out on the river bank anyway, watching the ducks.

    I did find that the purported improvement of not having your clothes smelling of smoke was overrated. They smell of stale beer instead.

  4. Tom #1 – I was being trite.

    Tim #0 – So in what sense *IS* it? The only argument for the ban that I can vaguely understand is the self-righteous “we’re making people healthier, and that’s good in and of itself” one. From the government’s point of view, I can see practically no long-term benefits.

    Tom #2 – The *insides* of pubs are less busy. The pavements outside *appear* busy due to the groups of smokers standing outside who previously would have been inside, but total numbers, I’d estimate, are down. The pubs I go to regularly all appear to have less custom than at equivalent times of the day/week before the ban, at any rate. Entirely subjective, and no evidence to back it up, I know, but that’s the impression I’ve got.

    And yes, pubs stink anyway. Thankfully most of them have got enough nicotine and tobacco smoke soaked into the walls to give off at least a vague smell to cover the wonderful aroma of age-old spilt pints and vomit. I hate to think what’s going to happen once the post-ban renovations and redecoration kicks in…

  5. “The only argument for the ban that I can vaguely understand is the self-righteous “we’re making people healthier, and that’s good in and of itself” one.”

    Quite. That’s the only one there is. Mill, of course, would have been appalled.

  6. On a minor point of order, it wasn’t a UK smoking ban. We’ve had one up north for over a year. I’d have thought a monkey with Scottish blood in his veins would have known that…

    On Liberty, having just been writing about Mill, I’m not so sure whether he’d have been appalled. Surely it’d depend on whether he accepted the claim that passive smoking was harmful to others.

    Anyway, I’m off for a fag. In the garden.

  7. On the matter of economics, there is a big hole in the figures since a huge 30% of tobacco in the UK is tax free import stuff. So, the income to the government has to be reduced to £320 million or so before you start.

    Then, you need to think of the cost of dealing with the increase in illnesses that tobacco is meant to be able to quell . e.g. There is plenty of evidence that various forms of dementia can be reduced by smoking.

    You then have the issue of pubs that have closed or will close in the next 12 months. Ireland ‘s figures show about 8-10% of businesses closed directly because of the smoking ban there. That is an awful lot of part time jobs, with the additional removal of their income tax.

    these figures possibly don’t add much to the final figure you are looking for, but should help make them calculable from the numbers you already have – or can access.

  8. “The only argument for the ban that I can vaguely understand is the self-righteous “we’re making people healthier, and that’s good in and of itself” one.”

    - must disagree there. i can think of at least two more arguments. smokers violated the liberty of non-smokers. so the government had to intervene to protect liberty

    - a healthier population is a more productive population. so it is economically viable. on the other hand, though, a more frustrated worker is a less productive worker… so it maybe evens out… apart from the fact, though, that i guess the idea is that in the long run workers will learn to deal with stress without smoking, and then they will be more productive alltoghether

    by the way, great post, nosemonkey!

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  10. Just a detail: your 15.6 million is wrong. It’s 26% of the adult population, not of the whole population. Another adjustment to add to FOul’s list. And I’d be interested in Tim’s opinion on the issue of loss of jobs and tax revenue from falling cigarette sales and closing pubs. Does this money, which would otherwise have been spent in pubs and tobacconists where it paid wages and the taxman, simply evaporate? Or does it move elsewhere, where it also pays wages and the taxman (or possibly into savings, which helps to reduce interest rates and encourage investment)? Can you do this sort of thing as a gross sum, or do you need to treat it as very much more marginal – you are forcing people to spend their money on their second rather than their first choice, which means a marginal reduction in utility and economic efficiency?

  11. The lost revenue from taxes on bying ciggies and the cost of signs will be made up for by the decreased government spending on providing extra care to people suffering from smoking or passive smoking-related diseases over time (less ciggarettes smoke, the more people that give up, the less occurence of lung cancers, emphasema, bronchitis, heart disease, stroke and heart attack all of which are expensive to deal with).

