Frank Davis

Banging on about the Smoking Ban

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A Separate Reality
The current draconian Spanish smoking ban came into force on 2 Jan 2011. Translated from El Correo.

Doctors and restaurateurs have declared war. Navarra Basque Society for the Prevention of Smoking entered yesterday into the controversy of the 'smoking ban' to attack the restaurants with two accusations that could hurt them a lot. Health professionals claimed that owners of bars and cafes of "being sponsored by the tobacco industry" and said they do not believe they have been losing money since it was forbidden to smoke on their premises. The sector's response was immediate. "We challenge Navarra Basque society to say openly that our association has received some support from the tobacco industry, and it will be in court immediately," the federation said.

The stakes are high. A document sent to the mail by the president of the Basque Navarre Society for the Prevention of Smoking, Carlos Cortijo, said that the statistics of membership of the Social Security Ministry of Labour "shows that the number of people employed by the industry increased "from January 2010 to January 2011."

So let's get this right. A bunch of antismoking doctors have claimed that Spanish restaurants and bars are being paid by tobacco companies to protest about the smoking ban. In addition, they say that restaurants and bars haven't actually been losing money as a result of the ban. Their evidence? The fact that they took on more staff last year.

This is crazy. It's completely unhinged. It's more or less routine for antismokers to claim that anyone who disagrees with them is in the pay of Big Tobacco. And indeed sometimes they are. But the entire hospitality industry? That's crazy. But even crazier is the notion that the trade must be doing fine this year, simply because it was last year. It's as if these antismokers occupy a separate reality.

And that's perhaps exactly how it is.

For the reality of things according to the antismokers is that smoking bans don't harm business, but actually improve it. And that smokers almost universally approve of smoking bans, and carry on going to restaurants and bars just like they always did, only more so. And that there are dramatic improvements in public health. And that smoking bans are always a great success, and there have been countless examples of this success. This, as far as the antismokers are concerned, is the simple reality of the matter. Anyone who disagrees is either uneducated or in the pay of tobacco companies.

And so, when the antismokers read reports of bars and restaurants losing business, they know that it simply isn't true, and that it has to be those damn tobacco companies up to their usual mischief.

It would seem that these new realities (and the antismoking reality is not the only one) are conceived and nurtured in small closed communities (a bit like Heaven's Gate), very often in San Francisco, in which all concerned become true believers before they set out to bring their new reality to the wider world. There it circulates first in the highest strata of society, among politicians and journalists and senior executives and professionals of every sort. And then, once safely ensconced there, it is rolled out for general public consumption. And only a few hundred top executives and opinion formers may be needed to do that. A prince or two helps, of course.

It seems entirely plausible that there was a one-day seminar held somewhere in London in, say, 2004 for a number of top executives from the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, and several newspapers, and also the CEOs of a number of pubcos, and several senior politicians from the Labour and Conservative and Lib Dem parties, and maybe a couple of celebrities as well. Senior doctors like Sir Liam Donaldson or Sir Charles George would have addressed this select gathering, outlining the known dangers of tobacco smoking, and the newly discovered menace of secondhand smoke, and the medical imperative of denormalising smoking. In a slick Powerpoint presentation, somebody from ASH would have assured all those present that smoking bans had proved to be a great success in America, particularly in California, and there had been no loss of trade in bars and restaurants, and a dramatic improvement in public health and worker productivity. Afterwards, over tea and smoked salmon and egg-and-cress sandwiches, many of these executives would have no doubt expressed their enthusiasm for the idea of smoking bans, given the many clear benefits, and the zero costs. Any doubters would have been referred to the relevant pages of the accompanying glossy brochure for them to be quickly assured that, for example, 70% of smokers wanted to give up smoking. Once everyone was on board, the smoking ban could be rolled out across the nation with the all the political parties and the whole of the mass media and most of the hospitality trade each playing their pre-assigned roles. All that had been needed to be done was to persuade a hundred or so key figures of the coming new reality, and they could be counted on to do their bit to help to create that reality.

Of course, more or less everything they were told was untrue, or was a half-truth. But these busy executives didn't have the time to give the matter serious consideration. They were as impressionable as anybody. All they needed to know was that Sir Liam Donaldson and Sir Charles George had 'Sir' in front of their name to trust them implicitly. Furthermore most of them hadn't been inside a pub or a cafe in years. And many of them no longer smoked.

And so when the ban was introduced, they all did their bit to help launch it, and it was accordingly immediately hailed as a great success, particularly among smokers. And almost immediately, as ever, the usual health benefits were claimed.

But if this is how the 'new reality' was created in Britain, why isn't it quite working in Spain? The answer may be that the British mass media, and the hospitality business, and political power, is concentrated in relatively few hands, and so relatively few people needed to agree among themselves to make it work. And in Britain we currently have pretty much a one-party state, with Labour and Lib Dems and Conservatives all but indistinguishable from each other. And most pubs belong to chains of one sort or other, and for the proprietors of these chains they are simply another business opportunity, not different from a baking or a mining business. And there are only a handful of media outlets. Relatively few people were needed to help create the new non-smoking reality.

But this couldn't be done in Spain where most bars and restaurants are small family businesses, and where the mass media isn't quite so centralised, and where politics is rather more fractured. In Spain, and even less so in Greece, it wan't possible to create and sustain this new reality. In fact, it can probably only be done in fairly advanced Western societies, with well-established media outlets (like the BBC), well-established political parties, and well-established hospitality chains (e.g. Starbucks). For they all have to work together to create and sustain the new reality.

And of course the new reality, when it is rolled out in public, comes up against the old reality, which is one of traditional smoky pubs and bars. It becomes a struggle of one reality against another reality. It becomes a struggle of the political class, the media, and the hotel and restaurant and pub chains, against the ordinary pubgoer, whose reality - all too often of broken communities, fractured friendships, isolation, exclusion, and loneliness - can never be allowed to mar the perfection of the new reality (by being reported, for example).

The new reality is an illusion, of course. But if the illusion can be sustained for long enough, it may become reality. If people can be got to stop smoking for long enough, the ancient vice might yet be expunged from society.

And what applies to the new antismoking reality that has been rolled out over the world also applies to several other new realities. The global warming reality. The European Union reality. And probably a whole bunch more realities. All of them conflict with pre-existing realities in one way or other. And the wars between these realities are all conducted the same way, by suppressing the old reality as far as possible, and supplanting it with the new reality. So the old smokers are never allowed any say. And nor are climate sceptics. Nor eurosceptics. They mustn't even be permitted to be seen. In this manner a new public consensus is created, without any apparent dissenters, with which even ordinary members of the public often feel unable to openly disagree.

Nevertheless, none of these new realities has yet been successfully installed in the public arena. While most of the European political class, with one or two notable exceptions (e.g. Vaclav Klaus), is on board for the EU, the general public in almost every European country is becoming increasingly disenchanted with it. And the global warming reality struck a rock in the form of Climategate last year, and hasn't recovered. And the antismoking reality has encountered strong resistance in Holland and Spain and Greece and most of the old Eastern bloc countries.

It's far from over.

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I don't know all the facts and figures on SF, CA, USA's latest travel, tourist, bar and restaurant business, but I do know from walking the streets, it doesn't appear good, unless you consider good meaning big chains like Starbucks and the like on every corner, with their vile anti-smoking signs on big display, or else the expensive places that came in after the mom and pop smaller places were driven out, due to smoking bans one of the bigger reasons.

Yes, they restructured it so that normal now means no smoking anywhere, even outdoors, not even on sidewalks - smoking is only allowed at the curb alongside speeding traffic and that is exactly the only place anyone can legally smoke, that or more furtively dipping into and through some alleyways, but the no smoking outdoor signs are even out in the alleyways. It's been a huge and sudden push getting all this new signage out too, all without just the last few months and in all neighborhoods it seems.

It's ridiculous calling it a success. It's not a success, not when core businesses that were there forever and affordable to all residents are driven out and only high-class businesses catering to the upper class wealthy take their place.

Restaurants open all day long and selling reasonable meals and bars open all day long that had clientele all day long either close up and go under or else have to change their tact completely, usually to a new owner by that point because the original owners start approaching bankruptcy, no customers equals no income and after a while, it begins to pile up - and then the new owners change the name from Charlie's Bar to Oh-La-La-Posh-And-Proper - and with it the hours change from all day to only a few hours in the evening during prime time meals, the prices go through the roof, the poor and working class are made uncomfortable and the wealthy and posh simply come in and take over, no-smoking and all.

That's the reality of smoking bans. One business type, the homey atmosphere that had all classes mingled together and under proprietorships that loved their businesses and were personally involved, sometimes family affairs passing through generations, become replaced both by the big corporate chains who set the pace and atmosphere and then the new proprietor class who only caters to the wealthy.

It all turns non-smoking, even on the sidewalks and everywhere else outdoors, tobacco retailing is abolished as it is becoming so in San Francisco - and the merry upper classes just laugh and lounge away their hours, uncaring that the peasant class will have to eat cake while they're noshing in their anti-smoking leisure.

It sucks big time and to say it doesn't hurt businesses does not take into count the fact they literally re-arrange society so that anyone not like them and that always means wealthy for starters, is eventually pushed out of the picture altogether.

To make matters worse, they even make it law to ban smoking so that even in the working class neighborhoods, it can't even be found there. They make it exclusive, just for their own selfish upper class interests, and bugger all anyone else in this world.

Anti-smoking is a lot like the attitude Marie Antoinette must have had, is how it appears to me.

I don't know the numbers and statistics, I do notice more and more smaller bars and eateries sitting with less cusomters or else closed longer hours, only open during prime time, I have watched the constant turnover of ownerships and renamings, I have seen how in the richer areas the expensive new bars and restaurants get patronage from those who can easily afford it and I've seen plenty go out of business then never return again.

Currently the streets seem bare too, even in midday, very few tourists and why should there be. They've plastered so many no-outdoor smoking and $500 fine signs even into the tourist areas, after a while it just becomes obvious that only a certain type of person is welcome.

How does one attract tourists when one openly displays hostility and discrimination against entire classes of people, yet in San Francisco, anti-smoking with Glantz at their helm will call this a "success".

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