  12. nosemonkey: I would say that by taxing tobacco so heavily, we have already made up our minds at a public policy level that smoking is a ‘vice’ and to be minimised (the alternative option, that it’s a ‘luxury’, isn’t really justifiable when you consider how amazingly regressive tobacco taxes are in practice).

    You may disagree, and think smoking is simply a choice people make as free citizens. But if that is the case, surely it’d be a good thing for the government to make less of its money in this way?

    If on the other hand you do think smoking is a vice, surely it’s good if fewer people suffer from it?

    It’s also the case that the government could save a lot of money if everyone dropped dead around the age of 65, and the government could work towards this outcome by putting an upper age limit on when people can receive NHS treatment (say 55). Doing so wouldn’t infringe on anyone’s liberty, unless you believe people have a fundamental right to state-provided healthcare. Do you think this would therefore be a good thing for the country and its people?

    In any case, I wouldn’t have thought cigarette sales would go down by that much, however much health experts fantasise about it. ‘Social’ smokers may give up, but most never smoked very many cigarettes per week anyway. The addicts who account for the bulk of tobacco consumption will continue to smoke, only they’ll do it more outdoors or in their homes. You can’t use yourself as a representative example of a typical smoker, in that a) you found it easy to quit, b) had you not decided to quit beforehand, you wouldn’t be making such calculations.

    I agree with your description of the ban as ‘illiberal’, by the way: from a liberal perspective, the justification for it (passive smoking) is dodgy to say the least. Whether you see things from a purely liberal perspective is another matter, and one of personal conviction. But you can’t start by talking about individual liberty and then say it’s a shame the government won’t be raking in as much money in the form of sin taxes.

  13. Colin Reid:

    Just because something is a ‘vice’, it doesn’t mean you ‘suffer’ from it! I think you’re getting confused with ‘ailment’. We tend to enjoy our vices actually. That’s why we do it!

  14. Relax kids, the ban may be a shock to the system but it improves the quality of life for most people in the long term. Pubs, clubs and businesses adapt. I was in a pub in London a couple of weeks ago that had renovated their beer garden into something very friendly to smokers, plenty of seats and bars, several levels and shelter for when it rained.

    We’ve had a ban in Ireland now for a few years and we’re the better off for it.I’ve not come across a single pub that closed because of it, and I’m pretty sure I would have noticed if 10% of pubs/clubs closed! The figures you’re referring to Foul can only have come from the Vintner’s Association, hardly a reliable source. The only pubs I’ve seen close over the last few years (that didn’t re-open under new management) were old-man pubs in rural areas. And the VA had the cheek to blame this on random breath testing (as well as the smoking ban), as though we should tolerate drink-driving to preserve businesses that were breaking the law!

    I like the fact that I don’t come home stinking of smoke after every night now. I like the fact that my clothes don’t get damaged by inconsiderate fucks pushing their way around pubs with a fag in their hands. I like the fact that I can enjoy a drink without my eyes watering. I like the fact that when I go out, I don’t end up coughing like an old man the next morning. It is difficult to believe that we once tolerated such crap in order to enable people to kill themselves!

    The thing is that non-smokers have always been nice to smokers, tolerating their bad habits at the expense of their own health. The problem has always been that there is always at least one smoker in every group of friends, so non-smoking pubs were never a realistic option for anybody who wasn’t willing to dump their smoker friends. That is why a complete ban is needed.

    Now if we could only get rid of smoking breaks…

  15. ATTENTION ALL ANTI SMOKERS!
    Already one month or so on people are losing their livelyhoods…the media have been coersed into silence by the powers that be![HMG]
    They are told to report how wonderful the smoking ban is, and how non smokers love it!
    But wheres the smokers point of view…nowhere!
    They think that by silencing us, we’ll get nowhere fast;
    Well as the french resistance did in the war; mark my words so will smokers do now!
    We will not be silenced for ever!
    Along with all the tolerant non smokers the resistance will grow and i think the quote below says it all:
    “FROM LITTLE ACORNS, GROW MIGHTY OAKS!”
    Join freedom2choose.co.uk…..see for yourselves what lies and trash you’re being fed everyday…..This is an unjust law…Get it Amended NOW!